BL&D Interview: UZOO
Months ago, we spoke with UZOO, one of the most unique and talented collectives to come out of Connecticut in a while. With 14 members making up the group, they're equipped with a slew of personalities and, as this interview can attest, various unfiltered opinions. The group made their introduction in July with ''ATTACK', a full-fledged posse cut that invokes the nostalgia of rap's past with its raw energy and claustrophobic in-your-face music video. The video has picked up moderate traction with almost 1,500 views on their UZOO Youtube page, where they make hilarious content such as Channel ZOO News and their "Meet The" series. We housed the members in our BL&D loft for a few hours to chat about the group's inception, where they got the UZOO name, and how CT and Hartford can shed its local mentality.
Interview by Onyeka Obiocha
Ony: I feel like we should just go around the room real quick and do some introductions Who are you and how did you become a part of UZOO?
Jaden Castro: I’m Jaden Castro, and Joey Batts asked me, and Frank (Sloth). Yeah, that’s how it happened.
Sloth: I’m Sloth, Joey asked me —
Joey Batts: Yeah that’s going to be the answer for everybody. I had the idea to launch a huge conglomerate, like a big cohesive unit after seeing Funk Gero, AQMNI, Jobo and ClaS!cK rocking at HH4H. And I was like, "How dope would it be to see all of us on stage rockin' at the same time and there weren’t any set breaks and there weren’t any reasons for people to go outside and smoke cigarettes? Or the people who came for CrissB or anyone to just leave when he’s done rapping?" So it just made sense. I asked for people to come to a secret meeting this past December to see if they’d be down and if they’d buy into it. Then we kind of just moved in the shadows for about six months until we were ready to share it with the public.
Jaden: Yeah on some Nightcrawler shit.
Murf: Im Murf, with a 'u', and if you spell it with a -ph, you're doing it wrong.
Detelj – I’m Mike Detelj aka Mikey Whites or Mikey Dets. I actually wasn’t a part of the group in the beginning. Joey got down on his knees and I was like, "Yeah, all right. I'll join," because he asked me.
Joey Batts: He came to my house with a boombox screaming.
Ty: My names Ty Hookz, that’s my real name man. So one day, Batts approached the squad and was like, "Yo, we can really make some shit happen," and I was like, "Yo I’m always down to fuck shit up, feel me?" So it didn’t really matter what it was and it ended up being awesome. And these are my guys. I’ve known some of them since high school and for years. So yeah, it couldn’t get any better than that.
Cre808: I’ve known Joey a long time, so we go back from, you know, open mics and all that. But, on a more current note, I was already feeling everybody in the group before he mentioned anything. So there wasn’t much of a decision to make on that note. And I was ready to do something new, so here I am.
Rudy: I’m Rudy aka 'Yo Girl Call Me Papa', aka 'Yo Gabba Gabba'. And [my story is] basically the same story as everyone else. Joey approached me, and we were always rocking shows and if you look in this room, if it was a successful show in Hartford, it was these folks and a few others that aren’t here.
CrissB: CrissB.Amazing of AQMNI, and like Rudy said, we had been rocking shows together for like years, it was kinda only right. And as he said if it was a successful show it was us, I really believe that this whole thing - everybody in here - individually can make it so together it was like a powerhouse.
Wrex: My name's Wrex Mason. I’ve known everyone who’s in the room right now for the better part of 2 years. I got involved with the group when Joey hit me up and he asked me if wanted to go and get some pancakes.
Joey Batts: Word, so Wrex is currently residing in North Jersey and working in Manhattan. Jobo the BearGod is another member of the crew and little Qusharia. We’re so deep, we need to take attendance.
Hold on, How many people are in the group?
Detejl: I think like 14?
Joey Batts: So you’ve got 12 performers. [Then] Alfredo who helps on production, [and] Zach helps us with blogging and some press stuff.
So is everybody here from Hartford? Greater Hartford area?
Group: Windsor, Hartford, New Britain, East Hartford.
Detejl - Canton.
On that note, Desiigner has the hardest mixtape of the year.
CrissB: Does he really? Because i was kind of afraid to listen to it
Cre808: I’m not going to disagree with that, but when I heard it I was like “Yo, Future is on some other shit”.
