Hip-Hop is going through one hell of a renaissance period right now. Although we’ve seen glimpses in recent years, the past few months have proved that the power in music now lies in the hands of the younger generation. The youth is undeniably the future, as historical moments and long-lasting cultural staples are being implemented before our eyes. Hip-Hop has always been a unique situation, as artists have taken what our musical forefathers have done in the past and evolved them beyond all expectations. However, what adds an even more interesting element into today’s game is that the new generation of artists are not only building on the previously laid foundations, they are also getting first hand guidance from the bricklayers before them. All across the board, legendary acts such as Gucci Mane, Diddy, Jay Z, Kanye West and more have shown a keen interest in artists who fall under the Millennial and Generation Z bracket; an interest that has proven to be fruitful for all parties involved. The relationships created in turn not only allow the culture’s OG’s to share their wisdoms, but also have given these budding artists the ability to develop and grow before our eyes.
One of the most impressive connections out of this group comes from legendary MC Nas, and his newly signed artist Ezri Walker. Hailing out of Cleveland, Ezri is a young man who’s talent speaks for itself. At the early age of 21, Ezri has not only shown his prowess behind the mic, but he’s also proved that his talent can transition on the big screen as well. First breaking into the national eye with an incredible freestyle on SiriusXM’s Sway In The Morning in 2016, Ezri’s humble persona landed him a role in the Steven Caple Jr. directed film The Land, which was followed by a recurring role in Fox’s award winning television series Empire. Occasionally, Ezri will flex his abilities with a freestyle or a single here and there, but he’s meticulously been working on his latest body of work, which is aptly titled be right back. After a recent relocation to New York following his signing with Nas’ Mass Appeal Records, Ezri has decided the time is right to share his new music with his growing fan base. Taking some time out of his busy schedule ahead of the October 27th release, we had the chance to catch up with young Walker during his recent trip to his hometown of Cleveland. Check out our conversation below
You seem to be spending a lot of time in NY lately. How's that Been?
I just moved out here recently. It’s been super cool man, just getting acclimated with some new people – and the ones that I already knew out there from Ohio like Jordi, my homie Dom, my homie Juan- who does graphic design for like Rae Sremmurd & Ear Drummers . Plus I got family out there so it’s cool having people out there to kick it – I’ve been getting a lot of work done, so it’s great timing.
You're talent was well known before The Land, but how have things been since the film?
It’s been good! After 'The Land' I got an agent, and he sent me a bunch of scripts and auditions. I ended up getting a role on Empire. So 'The Land' really helped push a lot of this forward. Shout out to Steven Caple Jr., the director.
You also had a really solid role on Empire for a bit. Should we be looking out for you in any more shows or movies coming up?
I’m still out here reading scripts and doing auditions. As far as 'The Land', the way they wrote my character, he has the possibility to pop back up whenever. A lot of it happens spur of the moment, so I really don’t know yet.
That 2016 Sway In The Morning Freestyle really kicked things into high gear for you. What else can you say contributed to your success so far?
Definitely Sway, my mom who’s spearheading a lot of the things I have going on. My whole support system really. Cleveland’s support – shout out to ImFromCleveland, AnimalxHouse for helping put my music out there.
You just recently shared an incredible visual for “be right back”. What were some of your inspirations behind the video?
The way it’s shot came from playing video games, thinking "damn, it would be hard to have a video like this". Prior to coming up with that idea, I had never seen anything like that before – so when I passed the idea to a couple of people, they sent me references that were similar. But I still wanted to tell a more realistic story than the ones I saw – in that similar format. I wanted to take it through a day in the life of someone who lived in an impoverished area, and make the viewer feel like they’re the one making the decisions in each situation. Its the story of my neighbors, and those around me who have gone through similar situations so I wanted to combine the two.
We know you're putting the finishing touches on your next body of work; what can us fans expect when "be right back” officially drops?
Fans can expect a wide range of styles and music. This project has been in the process for about two and a half years, so the sounds are different from then up to now as I’ve developed. I wanted to keep some of the stuff I had so some of it is remastered, but I feel like I want to showcase all of the abilities I have as a [musical] artist. It’s a plethora of me, but it’s also like the video, where it’s telling a story. From when I graduated high school until about now.
One of the biggest things surrounding you recently is the news that you’ve signed with Mass Appeal. Tell us a bit on how the connection with the iconic platform came to be.
Well actually, because of the 'The Land', that’s how I met Nas. He had heard my music while I was recording on the set and he liked it. He ended up picking two songs for the soundtrack of The Land and eventually, conversations led to him wanting to sign me.
You’ve recently been spotted in the Mass Appeal studio with some heavy-hitters as well. As a young legend, do you ever feel starstruck at times, or is it something you’re used to by now.
