Zangba is a rap artist and author who was born in Mines, Liberia and raised in Queens, New York. We connected with Zangba for this Q&A to find out more about his experience settling in Queens after leaving Liberia, why it's important to convey a positive message in his music, how his award nominated screenplay "Three Black Boys" came about and much more.
After reading our exclusive interview with Zangba, be sure to follow him on his social media streams and stay tuned because we have a feeling that we will be hearing much more from him in the future.
At what age did you leave Liberia to come to the United States? And from what you remember, what were your first thoughts when settling in the Queens section of Jamaica?
I left Bong Mines when I was 9-years-old. The plane ride was very long. When me and my sister arrived at JFK Airport in Queens, it was in the middle of February. And let me tell you, coming from a tropical climate, I was astonished when I got introduced to winter in America. To tell you the truth, I felt like a popsicle in a freezer. After that chillin’ experience, I felt relieved when we got to our warm studio apartment. The next day, my cousin Donna bought me my first slice of pizza, and I’ve been eating that ever since.
It took me a little while to get used to the slang, dress code, and the Jamaica-Queens’ way of life. But I had an advantage. Liberians and African-Americans are one in the same. So, I adapted well. And it helped that we lived across the street from the Coliseum Mall. I picked up fashion, and an urban-street mentality, from my brothers (Mike, Rob, and Shawn) in apartment 3D. A few years after that, I entered the underbelly of Southside Jamaica, Queens, a place where I was introduced to memorable characters who helped to shaped who I am today.
How did you get your start writing rhymes and when did you decide to take it to the next level and officially start recording your music?
I started writing raps after watching Boogie Down Production’s “My Philosophy” music video on Yo MTV Raps, but they came out elementary at best. Then I started reading Donald Goines’ novels, and his words were written so vividly that I wanted to write like that. So, you can say it was a combination of hip-hop music and street-lit novels that inspired me to write rhymes.
My recording journey has been a long and costly one. I spent a lot of money on studio sessions. I remember traveling by bus, from Queens to Hempstead, to record my first demo at Public Enemy Recording Studio, where I first saw Mobb Deep coming out of a session. And my most memorable recording moment was when I recorded a demo with Large Professor, at his home in Queens, NY.
Although my ambition was ripe at the time, my rap skill wasn’t. What I needed most was more life experience.
Tell us about your Hip Hop Film Festival NYC nominated screenplay "Three Black Boys". What motivated you to write it?
Three Black Boys started out as a hip-hop song that I recorded at Hillie Hill’s Straight Live Studio in Queens. People who listened to it liked it. So much that some of them started asking, “Why did the boys do the robbery?” That question bothered me because I didn’t know why. At the time, the Creator gave me the robbery scene as a song, with no additional information attached.
After several months, I started visualizing more puzzle pieces to the Three Black Boys story. I read an article about black fever disease, which is second to malaria, and one of the most neglected tropical diseases of our generation, with an estimated yearly death toll of 200,000 people. That grim story gave me the cause to why the boys committed the robbery. I just had to add a few pieces to make the story complete.
That month, I adapted my Three Black Boys song into the short story, Three Black Boys: The Authorized Version, which I labeled my street mixbook (an author’s version of a rapper’s mixtape). After it was published, we sold 1,600 copies in the streets of Harlem during its first week run—straight out the trunk of my car. A few years after that, I wrote the full-length award-winning novel, Three Black Boys: Tomorrow After Supper. Before putting out part II, I turned the book into a screenplay, with hopes that it would be adapted into a movie. Now the screenplay is nominated at Hip Hop Film Festival 2017.
What is your 2020 plan? In other words, where do you plan to be as an artist and author by then?
As a visionary, I like living in the NOW. Taking one day at a time because a brick at a time eventually becomes a house.
The year 2020 is so far away that I don’t concern myself with it. My thoughts are focused on right now—2017. And right now, I have a beauty product, entitled, Ma Benson’s Whipped Body Butter, fashioned in memory of my grandmother. It’s selling online and in several retail markets. Creator-willing, by 2020, I see it becoming one of the top skin-care products on the market.
As a professional writer, I’ve accomplished much. To quote JAY-Z, “I am a writer of myself and others.” Creator-willing, I see me doing that same #BlackArt work in 2020 and beyond, but at a much higher and lucrative level with corporate backing. I see me working with Hip Hop moguls and entrepreneurs to create captivating entertainment for our people’s enjoyment.
As a conscious emcee, I’ma keep rappin’ and keeping it real because Hip Hop saved my life, in so many ways. I’ve been working on an album that my people will love and cherish forever. Creator-willing, before 2020, I see more and more people resonating to my style of music.
We are really feeling your track "We Gonna Make It". Why is it important for you to come with a positive message in your music?
To answer your question, I have a responsibility to put out positive messages because (P) Positive (E) Energy (A) Always (C) Creates (E) Elevation. And when you put those bolded letters together, you get PEACE, which is something I would like to see more of in this world.
What was it like meeting 50 Cent during that fateful time before his shooting? Do his moves as an executive with Power and his upcoming show about BMF motivate you even more as a screenwriter?
The first time I met 50 Cent, it was in front of his grandmother’s house in Queens, NY. But he wasn’t a mega star yet. How that meeting came about? We had a mutual friend named Kentele (Rest in Peace). One day, Kentele sent me a letter from the bing in Southport Correctional Facility, and he named two people that he wanted me to go and see. One of them was his man Boo Boo, who he said was signed to Jam Master Jay. Kentele instructed me to take my music to 50 because he thought, maybe, 50 could help me, somehow?
A week later, I drove to see 50, with my rap partner, Guerilla Maine, in the passenger seat. I rung the door bell, and 50 came out. He had a strong aura and spoke like a general. He didn’t want to talk outside, so we ended up talking inside my mother’s white Ford station wagon. Back then, it was a popping whip ya heard.
I played a cassette tape of me and Maine’s Transformer song, One Shall Stand and One Shall Fall, where we went back and forth spittin’ the hardest raps ever, trying to outdo each other. The song had no hook, just straight rhymes—like Lil Wayne’s “6 Foot 7 Foot” song ft. Cory Gunz. But our song was years before theirs’s, and it had a transformers’ sample in it that was dope. I still got the ASR session on a floppy disk.
50 was feeling our song, but he said it lacked commercial appeal because it didn’t have a catchy hook, which is something he became famous for. He talked about our song structure and what we needed to do to make it better. Then, being the showman that he is, he rapped 16 bars in the backseat of my Mama’s vehicle. That’s one of the classic moments in my life. One I will never forget.
Fast forward to today. I am motivated by 50 Cent’s success. He made it happen. His hit-show Power is my favorite show right now, followed by Game of Thrones, and Ballers. And being an optimistic screenwriter, I can see 50 coppin’ my screenplay, Three Black Boys, and using its blueprint to produce the greatest urban movie ever—based on three teenagers outta Southside Jamaica, Queens.