The suburban city of Glendale offers a rather calm atmosphere, serving as the home to massive shopping malls and nearby hiking trails that keep their residents occupied. For the promising artist known as MaZhe (pronouched Mah-Zhay), the city hasn’t been home for long, but already he’s more than settled into the area.
“It’s the safest place I’ve ever been in, it’s cool as fuck,” he says as we walk down the street. “There’s a middle school right there, they’ve got the ladies with the stop signs that tell the kids when to walk. I’m like, ‘Oh shit!’ It’s so cool.”
MaZhe was originally born in San Diego, but relocated to LA a few years ago hoping things would move faster for him in his music career. Growing up he never thought about leaving San Diego, but once the scene grew stale, he realized Los Angeles would to be a good fit and decided to take the jump.
“I was scared at first; I was 18, 19, and had never moved anywhere,” he says. “But a few months passed and I finally decided to go. I told my grandma I was going to leave and she was like ‘alright.’ I was like ‘what, are you not going to miss me? It’s that easy?’”
Still, the move has been a benefit for the artist. Since moving to LA he dropped a new album in What I Learned, a highly impressive listen that showcases the full range of his artistic abilities. Soon after, he had what he feels was his best concert thus far at Pay Day LA, winning over the crowd even though many had doubts when he first appeared on stage.
“I had an interview a few months ago and they were like ‘Hey, we were at the Pay Day show when you performed, and honestly, our first thought when you came out was who the fuck is this dude with a tote bag and a yellow shirt?’” he says with a laugh. “But then she told me, ‘But when you put the tote bag down, it was over.’ I was like ‘fuck yeah, cause I can actually perform!’”
MaZhe prides himself on the high energy he brings to the stage, which as just as apparent on a regular day in Glendale. Spotting the mailboxes he used to send out his custom merch shirts, he wants to stop for a photo opp, but quickly decides to try and leap on top of it rather than simply posing with his feet on the ground. It takes him a few tries, but eventually he makes up there, screaming “Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it, fuck it. I don’t have hops,” as he winces in pain.
Personality blasts forth from his music as well, especially on hard-edged songs such as “MAD.” Over a growling, whining synth, he raps with an abrasive determination that leaves you hanging on every word, with double take-inducing bars like “I’ve been through more than an average paid barber, in an out of wage car, spending every day at the bar table.”
In 2017, he dropped a one shot music video that brought the song to life in a hazy, black and white world. MaZhe raps from atop the car and smashes random objects in an alleyway with a crazed persistence, warning the viewers all the while not to make him mad. As jarring as the four minute visual is, the backstory behind might be even wilder, with multiple mishaps forcing them to race against the clock as the sun was dying.
“There were supposed to be people who came to the video shoot, but nobody showed up, only like 3 or 4 people,” he reveals. “Second thing, the speaker that was supposed to be playing the song while I was walking, it got stolen the day we were shooting. That’s why we used the car instead, because song was playing from the car. It was my friends speaker too, I had to go back and be like ‘Aye, my nigga, they got you.’”
He’s been equally unorthodox at plenty of other junctures as well, such as the sonics on “Trapped,” the first song from What I Learned. After inviting the singer Elshaddai to handle background vocals, MaZhe chopped together several outtakes that she didn’t like and rearranged them into melodies that he inserted at various intervals on the song. Over it, he steps into the shoes of a drunk driver who kills another drunk driver, telling the person’s life story in a way to speak out against the glorification of drug use.
“Nothing will hold me back from showing people how good i am, and how good I’m going to be. I’m taking motherfucker’s heads off. And I need orange juice too, without pulp. With a beignet, and a serviette.”
When it came time for the visual for “MesmeriZed,” MaZhe took it as his opportunity to tell a different story rather than adhering to the song itself. You’re in for a different experience depending on which element you choose to follow the closest, whether it be the song, the subtitles, or the video itself. Set at a picnic-style breakfast, much of the action was improvised on the spot and shot on the fly, as they throw cereal across the table and smear peanut butter on each other’s faces.
“I have synesthesia, so when I listen to music I see colors, or weird shapes or something,” he says. “For ‘MesmeriZed,’ the color that I saw was that blue in the video, that backdrop. I wanted to that out there, take what was in my head and get it out.”
The level of ambition on What I Learned is undeniable, but before he released it, the idea of sharing the music with the world was a worrisome thought. Personal demons affected the way he viewed his own artistry and how he thought people would receive the project, while he feared that few would acknowledge the extreme amount of work that went into its creation.
“When I put What I Learned out, I was not confident in it,” he admits. “Emotionally I was beat the fuck up, sitting on the couch, and I’m broke, and nobody knows, so nobody even knows to care. I got into a negative mindset of ‘I suck, I’m not good.’ I thought about quitting a lot.”
Over time, the confidence began to return to him, but he MaZhe readily accepts how much more room he has to grow in his career. He believes in the quality of the album, but his perfectionist habits make shortcomings more glaring in his eyes, further motivating him to press on and continue to dig deeper going forward.
“I’m kind of like, ‘That stuff is trash,’” he says with a sheepish grin. “But if I’m not being hard on myself, then I think honestly, it’s a pretty damn good project. Just the amount of work that I put into it, and everyone that was involved. But it’s still not the project, it’s not my peak.”
Over a year removed from the tape’s release, MaZhe now feels that he’s closer to finding his ultimate sound. Still, he says he’d be hesitant to express that sound out loud even if he knew what it was, due to his fear of fans wanting him to stick to those sonics and limit the things he can do with his music.
“People will expect you to stay to that box,” he admits. “I’m scared of being in the box. I’m just experimenting, I’m always doing something different and seeing what I like.”
That question of how his music will be perceived by the public is often on MaZhe’s mind. Talent isn’t up for debate, but rather he feels that winning people over and convincing them to listen is the hardest part, as well as getting them to stick around for the rest of his musical journey.
“You could be trash, but you still have to get people to care,” he says. “Yeah, you have a strategy and everything, but a lot of it also is just shit on the fly, throwing things at the wall and seeing what works. Blowing up, that’s a process that’s kind of just randomized, even if you have a plan. When people do find out about me, though, I think they’ll like it.”
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