I will say this, not a lot of people do dope shit in Hartford, and I think thats the nature of where we are right now, a lot of mediocrity. And I clearly remember late at night on Facebook and I seen like Rudy pretend to roll up on Joey and I remember dudes are going crazy about that shit. Like I remember calling my boy and being like “Yo I don’t know what’s going on, but some shit is happening right now” How the fuck did y’all roll some shit out like that? Like the roll-out was flawless from top to bottom. I’ve never seen anyone roll out a project like that before in my life. It was amazing!
Joey: Criss touched on it a little bit, like this happens a lot in hiphop. Somebody will be like, “Yo I’m dropping a project. Stay tuned…” I knew that when everybody was on board, I was like “Keep this shit close to your chest. Don’t tell no fuckin' body” You know what I’m saying? Because we’re building those songs, building the touring schedule and then on July 7th, we just released everything. Heavy-hitting shit. I knew that if we did it a certain [way], we could take over the Internet. The wrestling shit was a part of it.
Shaving the beard?
Murf: Yeah, he’s overdue. It was so deep that after I shaved Joey’s beard, we were in the studio working on 'Attack' right after.
Joey: Zach was getting threats. ClaS!cK fans were like, “Yo fuck Joey Batts! Where does he get off?" And my fans were just like, “These guys are just young and disrespectful!”
Murf: Someone threatened to shave my beard and pee on my face like it was deep.
Rudy: Everyone was getting these threats and Joey's getting stuff like, “I can’t believe you resorted to violence! You're a teacher bro!" So we came up with this idea of like, we’re going to make a newscast and report on the beef, so i put on a wig as Tom Savage and for a month, I was getting texts for a month like, “Yo are you in a beef right now?” College professors! It was crazy.
Yeah I can’t believe the way you guys pulled that off. So how do you guys get together? I don’t want to expose any secrets but to have all these moving pieces, even to be here tonight. I know that group chat must be crazy 'cause even going on tour, it's a lot to have all of you in one place at one time, I imagine.
Joey: It wouldn’t be possible if dudes didn’t buy in, and I think its dope that since December, until even this morning - even today - I see it in everybody. I'll look at Cre808 and see that he’s fully invested. Same with Criss and Ty and everyone.
Jaden: I was just going to say the same thing. We all want to do this, so it’s never a question if we want to make it work.
After your Summer shows went successfully, Joey – what is the most satisfying thing so far?
Joey: Real shit, I’m gonna be a rap dad real quick. This was a lot of cats first time rocking a mic in Mass [and] being in Mass. Rocking in New Hampshire [let alone] stepping foot into New Hampshire. The idea was to get love out of our market, get love elsewhere and build the hype. Kill it everywhere and come back home and kill it.
Yeah i see a lot of Hartford artists doing that now. It seems that, in order to get love in your city, you need to travel out of your city.
Ty: I feel like CT is one of those places where, you pretty much have to be established to get the people to be like, “Yeah i fuck with it”. If CT doesn’t fuck with you, than your not gonna be popping out here. CT is the place where they’ll look at someone out of state [and] be like, “Yeah you’re popping” and accept it. So now everyone is draped up, dripped out. We accept that from them. So they’ve got more clout than the people in CT doing the same thing, if not better. It just makes me feel weird sometimes. But I know if I can make a whole other state jump, it’s only a matter of time that I can make my state jump. So I’m ready to watch the pot boil over.
Murf: I think it's dope that we’ve all been doing shows together for years and we’ve already seen it - at least in my time doing shows with Clas!ck - just seeing the community build and build. And its gotten better every year [with] better crowds, better music. We’re just evolving. And I think that if you take that somewhere else where people can see the groundwork, its only up from there. It’s like feeding an angry dog.
Yeah its interesting when you think about Connecticut and you see the artists we’ve had for BL&D. I always tell them it doesn’t make sense to be the best person in CT. And I feel like you guys have this very unique aspect where your building together, your individual brands essentially make a powerhouse group, more than I’ve seen anyone do. But what does that mean moving forward?
