Elemental Zazen

Elemental Zazen

 Seattle, Washington, USA
BandHip Hop

Conscious, informed, political hip hop. "fearlessly tight"-Hip Hop Connection (9/08). "Fast, furious, raw and reflective" -Boston Globe (1/18/08) Electrifying...Clean as a surgical scalpel and just as sharp" (Weekly Dig 5/08). "A top caliber lyricist." (rap-reviews.com 5/08)


The son of international school teachers, Elemental Zazen (Jason Trefts) was born in the US and raised in Al Taif (Saudi Arabia) and Beijing (China). Zazen saw a similar pattern of injustice everywhere he called home, and focused his fury into his 2004 debut The Adolescence Weapon - which The Weekly Dig praised as "one of Boston's most enlightened hip-hop discs in recent memory." (5/07)

When Elemental Zazen started working on his sophomore release "The Glass Should Be Full," he envisioned the album as a political manifesto for radical social change - revolutionary hip-hop in the tradition of Public Enemy. Over the next two years, a series of tragedies in his personal life interrupted his plans and forced Elemental Zazen to shift his focus to survival.

In 2006, he lost a close family member in a tragic accident, and then lost his possessions in a five-alarm fire. On June 6, 2007, Zazen was taken to the ER after suffering a concussion. The consequential MRI revealed a tumor in his right occipital lobe. A month later, shortly after being featured in The Weekly Dig as one of "10 to watch for in 2007," he checked into the hospital to undergo brain surgery. During his recovery period, Zazen had to relearn how to walk and also to cope with his newly acquired handicap- the surgery robbed him of a large portion of his sight. Zazen started writing about his too-soon confrontation with death, recorded the bulk of "The Glass Should Be Full," and before too long got back to touring with his five-piece band. "The Glass Should Be Full" narrates the fear, hope and anger of a disillusioned revolutionary struggling against both political injustice and personal tribulations.

In The Boston Globe's "5 Locals on the Verge in 2008," Zazen was described as " fast, furious, raw, and reflective...verbally nimble and righteously indignant." The Boston Phoenix added "given the pain that moved his pen at such agonizing angst-addled angles, his sophomore release is as hardcore an opus as Tupac's Me Against the World... it certifies that honesty, vulnerability, and introspection make for better hip-hop than masked insecurity and bullshit every single time." (5/08).

In the summer of 2008, Elemental Zazen embarked on his first european tour, featuring shows in England, Spain, Germany, France and The Netherlands.

In the spring of 2011, Zazen released his third album, "Nothing To Lose But Change", on Gnawledge Records. Although the new record maintains Zazen's dense lyrical style, it is a departure of sorts in that it is his first solo release to contain collaborations with other emcees. Guest vocalists include Jean Grae, Fashawn, and Canibus; guest producers include Jake One, Blue Sky Black Death, Eligh, Metaform, M-Phazes, Joe Beats (Non Prophets) and Kno (Cunninlynguists). In their review of NTLBC, Rap Reviews stated "it's not very often that you listen to a rapper with an activist agenda that has not only the ability to express those ideas eloquently but the music to back it up and the flow to keep you listening. Zazen has achieved that trifecta."

Currently, Zazen is hard at work on his fourth album, titled "Blinded By The Night". The album will be largely produced by Zazen himself, and contains guest production from Blue Sky Black Death, Eligh (Living Legends), and DJ Vadim. Guest vocalists include Gift of Gab (Blackalicious) and Esoteric.

Zazen has also recorded tracks with Fatlip (The Pharcyde), Vast Aire (Cannibal Ox), Wise Intelligent (Poor Righteous Teachers), Insight, and Qwel.

Zazen has shared stages around the world with artists such as Immortal Technique, Kool Keith, Mr. Lif, Cage, Animal Collective, Devin the Dude, and many, many more.

Zazen has spent the past four years pursuing his PhD in sociology at The University of Washington. Before graduate school, he supervised residential counselors at a Department of Mental Health group home for six years.



"The Adolescence Weapon" (LP)- July 2003.
With over 4,000 copies in circulation, the critically acclaimed "The Adolescence Weapon" includes several tracks that received radio play throughout the US and Europe.

"The Glass Should Be Full" (LP)- May 2008.
Recorded while recovering from brain surgery, "The Glass Should be Full" has been hailed by critics, and placed on several top 10 lists for 2008. Features production from Kno, Joe Beats, and Maker.

"Mass Movementz: The Album" (LP)- February 2009. Collaborated with Wise Intelligent of Poor Righteous Teachers on an internationally released compilation album featuring Ill Bill, Fatlip, Termanology, U-God, Slaine, Esoteric, Casual, and many more.

"The Write Off: Vol. 2" (LP)- December 2010. Contributed 3 tracks, including collaborations with Qwel and Vast Aire, to a compilation album featuring several other prominent hip hop artists.

"Nothing To Lose But Change" (LP)- March, 2011. Features guest appearances from Jean Grae, Fashawn, and Canibus; and production by Jake One, Eligh, Blue Sky Black Death, Joe Beats, Kno, M-Phazes, Metaform, and more.

"Blinded By The Night" (LP)- Fall 2012. Features guest appearances from Gift of Gab and Esoteric; and production from Blue Sky Black Death, Eligh, and DJ Vadim.

Set List

Typically, I play with a band. However, due to travel constraints, if I must I will play strictly with a DJ

My basic setlist includes:
"Kill em With the Beat"
"Hollow Heart"
"Words That I Write"
"Wanted to Be"
"Silence of the Now"
"No Survivors"
"Life is Priceless"

No covers. Average set time ranges from 30-45 minutes. As the time approaches the release of my next album, I will begin adding new tracks to the setlist.