Zach Is Nobody…without Christ

Born and raised in the south (of the United States), Zach moved to the Midwest almost 2 years ago. He earned his black belt in karate when he was only 10 years old! His athleticism led him to play basketball in high school and run track every year. Zach also played football freshman year (first year of high school), and then switched to cross-country the last three because of the coaches. This worked out better for him though, because as fate would have it, he received a scholarship for cross-country. God had a plan for him!

Zach qualified for his undergraduate degree in Sound Design with a minor in Film and Television, and later got his master’s degree in Master of Divinity.

This college educated rapper was bitten by the music bug very early on in his life. Known as “Zach is Nobody” in the battle rap scene, Zach is a multi-syllabic and an energetic performer (thanks to his days as a cross-country runner).

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Lavatory Records: Take us back to your first encounter with rap music? How did it happen?

Zach: Nobody in my family listened to rap. My parents don’t like it. The first rap album I ever had was extremely hard-core. It was Disney’s Mickey Unrapped on cassette. It had Disney characters remixing famous rap songs. I probably got it on a trip to Disney World. Shortly after that I remember being in day care recording some raps with my friends onto cassettes. I’ll have to see if I can find them around my parents’ house sometime. It was just three or four of us recording “verses,” and I have no idea what they were even about. If I find these tapes, it will be interesting to find out what I was rapping about. In 4th grade I started watching music videos on TV. I remember going to visit my cousin, and discovering MTV and VH1 and some new music. Back then they actually played music videos. In junior high I discovered guys like Eminem, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, DMX, etc. I’m pretty sure the first 2 rap CD’s I got were Em’s Slim Shady LP & Jay’s Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life and I think I got them on the same day. The way I discovered Eminem was like Dr. Dre without having a record deal to offer him. I heard Eminem on the radio and didn’t realize he was a white dude at the time. I just knew it was really good. The Slim Shady LP created a huge desire for me to specifically write rap. A little bit before that, I bought CD’s by Limp Bizkit, KoRn, Metallica, etc. I had begun writing pretty much every day, but when I got the Slim Shady LP, I started writing rap songs too. I wrote every day when I got home from school to vent the way I was feeling. So whether it was written as a rock/metal or rap song, I was just constantly writing.

LR: Tell us why Zach Is “Nobody” and the reasons behind that name?

Zach: Well I originally wanted to call myself “Outcast,” but there’s obviously a group called “Outkast.” My next idea I went with was just to go by my real name, but then sometime a few years ago I came up with calling myself “Nobody.” Then like a year later or so, I was reading a Batman graphic novel & saw they created a new villain named “NoBody.” I don’t know all of the legalities of how it would play out if I just tried to stay with “Nobody”, so I changed it to “Zach Is Nobody.” I actually ended up liking it even more, anyway. It combines my second and third ideas, and would probably cut out a little confusion from if somebody had said, “Nobody is performing tonight”! The “Nobody” part of the name has a few meanings. The first relates back to the “Outcast” idea. The semi-short version is that I didn’t have any real friends (that didn’t betray me), wasn’t a ladies’ man by any means, and was made fun of constantly. So I was an outcast and a “nobody”, to my peers and most of the world. The second meaning of “Nobody” is that I am nothing special, which may sound like the first meaning, but in the sense that I am nothing special apart from Christ. Not that anybody is saying I’m so amazing or special, but in the event that does happen, I want them to be pointed to Jesus Christ and not to me. I can’t save you. The music I listened to while growing up helped me get through my pain, but Jesus Christ was the only fix or answer to my problems. I don’t want anyone to get confused in thinking me or my music is what can save them. I want it to help lead you to who can save you, Jesus Christ. The other reason for “Nobody” is that it’s also a great reminder for me. It’s basically me calling myself out whenever I get prideful, and works as a fail-safe if I happen to say something that is taken the wrong way or intentionally say something that is putting the focus on me when it should be on Christ. That may be the longest answer to a “Why is that your rap name?” question ever, but I‘ll just add I know I am somebody. I am somebody in Christ. In John 15 Jesus calls me His friend, which is one of the coolest things I can think of with my past in mind. In 1 John 3:1, it calls people that have submitted their lives to Christ “children of God.” That means I am somebody. It’s not because I’m so amazing or worked to get there, but I’m somebody because of Jesus Christ. You can be too!

LR: How did the journey into battle rap start for you?