Joey: It’s like opposite to the CT mindset, which is what I think the audience sees and it captivates them. Like at any moment? CrissB and Ty can rock for 40 minutes and kill a show. ClaS!cK? Same. Funk Gero? Same. Cre8 and Wrex have blazed plenty of stages. These guys were like “Lets drive two hours, do one song, rock 'Attack' and I’m with the shits” you know? That’s rare because in our own backyards? You’ve got guys that have hip-hop bills that have 10 or 15 dudes on it, they bring their 4 or 5 friends and then they leave. Like what the fuck kind of show is that? That isn’t a community effort. I think the audience may not even be on our level.
CrissB: If we could be completely honest, I think that’s something me and Ty felt from their very beginning. No matter where we go, they only need to see us because the energy they feel? It’s undeniable. Regardless if what you thought before was “I don’t think I'll like this”. You see yourself nodding your head, tapping your foot, at every single UZOO show. There’s a least one person that comes up and says, “Yo it’s the energy or the essence that caught me!”
Murf: One guy came up to me in New Hampshire and was just like, “Y’all are incredible”.
Detejl: This girl came up to me after NorthHampton and was like, “ I’ve never seen a group of people rap together and pass the mic to each other like, 'Here take it from me'.
Ty: Yeah, its like, “Take this bro. Light the stage up. Throw some fire”.
Wrex: A lot of it too is artists that take themselves way too seriously. Even the people that do support local artists, they’re used to seeing local artists that have this chip on their shoulder, like they have to prove something to everyone and everything. With us, we’re just having fun with the shit. The way we are personally with each other is the way we are on stage. We’re friends first and a group second. I’m not downplaying everyone else’s persona, but I feel like what we have is something new and fresh.
I think that the way you guys all came together, it's like your all genuinely fans of each other, you know?
Joey: The homie Ceschi Ramos saw us when we played Sully’s Pub in Hartford, and he was like, “Tou guys didn’t even need mics. There was just 11 dudes on stage and y’all spit every bar of that song 'ATTACK'.” It’s true. We really are fans of each other.
What’s that creative process like when you guys are all together in the studio? Like who’s on what beat, how do you select beats, what’s it like?
Group: It’s frustrating as fuck
Rudy: It basically comes down to [asking ourselves], “How do we make it innovative?”
Joey: Unlike with our single ‘ATTACK’, we knew from the jump not every song could be a posse cut. There’s a lot of shit going on. So far, we’re thinking of creating a surplus of songs and sharing it with the public.
How’d you get the name?
Group: We don’t even know. [laughs]
Rudy: I think it was me.
Joey: We don’t even know what it stands for anymore.
CrissB: It’s Underground Zoo Orchestra Outlaws.
Joey: Jobo had been calling himself a bear for a while. Sloth will always be Sir Slothington. Murf is a Koala, he likes being called Koala P. My friends have been calling me a polar bear since I was young. We’re a bunch of animals and we wanted to just be The Zoo, but there are a bunch of established bands with that name, so we settled for UZOO.
So what’s the next step? What are you guys looking forward to?
Murf: Just everything we’re doing now, except bigger.
Joey: Yeah, right now there are some local cats aiming for local cats and that’s a fucking waste of time. If our name isn’t national in a year and a half [or] two years, we’re fucking up. We’re trying to pack the house, make money off the music, and get these cats fed. A couple cats around this table are teetering with some dead end jobs that would LOVE to stop going there and make money off this shit. Taking the show on the road. Getting a UZOO bus and hitting the road and shit.
Detelj: Yeah, if anybody wants to donate to that
Lets go back to talking about being an artist in Hartford and kind of the pros and cons of really being in a city that has a lot of talent but nowhere to really show it. I think Hartford is one of the most talented cities in the East Coast, but I think it’s hard in that, like you said, there’s a lot of local cats stuck in that local mentality. What would you guys say to someone that’s trying to be like on a national level in two years? How can CT and Hartford get better?
Gary: Stop standing back and waiting until it looks good, We talked about this a couple weeks ago in an interview - me and Murf - [about] how you just kinda have to be like, "Yo, it's cool to fail.” But dudes are sitting back on Twitter and Facebook seeing how it looks and then it's like, “Dawg it’s actually good to be there”.
