“You want to shed tears when you realize you’ve done so much with so little in return.”
I was introduced to the music of dancehall artist, Zulan O’Brien, by the owner of Platinum Franchize Records, known locally as Mr. Taliban One Link. I didn’t know I was soon to meet a former member of Major Links Entertainment and I certainly wasn’t sure what to expect with everyone calling themselves an artist nowadays. I couldn’t believe the professionalism on a par with Bounty Killer, Assassin and Beres Hammond? (I know, just keep reading.)
So far, I’ve been staying true to my mission to put the DMV on the map so I was excited to find out that he was local to our area and I had the chance to take up his time. I thought I would never get the opportunity to interview a true dancehall artist. I hope this interview pays him the respect due.
Today is February 20, 2013.
Me: Nice to meet you, Zulan.
Zulan O’Brien : Thank you. You too. [His attitude was so humble.]
Me: Tell me. What part of Jamaica are you from?
Zulan O’Brien : Born in Portland, grew up in Montego Bay.
Me: I did my research on YouTube and it seems that 2011 and 2012 were productive years for you. Was 2011 the start of your music career?
Zulan O’Brien: No, I’ve been recording seriously since age 16.
Me: How old are you now?
Zulan O’Brien: 25
Me: So what did that mean for you? Recording seriously…
Zulan O’Brien : Seriously is when you get good feedback. And you make the transition from recording music for fun to recording for success.
Me: Did you start with public performances or in the studio?
Zulan O’Brien: In the studio but I never really wrote anything until I met this guy from Trinidad.
Me: You were in Trinidad?
Zulan O’Brien: No, here in America. He was Trinidadian but he speaks Jamaican.
Me: Yeah? [I felt confused. I think Zulan could see it because he started to laugh.]
Zulan O’Brien : He used to call himself Biggie. He was my friend’s sister’s boyfriend. I used to look up to him and then one day we went to a friend’s house and he started freestyling and directing disses towards me to make everybody laugh. After that I decided to write a song. I wrote my first song in 2002 or 2003.
Me: Okay. What did you do with it? How did people get to hear it?
Zulan O’Brien: I don’t think he got to hear it but friends did and they said that I sounded good.
Me: You sound damn good, yes. Have you been compared to anyone?
Zulan O’Brien : People make weird comparisons but I don’t see it. Some people say Mavado. Some say Jah Vinci. Some people say Assassin. But I don’t mind being compared to artists because say for instance you like Mavado and I’m coming with something similar to what he’s doing, you’re going to be able to identify with it. I think everyone is gonna sound like their influences in a way.
Me: Let me tell what you what I was thinking. The first song I listened to was “Frenemy” and I couldn’t help but notice the range of your versatility in the one song. I think you started out singing the chorus and I was completely shocked. Yes, I liked the dancehall verses but your voice is so nice. It’s like you should really be singing.
Zulan O’Brien: LOL thank you. You know how the singing came about? Treez sings. N3 sings. We all collectively do music together and I’m the only deejay amongst those singers so I’m forced to be the most versatile. You see what I’m saying. So I have to bring out everything I got.
See if you agree with me, the versatility didn’t stop with the singing. Zulan also rapped fast and smooth over a slow tempo which is not easy to do because rappers usually ride the beat.
Me: How did you start working with them?
Zulan O’Brien: Really, N3 is the main person I work with. We’re like a duo but then again we still each do our own thing. We don’t want to be classed like Tonto Metro and Devonte. If you don’t see Devonte you’re gonna ask…
Me: …where’s his partner? But how did you guys meet? Did you meet working together for Cash Bag?
Zulan O’Brien: No, no, I met N3 probably like 3 or 4 years ago at Major Links. Me and a friend were brought into Major Links when they just started the studio.
Me: Where are they anyway?
Zulan O’Brien: They’re [Major Links] in Hyattsville but they’re currently closed down. Me and a friend went there to start up a studio with Major Links and N3 was a friend of one Major Links employees. N3 was here for the summer from Jamaica and he came to the studio.
