Zebra Katz
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Zebra Katz

New York City, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2010 | INDIE

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2010
Band Hip Hop EDM


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"You Have to Know the Context"

IT is fairly safe to say that very few of the several hundred people attending the Rick Owens fashion show in Paris this month had heard of Zebra Katz, the performance artist whose song “Ima Read” played for roughly 11 minutes on the soundtrack.

The minimalist lyrics that blared over the catwalk are unprintable here, but they consist of variations on threatening slams against someone who is being read, in the sense that “being read” has been used for decades in voguing communities. That is, to insult someone in the bitchiest terms imaginable. “Ima cut that ...”

So it was a natural fit for fashion people, who took to social media to broadcast it widely. By the end of the week, a video for “Ima Read” had been viewed on YouTube more than 200,000 times.

“For me, it was the perfect culmination of where that song could go,” said Ojay Morgan, the artist behind the song.

Mr. Morgan created the character Zebra Katz more than five years ago as part of a senior thesis project at Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts.

“Ima Read” was originally recorded as a statement on black culture and performance, a tribute to the movie “Paris Is Burning,” but audiences did not seem to get it. Many people thought he was misogynistic or worse, though another version, a duet with a female rapper, Njena Reddd Foxxx, added some complexity to that argument.

When Mr. Owens contacted him a few weeks ago, shortly after the song was released online by Jeffree’s, a new imprint of Diplo, Mr. Morgan said he was pleased that it would be heard in the context of a Paris fashion show.

“I basically gagged,” he said, meaning that in a good way.

Until a week ago, Mr. Morgan, 25, was the staffing director for a catering company. Now he is performing at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Tex.

“When the song hit Paris, it completely skyrocketed,” Mr. Morgan said. “All these people in the fashion industry that I looked up to had to listen to that song, and I knew a lot of people weren’t going to get the context right away. You have to do the research to get what I’m saying.” - New York Times

"Creating a strong, black, queer male is something that needed to happen"

Zebra Katz is the frightening and fabulous creation of 26-year-old Ojay Morgan, who describes himself as "black, queer and 'other'". None of those are identities that have sat easily in the world of hip-hop, but Morgan may well be changing that.

After fashion designer Rick Owens chose to use his formidable Ima Read at a Paris fashion week show last year, the track exploded. It's minimal, menacing and intoxicatingly repetitive – the word "bitch" is used 87 times. "It's seen as a very misogynist word in hip-hop but we're trying to numb it," Morgan explains. "It's like what Missy Elliott did with She's a Bitch – she reclaimed it. Being different yourself gives you the power to make other people think differently."

It's also a play on the word "read": this isn't just about literacy ("I'm gonna take that bitch to college/ I'm gonna give that bitch some knowledge") but a homage to the ballroom scene of New York – the world of voguing and drag culture immortalised in Jennie Livingston's 1990 documentary, Paris Is Burning. "Read", in that context, means to cut someone down to size, to flex your bitchiness.

When he raps it's at an ultra-slowed, lowering snarl, but when he speaks it's at the thousand-words-per-minute rate of an artist high on ideas adrenaline.

We meet at a Brooklyn diner in his neighbourhood and he explains that Zebra Katz began, "just as this joke character between some friends – after two drinks I'd be rapping". The phrase "Ima Read" was a sort of personal mantra, which "just came from being in college and being fed up".

This was at New York's Eugene Lang College, a liberal arts college where Morgan studied after attending art school in Florida. There weren't many other black male students, he explains, and so "there were those moments, when I was dealing with my peers, when I'd be like, are you kidding me?" They included, for example, encountering students opposed to colour-blind casting in his drama class. When Morgan studied Shakespeare he submitted a thesis on moors in the plays after "being cast as all these characters because of my skin tone. You want me to put a piece of bone in my nose and play Caliban, you know?"

After college, Morgan worked a managerial position at a catering company, but as soon as Owens used Ima Read for his fashion show, Morgan quit, "because I thought, OK, here's an opportunity, I need to run with this".

The track, in fact, is still running, with a seemingly endless life of remixes. ("I stopped counting after 78.") The latest star to pick up the track is Busta Rhymes, who features on the new mixtape, DRKLNG, which Morgan uploaded to SoundCloud a few weeks ago.

"Oh my goodness," he says, when I mention Busta Rhymes's contribution. "It's insane, having him work with someone like me, who's very underground, very up and coming. I think it says a lot about who can and can't be involved with hip-hop."

His persona and performance style make me think of Grace Jones – both are the fiercest of the fierce, but their fierceness is deployed with such high drama that there's also something funny about it. He's thrilled by the comparison.

"She's been an influence on me for ever. Being first-generation Jamaican… and in terms of performance and acting and coming up through the fashion industry."

Zebra Katz is often categorised as "queer rap", a term he feels ambivalent about. "It was maybe reassuring to a lot of queer artists to see that they can go out and make music, but I fought against it. I want my music to be listened to and I want my audience to find it and figure out what I'm doing, instead of journalists pushing that out."

He plans another release for next month, entitled 2012, and is playing, as he puts it, "all the festivals in the UK," but still isn't signed and is in no rush. "There have been offers, but I'm trying to grow before I sign myself to something specifically." For now, he's just enjoying being able to, "live fully in this character, which I couldn't do before".

"Creating a strong, black, other, queer male is something that really needed to happen because you don't see that that often, especially not in hip-hop. But it's terrifying standing up as a queer man. People are getting attacked all over the world, but you have to use your sexuality as a tool, instead of having them use it against you."

And, despite writing it years ago, he's not sick of Ima Read. "It's such a blessing to me, having that piece to stand by. The conviction that went into that and the video – I would love to stand next to that track as long as it may go." - The Guardian


Still working on that hot first release.


Feeling a bit camera shy