Big Zuu, a highly-inspirational figure in the UK Rap game that went from being a trainee youth worker, to one of the UK’s highly cherished emcees to having his own prime-time TV show. Growing up in a single-parent household, community has always played a huge factor throughout Big Zuu’s career. From speaking out on social and political issues to giving young people a sense of empowerment – he’s covered it all!
Beginning his journey at University where he was studying youth work, he dropped out and took the courageous leap to pursue his passion for music. With the overall goal to help and inspire young people, Zuu has always infused this within every step of his career. More recently, the emcee took to our screens with his brand new TV show ‘Big Zuu’s Big Eats’, cooking for various Comedians up and down the country, he showcased his cooking skills to the nation! With whispers of a new season and a cookbook on the way, he really is the gift that keeps on giving!
From juggling radio, going to the studio, hosting podcasts, championing Liverpool FC to making TV appearances, doing press runs and filming his own TV show – we got the chance to catch up with Big Zuu and talk all things music, youth work, cooking and more…
Musically, you are an artist that priorities quality over quantity. You are not afraid to speak out on certain subjects or events, which is arguably sometimes lost in our current landscape. Has this been something you’ve always stood by? Or do you think it comes naturally from artists you’ve grown up listening to or even the environment you were in?
It is probably a mixture of both! Hip-Hop and Rap used to be heavily focused on speaking about issues within society, people like Tupac and Nas; don’t get me wrong there’s always been vibes from 50 Cent and Jadakiss, but they definitely used Rap to talk about what’s going on in the ends. I always gravitated towards the more conscious message when I was listening to Hip-Hop growing up. For me personally, growing up in a single parent background in the ends and becoming a youth worker at 18; music is about vibes, there’s different types of music for different things but for it was always important for me to cover that conscious background.
One thing you are primarily known for is your connection with your community. I read that you were studying at one point for a career to help disadvantaged children and you were a trainee youth worker. What made you want to get into that at such a young age? How important is it for you to give back?
I was in college and I didn’t know what I wanted to become, I was doing my A-Levels and I wasn’t going to get into a proper sick University. I went to a sixth form called William Norris, they had a career advisor that worked there who helped everyone in Year 13 pattern up what they were going to do, whether they go to University, take a gap year or start working; she asked me what qualities I like about myself and said “Do you want to work and be rich? Or, do you want to work and enjoy your life?”, I basically got to a stage where where I was like “Alright, well, I’m good at talking to people” *laughs* – one thing I was always good at was trying to put myself in peoples shoes and not implementing my life onto someone. You know when someone says “Oh, I went Tesco today” and someone else will say “Oh yeah, I went Sainsburys yesterday”, you didn’t even listen to what the person said you just replied with your experience – that’s what people tend to do! However, with me if someone said they did something I’d say “Okay, what happened? How was it?”, that was always something that was within me. From there, they said “Okay, if that’s one of your best traits and something you are good at doing, maybe you should think about working with young people”, I was like “How can I work with young people? I’m still young?” and they said there was a couple of things that I could get into.
There was a charity where you volunteer to work in Primary and Secondary schools, I joined them because it gave me a good reference to get into Uni to do the youth work course that I did; the age they usually work with is people from 18-25, they believe we should be working with young people at a young age because it’s easier for them to relate to us. We may not have the experience in how to do deal with social problems or the wider scale of their life, but we can relate to them regarding things that they are going through and give them advice. So yeah, I went through all that and got to Uni, when I was there, music started to pick up, I started going to sets and doing radio; I was in my second year and I thought ‘Am I going to impact people more by being a youth worker or being a musician with a message?’ and I chose music. That’s why I have always kept it integral to my music because I dropped out of Uni to pursue it – I can’t drop out, do music and become a rich wasteman!
You’ve previously said that in regard to your legacy, you want to be able to look back and have reached people. Do you have bigger plans or ideas that you want to implement in the future?