Murf: We used to play different types of shows, like CrissB was there, Jobo was there, Ty was there and a lot of this shit started out of garages and things just got bigger and bigger. People don’t have the mentality of anywhere there’s a stage, I’m going to go. I’m going to step outside my zone and better myself. People don’t really think like that. And I think that's where it starts. Then it's just like - you know, cats come up and their like, “Put me on one of those shows you do”. You can’t step into what we’ve all worked hard for.
Joey: People don’t want to put in the groundwork. I think we can all agree that we would love to open up for some national acts. We would love to get on some bigger bills, but the feeling that would be even better is when our movement is our movement. That’s why I feel personally that UZOO is a mindset. I have 5-10 year plans for some of the shit we’re doing. You know what I mean? I want to attack that local mindset and have it echo around the city, and unify thoughts.
Sloth: You gotta move as a unit like we are.
What’s one thing you want people to take away from your music? When I saw the Attack video, I almost punched my screen. Like that shit was so hard! All this shit was happening. You guys have people vibing out and listening to your music so what do you want them to take away from it and feel? How do they walk away from shows?
Jaden: I want you to be mind blown, you know? Just feel that vibration.
Sloth: That raw rugged, live and direct straight to your doorstep ass shit, you know? That’s what I want.
Murf: I just want everybody to feel mind blown and free, I want people to be like “Yo that was an experience, not just a great show. An experience.
Detelj: To not know what’s going to come next. We have so many different people here. We can make every single kind of hip-hop or genre here. It’s ridiculous.
Ty: I want people to just turn up with me. From what you can see from the shows we put on is crazy. Someone might get slammed through a table; some people might not even make it out the show. You never know what you’re going to get and your going to have the time of your life.
Cre808: To go off what Detelj said, its that unpredictability factor. You can’t predict what will happen, but you know that you’re going to get a dope, quality show and there’s a lot of weapons here and we use them well. It makes for a great show.
Rudy: Basically, you never know what’s going to come next, My brother came to the show in Northampton and he hasn’t seen me perform since I was like 16. He walked up to me after and was just like, “What the fuck is that? Everybody raps, there’s like trap music, then you’re back there scratching, are you a DJ now? Then you walked out and sang. It was like church. Basically just like fuck y’all and I loved it. I'll be back next time”. That’s what I want it to be, “I love this, I’ll be back – when’s the next show?”
CrissB: The only thing I can really say is just to be free, like Murf said. Because of where we live in society, people are closed off. They don’t want to try new things, look for new things. They don’t want anything that’s not force-fed. Like I want them to come to our show and be taken back that what we do is even possible. Like when you look on TV, that shit is so fake. When you come to a UZOO show, I want you to be re-born again, like anything can be possible.
Cre808: Like we want people to come and be like, "I never thought that him and him would be rocking together". And I think that it works and it takes off a bit of that closed-off mindset.
Wrex: To rephrase something that Andre 3000 once said, the one thing that I want people to take away from all of this is that CT has something to say. That’s it. The 860 and the 203, I want UZOO to be the Trojan Horse, just to show that this little state that’s often forgot about between Boston and NY. I want people to see that what’s in the middle is solid as well.
Cre808: I feel like that’s something CT struggles with. That was a problem growing up in the 90’s. We were just emulating NY. You know, whatever they’re doing is cool.
Joey: I been performing for a long time - damn near a decade - and I see too many people just be like, "I’ll just catch Joey Batts next time". Like everybody said before, we have so many weapons. You missed a UZOO show where we did a track that we aren’t gonna perform for another 2 or 3 months. Or you missed a warm up, a full band, cats just trading bars. And that’s something that’s important. There’s certain people that have obligations and need baby sitters, I get that. But when you see that Hartford date, get your ass there.
Detelj: I firmly believe if you put us on any stage together or by ourselves, everybody is going to be talking about us, that simple.
Murf: Also too, I think people highly underestimate the work that goes into this, the time, the money and the fact that, you know, I think that I can say this for everyone, even though we create for ourselves and this is a lot of who we are, we’re giving it to you. We’re giving you our energy, time and attention and I want you to feel it.
Joey: And what can you compare it to? Ill flip the interview on you, what can you see?
Theres nothing like that at all, man. Thank you guys.
UZOO (everyone): “Young.”