Zach: I’m not 100% certain when, but I assume the first time I really heard of battle rap was learning of how Eminem got signed and finding his Rap Olympics stuff online. I watched Freestyle Friday & remember seeing some of Jin’s battles on there. Then obviously 8 Mile made a huge impact for pretty much anyone that battles now. It kind of just fit right into my love for hip-hop, creativity, competition, and my anger. Battle rap or music made with battle style rhymes was just awesome to me from the first time I heard it. I was always really competitive growing up too. I also think it connected in part because of how it makes you feel. For someone like me, it made me feel good to do those kinds of rhymes. Keep in mind, I was a Christian at that time, but unfortunately I was focused on my pain and anger instead of Christ most of the time. Mike Shinoda described it in “Cigarettes” (I’ve never smoked by the way), hip-hop makes you feel cool. To me it’s not in a “I’ll be popular and everyone will love me now” kind of “cool,” but I will prove to you I can do something awesome with my mind, words and heart. Battle rap fits right in with that for me. Fast forward a few years. I had never really met anyone that knew about how to get into this kind of stuff. I wish I had known about Grind Time back in the day, but oh well. God’s plan is best. I had seen a few battles here and there online over the years. I had also heard about the DVDs people were putting out, but couldn’t ever find them. Then near the end of 2012 (if I remember correctly), I started discovering KOTD (King Of The Dot), Grind Time, Don’t Flop, Got Beef, Basementality, URL (Ultimate Rap League), Flip Top, No Coast, etc. It’s pretty weird I didn’t realize this was around before then, but when you don’t know something exists, you don’t know to look for it. Since then I’ve pretty much been obsessed with watching battles. I would see the leagues post try outs sometimes, but it was never anywhere near me. I also discovered Isaac Knox, Heir Jordan and 3PFD through watching these battles. These guys were doing great battles and I found out they’re Christians. So I watched a ton of their battles and kept up with them on social media. A few months ago I saw 3PFD post something about a new league called SLAP Battles. His division of SLAP is in Pittsburgh, so I looked up how far away it was, and was like “I can make that drive”. I hit up 3PFD and asked him to let me know what I need to do to get a battle. He hit me back, and we ended up being able to put on a good battle I think.

LR: Tell us about your first battle rap experience on “SLAP Battles” and their unique approach to battling?

Zach: I loved my first battle. Almost everything came out exactly as I wanted it to come out. I almost forgot my place in the second round. There was one word I accidentally changed, but it still rhymed and made sense. It was supposed to be “I unravel emcees that are challenging me,” but I said “battling me.” It works I guess. I also love that I got to battle 3PFD. He’s a great opponent with a ton of experience. It was a little intimidating battling someone with so many battles under their belt in my first battle, but I think we both did great. I was just hoping and praying I wouldn’t blank out in front of everyone & forget my lines. Shout out to the people that prayed for me to remember my lines that night and God for blessing my memory.

3PFD (left) vs Zach Is Nobody (Right) at Zach's debut on Slap Battles.

3PFD (left) vs Zach Is Nobody (Right) at Zach’s debut on Slap Battles.

Zach Is Nobody in action on his Slap Battles debut.

Zach Is Nobody in action on his Slap Battles debut.

The SLAP Battles approach is definitely unique. The main focus is to glorify God and let people know there’s hope in Jesus Christ. The battles are set up as concepts and put a vice versus a virtue. For example mine was Generosity vs. Greed. The goal is to have people see the issues and to seriously think about them and their effects, and hopefully see Christ. God is The Creator, so we should definitely be creative as we follow Him. We strive to give our best lyrically in the ring. Believers and non-believers should both be able to enjoy the battles. Hopefully both will take the issues brought up and think them through. It’s combining Jesus and rap. It’s hard for me to think of a better combination. It puts my greatest love with one of my next greatest loves.

LR: On a more personal level, your religion is something you are very passionate about. Tell us about the Christian initiatives you are involved with?

Zach:  Yeah man, Jesus Christ is my life. He gives it meaning and purpose. I’m a pastor, so I get to preach, teach, lead Bible studies, etc. Just doing the best I can to share the truth and hope of Jesus Christ. He’s the most amazing person or thing ever, and I don’t want anyone to miss out on Him. To get through the bad news first, we are all sinners deserving hell because of our sin. The worst part of hell is eternal separation from God. But God made a way to bring us to Him, and that’s through belief in Jesus Christ. That Jesus is God, took on human flesh, lived a perfect life, died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, and resurrected three days later and defeated death. He tells us that if we confess our sin and believe in Him we have eternal life. Many believe “about” God, but not “in” God. There’s a huge difference. Knowing facts or even agreeing with them is not the same as entrusting your life over to God. Where submitting your life over to Him, He then becomes your God, Saviour, King, boss, owner, ruler, master, etc. That may not sound great to some, but it’s what is best for us. There is no way to have true everlasting joy apart from Jesus Christ. We were created for Him. When we try to find purpose or fill a void with other things it never works. Maybe for a season we think it does, but not for the long haul. Let me stress that I am far from perfect. The difference is I am counted as perfect because the blood of Jesus has covered my sins. He took my punishment, so now God sees me as he sees Christ. Like I said, I am nobody apart from Christ. It’s important to note, that doesn’t excuse sin. It’s not a license to go sin or do whatever now. We’re not saved by being good enough or by good works, but once we’re saved, then Christ calls us to do good works. I love how Philippians 1:6 says, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus”. That means until I die or Christ comes back to get me, whichever comes first. He’s working on me and He’s not going to leave me because I screw up. Keep in mind He paid the highest price out there for me when He spilled His blood to purchase me. That is true love. That is unconditional love. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”. I did nothing to earn or deserve God’s love. He just loves me despite how horrible or stupid I can be. My goal is to imitate Him as much as possible and tell as many people as I can this amazing news of what He offers them. Whether that’s from a pulpit, a classroom, through an album, on a stage, in a battle, chilling at the house, at a restaurant, in an interview like this one, or wherever, I’m not going to try to force people to believe the truth, but I am going to do my best to give them the information to choose from. If I didn’t it would be like knowing you’re about to get hit by a car, but not saying anything. Except that this would be far worse because this affects your eternity.