Yeah for sure! I want to open a youth club, if I get to a place where I am financially stable and I am able to invest in opening a space for young people, that is definitely something I want to do. It is becoming more prominent that it’s needed in this country, the funding is not there for youth work, but the youth are the economies biggest problem, if the youth aren’t on point then the economy fails, because they’re the next generation that are going to build this country. So, I believe that more money should be invested into young people, but as you can see from the wider scale of things, it does not happen, youth clubs are closing, and initiatives are not happening.
However, I feel now, people are more aware and more focused on giving back. I literally saw a video from the BBC today of Stormzy painting some yutes house – that is all part of doing sick initiatives and I think that’s what we need more of! If Stormzy can go and give up his time to paint some kids house because he is doing well in school, it just proves that more of this stuff is needed. The positive impact that that kid is going to have, it will leave a lasting impression on him forever, knowing that he did well in school and Stormzy came and painted his house. Other kids might look at him and think ‘Rah! I want Stormzy to come to my yard!’, these are just little one-off things!
The time it took Stormzy to go to his yard and do that little bit of painting, it may be a one-day thing for him, but it’s going to have an everlasting impact on young people for a long time. If everyone were doing something in their own ways, giving up one day a month just to help someone else, imagine the ripple effect it would have on the wider society. Maybe things like youth crime, knife crime and people having low aspirations and child poverty can get combatted by the people rather than waiting for the Government to do something.
You have been doing a lot recently, you’ve now got your own show ‘Big Zuu’s Big Eats’, you’ve been hosting the Agenda series, you’ve just dropped your Liverpool freestyle and your latest single, you’ve been making a lot of appearances – everything is taking off! How do you stay focused in times like this? Do you have certain mantra’s that you do to just wind down and chill out or?
Do you know what it is, we are always working init. One thing I was speaking about with my manager, he hit me up the other day because we’ve been going hard – even in this lock-down period, we’ve not stopped. Even though I’ve been in my house a lot, we’ve been doing a lot of stuff, so he hit me and said “Bro, do you want to take a break?” and I was like “Rah!! I do want to take a break!”. When you’re self-employed and your running your own ting; I’m not in a job where your boss tells you ‘Yeah, you’re off next week’ or ‘You can take this weekend off’ – I decide when I chill. For a lot of musicians and people in the creative industry, they are so focused on trying to create something special and getting to the places where they want to be, that they sacrifice that normal break and forget to give themselves time to un-wind like you said.
I was so caught up in everything that I was doing, I did not realise that I was burning myself out. I was being told I needed to do stuff and I was like “Ahh, okay I’ve gotta do it!”, its one of those things that for all the people in the creative industry, you need to have a break because your brain being filled with all these things like you said, man’s doing TV, music, hosting podcasts and doing radio, then I’m back in the studio – don’t get me wrong I can’t complain because these are the things that I want, it gets me to the place where I want to be, the recognition that I’m trying to get and obviously it makes me money but I think it’s very important to take a break! So, in a week and a half, I’ve got a likkle four-day break! Man’s just gonna ‘do nothing, not be on my phone and not think about anything, not do any Zoom calls – just chill! I can’t wait! *laughs* After that it is straight back on the grind!
Four days you know, it’s a shame you can’t go away on holiday or anything!
Well, I don’t know! I might do that! Due to Corona and dem tings, we’ll have to see! But yeah, that’s one thing we all need to understand in the creative industry, it’s ok to take a break and put the gas off for one second. I tweeted the other day, I said “Don’t burn the fuse, tryna shine your light” – I thought I was a G when I tweeted that! *laughs* That is the analogy! Don’t burn the fuse trying to shine your light, because you can keep trying to shine it all day but if that fuse burns out, you’ll never be able to shine it again!
We can’t not talk about your show, can we expect a cooking book? Because you have been dropping so many gems throughout the show – we need these recipes!