Zulan O’Brien: N3 had engineering experience and started doing some engineering for me then I slowly convinced him to do the music because he knew so much about constructing music.
Me: Tell me about that, the construction of music…
Zulan O’Brien: The process is weird. I don’t write music and neither does N3. We put on beats.
Me: So how do you find lyrics?
Zulan O’Brien: Most songs are from life experience. It’s hard not to find things to say when you’re speaking about things you know about or went through. We normally put beats on until we vibes on something.
We try to get a catchy hook first because once you get a good hook, it’s definitely a plus.
Me: Because you have something to build around
Zulan O’Brien: And most people only know the hooks, you ever notice that?
Me: Lol yeah, even if they don’t know anything else.
“Mamma just dry your eyes. Dry your eyes. The pressure soon gone cah u son nah give up.
U son nah give up.”
(Click here for Zulan’s first song recorded for Shocking Vibes)
Zulan O’Brien: Yeah so we just try to come up all day with catchy hooks and creative ideas. After that putting the words to it are pretty simple. Once we know what we’re talking about…
Me: It’s funny because I used to write songs myself and I would listen to the feel of the beat first and then start with a verse.
Zulan O’Brien: Some songs we start with a verse. Certain experiences will make you start with a verse because you already know what you’re talking about but if you tryna come up with a hit song, I think the focus is more on the chorus because if the chorus ain’t doing it, I don’t think it’s gonna work.
Me: Makes sense.
Zulan O’Brien: Right now 2013 and beyond we want to be more on the business side. We have good music but we’ve been slacking on the business side. Right now, it’s mainly business you have to do to get out there. It’s not even talent anymore and we haven’t tapped into the business side fully.
Me: Do you know what steps you have to take to embark on the business side more?
Zulan O’Brien: Well for the last few years we’ve been recording on other people’s beats for exposure so people could see that we can put a song on a great rhythm and still make a great song. That’s what we’ve been doing for the last couple years but it’s not gonna pay off because putting songs on people’s rhythm, you’re not getting the promotion, you’re not officially on the rhythm. It’s not lucrative at all so that’s the big change this year. [He leaned into his chair and started to contemplate.] Dancehall is not making the money it should.
Zulan O’Brien: I don’t think it’s been business oriented. Reggae is the number one music in the world but…
Me: Well, I was thinking the individual artists make money after they start to go on tour and stuff but…
Zulan O’Brien: Yeah. [and the conversation diverged again] Music brought me back to Jamaica after 8 years.
And through music, we met Patrick Roberts, Beenie Man’s manager and the owner of Shocking Vibes. He liked what he heard so he set up an opportunity for us to do some promos, radio, take pictures, get bios…
Me: Did he help you with the videos because the videos are very professional?
Zulan O’Brien: I did those videos myself.
Me: How? WHAT?
Zulan O’Brien: [He smiled.] You don’t even want to hear that story.
Me: Yeah, I wanna hear. LOL
Zulan O’Brien: Well, we were first signed to Major Links. Bugle was also signed to Major Links and Vibrant, he’s doing well. He went on tour in Japan. We were all signed at the same time but I think me and N3 were put on the bench. I think they think we know too much.
Me: Do you want me to publish that?
Zulan O’Brien: I do. This is raw and uncut. Publish it. They do think that we know too much. That’s why I love N3 as a partner. We learn at the same speed. Major Links also has a video company, Unplugged Multimedia, which shot a lot of Bugle’s videos…
Me: Oh yeah, I saw that name but the video I saw with you was just a lot of talking. What was that about?
Zulan O’Brien: Exactly, a lot of times our music videos were supposed to be shot and it never happened. So I decided “I’m gonna buy a camera and shoot my own videos.” So believe it or not, me and N3 go back and forth at shooting these videos. If you don’t see him in the scene, you see me in the scene.
Me: Oh my God!
Zulan O’Brien: I been doing all the editing. We didn’t even have someone to hold the camera, so we came up with our own company ZNN films, Zulan and N3. We even shoot other people’s videos but I don’t want to get caught up in it too much. We’re gonna hire other people. We went through a lot and to this day we haven’t gotten the credit we deserve because even on the DMV level, we’ve done a lot.
