What does King MEZ stand for and how did you come to choose that as your name?
It came from when I was in high school, and me and my friends used to be at the house, that we called the studio, recording music. My real name is Morris, and my friends used to call me E- Z, because I was laid back. Then one day someone told me I should switch it from M- E-Z to just MEZ, and I ended up liking the way that sounded better. When I added the King, I was a little hesitant at first. I didn’t want it to sound arrogant or pompous. But I feel like King is more of a characteristic than a title. When I think about kings from Ancient Egypt or even movies like 300, I see being a King as being someone of respect and honor. And that’s my demeanor. I’m a quiet person. I don’t really speak unless spoken to, and I won’t speak on things unless I know exactly what I’m talking about. But there is an acronym for it: Knowledge Is Now God & My Everlasting Zeal.
Can you remember a particular situation or time period where you made up your mind, once and for all, that rap was your destiny, and you were going to pursue it as your career?
There were a few things. When I was in high school, there were a lot of people I was around who had gone on to be big in sports. People don’t realize that where I come from, North Carolina, there are a lot of famous people. Like John Wall, I’ve known him since elementary school. I was just with him the other day. Brandon Banks, who’s a kick returner for the Redskins. I went to school with that guy who won American Idol, Scotty McCreery. We all were going to school together at the exact same time. So just from a young age, I was always adamant about being successful in what I do and what I’m passionate about. Just being in the lunchroom and freestyling at the table, the reaction I would get was a different feeling all alone. And when I was going to Morgan, I was staying in Rawlings. I would be in my room making beats and writing raps all the time. I always wanted to be able to provide for my family. And when my mother passed, I left school to go back home. I was looking after my little brother, and there was just a lot of time and opportunity to really go after it. I wanted to do it to honor her memory and just provide a way for me and my brother. Then I started to work with people like 9th wonder, and soon I was getting national press from XXL, MTV and BET. I’ve been on 106 & Park. That spark had me wanting to keep going.
Where there any other career choices you ever considered?
Engineering was my main focus. That’s what I was going to school for. That’s something I’ll probably still get into later on down the line. Designing tennis shoes was another big dream of mine. I wanted to work at Nike out in Portland, Oregon. That’s something I’ll still do, if I choose to move pass rap one day.
What do you feel is your strongest suit as an artist? Something that completely separates King MEZ from every other rapper.
The fact that I’m truly me. When I’m working on music, I eliminate the radio, the Internet, and any other distractions. My music is a complete extension of me. I don’t follow trends. If everybody were to do that, hip hop would be so incredible because nobody would sound like anybody else. I think that’s where a lot of artists mess up. They get caught up in trying to sound like what’s hot, or what a record company tells them is hot, and they lose themselves. Like, I’m into animated cartoons, and things like that, so you see those influences in my music. Anything that is a part of me, gets incorporated into the music.The full spectrum of an artist should be the full spectrum of that person.
It’s interesting you speak of trends. If there were one trend you could remove from rap forever, what would it be?
Every single one. There should never be trends. Hip Hop is the only art form where that’s done. When something is successful, then so many other people want to try to duplicate it. You don’t have that in modern art, or historical art. When Picasso dropped a new painting, other artists didn’t start to make all their paintings look exactly like his. Of course there will always be imitators, but Hip Hop takes it to another level. And it’s never prominent. It hurts the art form economically, and it kills the mind creatively.
How do you feel about terms like “backpack” or “conscious” rapper, that are used to describe someone with your content of music?
Personally, I feel you can’t describe a person with words and labels. But that’s how the human mind works. We never want to be in the unknown. It always has to be, “I know who you are”. You’re like another Big Sean. Or you’re like this person. It’s always, “Oh they rap about drugs a lot, so they’re a weed rapper.” People don’t want to just take something for what it is, and recognize the uniqueness or individualism of it. With me, I just don’t pay attention to it. Unfortunately, I know people will be like that forever, until the end of time.
Where you come from, North Carolina, it isn’t really on the national scale. Can you describe the music scene there?
It’s a dope place and environment. J Cole, he’s not from Raleigh, where I’m from, he’s from Fayetteville. He’s like the biggest artist from here, and he has platinum and gold plaques. We have a big underground scene, and it has a very particular sound. Little Brother does a good job of capturing what North Carolina is about. Our music is laid back, it personal, and it’s based on our inner most thoughts. And what we feel in our soul. It’s almost like Neo Soul compared to R&B. North Carolina is the Neo Soul of Hip Hop.
Excluding all rappers, who’s the one artist you’re dying to work with?
I would love to catch Stevie Wonder before he stops doing music. He’s probably my favorite artist ever. Everything about him form the songwriting, to the instruments he plays. I would love to just be around him and soak up whatever wisdom I could.
I know you’ve dropped the King’s Khrysis album, as well as My Everlasting Zeal album. Do you think you’re leaning towards going the indie route, or would you prefer to sign with a major?
Even though people probably look at me as a backpack rapper, they have to understand that foremost I’m diverse, not one sided. I have fun being independent, but a major label wouldn’t be a bad idea as long as it’s the right situation and right time. You can be independent and be extremely succesful. Look at Mackelmore and Mac Miller. But then you have Tyler the Creator and Odd Future. They rode their wave as independent artists and then a major was able to take them to a higher level on an international scale. But with me, I’m open minded, and I always want to make progressions sonically. I like learning the business independently, but when the time is right, a major could be a good thing in the future.
What is the one shocker you didn’t know about the industry, and now that you know, you would like to warn aspiring rappers?
Honestly, the people. The people in the industry can deter you and make you want to stop making music. You’ll deal with people who are willing to do anything to make money if they see some kind of opportunity in you. That includes getting you to change your style or go against who you are. My advice is to come in with the people you know and stick with them. Keep your circle familiar. My manager is from Winston, Carolina and my coordinator is from Raleigh just like me. You have to watch the people you trust too. You don’ t want to wake up in a hotel room one day, look around and be like, “Who are all these people?”
I know you’ve been doing shows with artists like Wale and Pusha T, and traveling with people like MK Asante. Where’s the most memorable place you’ve been so far?
The Virgin Islands. I did two shows, two nights in a row in The Virgin Islands, opening up for MK Asante. It was an astounding experience. It was eye opening and life changing. Even the experience of getting there. It’s like half way across the globe. Well not exactly, it’s like a five hour plane ride. But when I got there, performing, and having people know who I was, that was a great experience.
MTV recently released their annual 10 Hottest MC’s In The Game List. Can I get your opinion on it?
One, it’s just a list. To me, it sounds more like a ‘who’s hot on the radio right now’ list. I do think it’s cool though, and I like a lot of the people on it. But a list is based upon the people who put it together. That’s like five people for that one. There are probably millions of kids who would beg to differ from what they decided. Like, I heard about Kanye going on a rant about it. It’s almost senseless. I think he made the wrong decision because he’s one of the reasons that list exists in the first place. When you react like that, you solidify it as if it really means something. For me, I prefer to just focus on always striving to get better with my music and making better decisions as a business man. I try to stay away from the behind the scenes drama because I don’t really care for it. I could be living in LA, or New York right now, but I choose to stay in North Carolina. That allows me to stay focused on what’s important: the music. All artists should do that. When I get to a national level, I won’t pay crazy attention to those types of things, because they aren’t the end all, be all. I’m focused on striving to provide for my family and to just keep making better decisions in music and business.
***Special Thanks to King MEZ, Eve Keita and MK Asante for coordinating the interview