Yeah for sure! There’s one on route! We are talking to a couple publishers about getting one done. I definitely get asked a lot ‘Am I going to make a cookbook?’ – all the time! Do you know what’s jokes, I didn’t even know people rate cookbooks like that! I thought everyone googled stuff but the cook book ting; I get it, having a cook book in your kitchen, rather than going on your phone and looking at your screen, it’s fun to use, it’s vibrant, something you can rely on and it’s personal init. It’s kind of like a vinyl or a CD! You are so used to streaming music that if you do have a vinyl or CD, that physical version of the music – it’s always going to have that love, it lasts longer. I understand why people want a cookbook now, I’m trying to explore it and look at the best avenue. It’s coming! Let them know!
Were there any chefs or cooking shows that you watched when you were younger that inspired you to start cooking or create certain dishes?
Yeah for sure! Gordon Ramsay, he was so prominent on television in terms of how many different shows he had. He had a programme called ‘The F Word’ which was really sick, he had two teams of chefs go up against each other, obviously ‘Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares’ where he’s going around dissing everyone and ‘Hells Kitchen’ which was the two chef teams versus each other – he’s done so much! He is real with it and cooks boujee food, but he’s not like other TV shows that cook food and you’re like ‘Ahh bruv, I’m never going to cook that!’ – he’s straight to the point with it and I still watch his programmes to this day! Gordon inspires everyone in terms of cooking, especially with me, he’s inspired me that much, that now I’ve got a bloody cooking programme! *laughs*
Which episode for you, was the most challenging? Have any of the comedians bought you out of your comfort zone?
There was one for Lou Sanders in Bath, very random ends that I’ve never been to, but we had to make a full vegan meal. I’ve had vegan food but cooking vegan – you forget you can’t use butter, or eggs, you can’t use this and you can’t use that! Being able to explore that, it taught me ways to supplement it and do it without it tasting like cardboard. People associate vegan cooking with not being able to enjoy the flavours, but you can do it! You can make healthy food that tastes good! For me, a brudda that is used to eating kebabs, burgers and very moreish food, food full of love like macaroni cheese – there’s ways to enjoy a vegan meal! I do think we should all invest our time into at least trying one vegan meal a week. Veganism, it gets dissed a lot online, but it is important because at the end of the day, it’s something that helps your body and the environment – man’s doing two good deeds just by eating food! If everyone was to understand it a bit more and look at it from the positives rather than the notion that it’s not a ting for mandem ‘I can’t do that vegan ting!’ – it’s positive and can actually help our lives!
You’ve just released your latest single ‘Move Right’ which took you back to your home roots of Sierra Leone – I’ve heard that this is the lead single from a forthcoming project of yours. Is there anything we can expect to hear or look out for on this project? ‘Move Right’ is a track sonically that we haven’t necessarily heard you on before….
It’s coming soon! We are working on it, ‘Move Right’ was a way to show people that I’m definitely going in different area’s musically, people are used to hearing me on Grime riddims or sets and very fast paced beats talking about conscious stuff, life in the hood – ‘Move Right’ was a way for man to enjoy! In the next project, there is going to be a lot more of that. I’m still going to have classic Zuu, talking about real life and giving them bars, bare flows and that but there’s songs in there where I’ve cooled it down. I’ve been in the game for about 6/7 years making music, I am getting to that place now where I’m just enjoying it, rather than ‘Okay I need to have the hardest bars or the sickest flows’ – now I’m kicking back and trying to make good music for people to enjoy! That is definitely one thing you can expect off the project and I think it’s going to be my biggest body of work in terms of the amount of tracks! Just expect man to build a likkle Zuu wave!
What else can we expect to see from you this 2020?
Ooo! Hopefully a season 2 of the show, that is being spoken about! So we’re trying to get that done!
Is it going to be with more Comedians? Or are you going to switch it up?
Well yeah! That’s what we’re working on! The comedians set pace and Dave is a channel for comedians, so we made it so that it suited the channel. Now, moving forward we have room to maybe work with musicians, actors and influencers, so that’s something to look forward to! The project is coming this year, expect to see me more on your TV screens doing random shit that you’ve never seen me do before. I’m just gonna keep chasing the bag! *laughs*
Keep updated with all things Big Zuu via his Instagram here!