I just feel like I belong, you know what I mean? People come in the studio, and I’m already in there. You know what I’m sayin’? It’s like I’m trying to be welcoming and try to make them feel comfortable. It’s just organic energy. I wouldn’t say I feel starstruck around anyone, but around certain people I may be in awe but I really just be chillin’. Everyone that comes in there is super cool though, Ski Ma$k has been in there, Ty Dolla $ign, Manny Fresh, Dom Kennedy came through yesterday. It’s crazy because it’s such a contrast of artists that come through. Mass Appeal is definitely about showcasing what’s new about hip-hop culture, but since it’s ran by a legend like Nas, you have people in there of his status. Its crazy the people you’ll see in there.
Tell us a bit about your ‘One of One’ movement.
One of one is actually a company. My plans for that are to eventually have a label probably, but I also want to create studios and places for people to work. I’ve got a lot of ideas floating around right now, but whatever I do with it, I want to inspire people to tap into what makes them, them. Get rid of the distractions. Because there’s this common mindset that you have to wake up, go to work to get a check to pay bills and do that all over again. A lot of people are living in that matrix, so I want to inspire people to really just tap into their passions and what makes them unique and expand on it. Create with whatever it is you love to do. With that comes with evolution of yourself. I feel like I’m evolving in the right direction to do what it is I want to do before I die. That’s what I want to inspire people to do, to be a one of one.
Some would say the game is over-saturated with a lot of artists pushing the same sound. As someone who has never had a problem with originality, care to weigh in on the topic?
I can’t blame an artist for doing what they doing and feeding their families, you know what I’m saying? I respect anybody that can go out there and feed their family doing whatever it is they want to do. If anything, I would have to tell the listeners to try and pick apart what’s authentic and not authentic cuz at the end of the day, I just like to listen to authentic artists. Even in the vein of what people call mumble rap or SoundCloud rap, I have favorites of that genre and that’s all I listen to a lot of the time. But it’s people that I know and really living what they speak about. I would encourage listeners to try to understand what’s authentic, try to understand what’s unauthentic and try to support what’s authentic. But I can’t blame the artist, because at the end of the day niggas gotta eat.
How does it feel to have your talent recognized and praised by a legend such as Nas and Erykah Badu?
Yeah, Erykah Badu has been the homie since the land. She played a role in that film, so shout out to Erykah Badu. She’s real supportive and down to earth man, and makes you feel like you’re meant to be where you’re supposed to be and where you’re at; so I appreciate that about her. It’s cool man, I just appreciate the feedback from people like that who have the experience that they have and the wisdom that they have from being in this career field, you know what I mean? It just humbles me at the end of the day, but I appreciate the support from ANYBODY honestly. It’s all humbling just knowing that people appreciate what I create and people can gravitate to it and relate to it
Can you share any lessons or wisdom Nas has bestowed on you since you two have connected?
Really, he just tells me to write – to add verses. He loves rap. He’s a very soft spoken person honestly. He’s to himself a lot of the time so being around him in the studio and around Mass Appeal, I pick up that from just from watching him. He doesn’t even have to say anything a lot of the time, you know what I’m sayin? I just pick up certain key things from watching how he moves and his behavior and how he reacts in certain situations. He’s a very respected man, and he moves as that.
As an artist from Ohio how important has it been to your success to get out to these larger markets?
I just find it that when I’m in NY or LA, there’s more to do and I’m moving around more. There’s more opportunities but obviously its more about your talent because that’s what carried me to these places. Definitely hone in on your craft first and foremost. I feel like its key to move around for inspirational purposes, you know? Being stuck in the same city I would lose inspiration and it would become unmotivating. It helps my creative process. I think it’s important to move around, even outside of the business aspect – but as far as the business aspect goes, there’s a lot more resources out there. But a lot of people don’t have the means to get out, so that’s why you have to work on your craft before you can get to that point. I went to school before I even ended up going to do Sway in New York.
What are the top 3 projects besides your own you've been listening to?
All of Key!’s work. Not really a project but his whole catalog, he’s the only feature on my project. I listen to Nessly, Shabazz, Q Da Fool, Gleesh, Nudy’s new joint, Uno’s new joint. ADAMN, it’s a lot.
Who are some of your favorite artists coming out of Cleveland right now?
I listen to my cousin, Blackie Montana. This dude Tommy Missus, from Mentor. Foreign Jay, my cousin’s right hand man. My homie Tezo got some hard stuff coming out soon.
What are some of your favorite things about being in New York?
The food. It’s expensive man, that’s the only thing I don’t like about it but I’m making it work. But the food is solid, I got homies out there to kick it so being able to see different areas is dope. Definitely the studio, I got the key to that joint so if Nas isn’t in there or another artist doesn’t have a session booked, I just be in there. It’s like a clubhouse but with a work environment so there’s people in there working to help you move forward as an artist.
When you’re back home in Cleveland, what are your favorite food spots?
I really be eating at the crib or like sometimes Town Hall. Chicago’s Home Chicken and Waffles, The Boiler 65.
Any message you want to relay to your fans out there?
If I could put it into a simple phrase, just be one of one. Don’t be a follower, don’t fall into that trap. Don’t fall into that cycle. Don’t allow yourself to get trapped into wasting your days away posting on social media and on Worldstar and not getting anything done. Be progressive, don’t be a copier.