I don’t think any other artists have the presentation we have.
Me: So after Major Links and Shocking Vibes, what happened next?
Zulan O’Brien: Okay, Major Links and Shocking Vibes was a joint contract. We stopped working together around Dec. 2011.
Me: Did you take away any benefit from that collaboration though?
Zulan O’Brien: Yes, we met a lot of influential people in the business. We went down with a song called “Church Bell” on the Matrimony rhythm from Wayne Marshall’s label, Washroom Entertainment. We didn’t officially record it for them. It was about wifey and matey situations. The first person who heard it and loved it was Rum Blood from Ward 21. So he called Wayne Marshall to get him to officially re-record the song and put it out. But because the song made a comedic mention of the war between Marshall and Vybes Kartel he chose not to promote it.
Zulan O’Brien: As Major Links we kept parties. We got Bugle for a show and that’s how we met.
Bugle introduced me to Jamaica’s number one radio personality from Zip FM, ZJ Liquid. Liquid heard it and loved it and decided to play it on the radio. People say if Liquid plays your song, you made it. He had it on rotation and we ended up meeting a lot more artists. Versatile, Patexx…
Dwayne “D. Wizzle” Morris, the keyboardist for Beenie Man’s band, was hired as a producer for Major Links and introduced us to Patexx. I don’t know if you know Patexx. That’s who really sounds like Mavado. He was signed to Alliance but he can’t get the shine because he sounds exactly like Mavado. Pattex gave us a feature on one of his songs and it was a good look but that song never came out.
Me: So we’re not talking about “Church Bell” anymore, we’re talking about Patexx’s song?
Zulan O’Brien: No, when we recorded with Patexx, he did his part and we were supposed to finish the session in Jamaica but didn’t so it was sent to us to America via the Internet for us to finish it here and mysteriously the file got misplaced. So it was a big waste of time.
Me: Okay, now bringing it current, you were working overtime last year! What are you up to?
Zulan O’Brien: To date we have done performances in Mo. Bay, Jamaica, Canada, Florida, Pittsburgh, Virginia Beach, Richmond and we don’t have recordings of the shows. We opened for I-Octane, Bugle, Sanchez, Voicemail, Chan Dizzy, Kiprich, Gee Whiz, Baby Sham, Khago, Kibaki, Ras Penco, and Stacious.
We are putting our packages together behind the scene. We already have a public relations person, Cherise “Lady Reese” Parker. She’s a radio personality in Pennsylvania. She helped us through most of last year getting radio plays, TV placements for the videos, web site placements. She got us on some dancehall video cable channels in New York.
Right now we’re doing a joint business venture with Cash Bag but we are not signed. [Cash Bag Entertainment is a Montego Bay-based record label.] Just like we did the video company, my ultimate goal is to have a recording label of our own so we can keep track of our own stuff.
Me: Where does the money come from?
Zulan O’Brien: Currently I’m not working to take time off to focus on music. Me and N3 are now voicing for Cash Bag Entertainment, Vexx Bad Records, Black Brown, Sounds Mafia, Platinum Franchize Records and many area producers such as Krime the Producer (from Baltimore) and Biggs Production (from the DMV).
Me: Have you ever thought about performing at any of the dancehall parties in the area?
Zulan O’Brien: No, unless it’s a trending artist. I just finished a mix tape. We dropped it Valentine’s night and it’s had 2,936 downloads so far. I did a Valentine’s mix that’s available online for free download at Hulk Share.
On March 23rd we doing DJ Selmo’s birthday bash at the Friendship Center, 9055 C-Mailer Road, Laurel, MD.
The flyers and venue are not yet available but on August 2nd we are performing at an event called “Dancing with the Stars”.
Currently, Zulan O’Brien and N3DiArtist are open to working with producers who cater to their taste of music. Feel free to keep connected.
FaceBook: Zulan O’Brien(Murray)/N3DiArtist,