LR: Do you see forests or trees? Meaning, do you focus on the bigger picture or the finer details of a situation?

Zach: I have to think about that. I would say probably a little of both. On stuff that really interest me, I probably get more focused on the details rather than on something I just have to do. Like with writing rhymes or a sermon, I try to word things as perfectly as I can. I don’t want people to get the wrong idea from what I’ve said. I feel like misunderstandings happen all the time in our world and cause a ton of problems. So I ask myself if something can be taken a different way and then try to either word it differently or clarify it. But I guess its importance matters too, because I don’t find a great interest in paying bills or brushing my teeth, but I make sure that I do both of those things correctly because they’re important. It’s not like I’m excited to do them, but I make sure they’re done right. I think you need both though. There should probably be a healthy balance. If you don’t have the bigger picture, you won’t know what the details should be; and if you don’t have the details, you’re unlikely to be successful in the big picture.

LR: What do you think it takes to be considered a “Top Tier Battler”?

Zach: Well I guess let me start by saying I don’t care what you get paid to battle. Obviously I hope you get paid for your work and have money to pay the bills, but I mean it doesn’t affect what I think of your skill as a battler. Whether you’re headlining a PPV or battling in front of 10 people, skill is skill. To me “Top Tier” would be a battler that’s really dope and beats most opponents. I think almost everyone else puts money into the equation. I just focus more on how talented someone is, but you do have to take into account someone’s longevity or name they’ve made throughout their career. Like I think I did really well in my first battle, but you can’t be “Top Tier” after one try out battle (laughs). So it takes being really skilled, ability to beat most competition, and to some degree, the weight your name holds.

LR: Do you feel more work is still required for battle rap to penetrate “mass markets” as an art form? 

Zach: Sure. The potential is there. No one knows the future but God, but there’s definitely potential. It’s continued to grow over the years. The businesses and famous artists getting involved are evidence of this potential and interest. There may be some ceilings because of the lack of political correctness, which is something I actually love about it. Everyone is too sensitive nowadays. Maybe I’m more thick-skinned because I was constantly made fun of, but people worry too much about what other people say. But I think it will just be trial and error until someone figures out a right way to do it for the mainstream. There are arguments made that it should remain “underground”. I can see that argument, but the main thing is that it just needs to be done with respect & integrity on whatever platform it reaches.

LR: What other styles of music are you into?

I listen to most styles of rock and metal. Not really “jam bands”, but most of the other kinds. I listen to a really wide variety of music. People would be surprised if they flipped through my CD binder, and my genres that I listen to keep growing as I discover more music. It’s possible to have a good song in any genre, but I think some of them have way more success than others. My favorite band to sing along with and praise God to is Shane and Shane, especially their Upstairs album.

LR: Would you ever consider doing music?

Zach: YES! I already have actually. I’ve done a few shows here and there. I may have been too much of a perfectionist for my own good, but I’ve never released any music officially. I had trouble finding people that make beats for forever. Once that was somewhat solved, I had trouble finding time or a place to record. If God allows all three of those things to work out at the same time that would be awesome (laughs). I have some stuff ready to record already. Right now I feel called to pastor. If God changes that call to music, then that’s what I will do. For the time being, it’s something I would just love to put a ton of my “free time” into if I can. It would be a dream come true to have an album in stores one day, but if I just have one to bump in the car with my friends or sell at the few random shows I do, that’s cool too. People ask me what my plans for my future are. My response is that I don’t really have any. My only real plan is to be obedient to do whatever God calls me to do. If that’s being a pastor for the rest of my life or be a rapper for part of it or move across the world or whatever. At this present time, I feel I’m where God wants me to be. I don’t know if that’s until the day I die or tomorrow (which hopefully aren’t the same day), but unless God says otherwise I’m staying put.

LR: Your musical Influences?

Eminem (duh!), Limp Bizkit, Staind, KoRn, Linkin Park, Mars iLL, Collective Efforts. There are plenty more I’m sure. I think we’re constantly influenced or inspired by what we experience, but those are probably the main artists that laid the ground work for how I developed my style and do what I do. I don’t know how easy or difficult it is to tell my influences through my music or battling, I just create music I enjoy and am inspired to create.

LR: Tell us about the best hip-hop concert/show you’ve been to:

When I was in college, my friend Kate and I drove to Atlanta to see Fort Minor. There were a ton of really good acts there: Apathy, Celph Titled, Styles of Beyond, Little Brother, Collective Efforts, and few more. There was also a really good show called “The Peanut Butter Jelly Party” in Nashville around 2009. It had people like Braille, The Scribbling Idiots, Kaboose, and Sintax the Terrific. That was a really cool show. Lecrae and Trip Lee and the guys from Reach always put on good shows too. The best non-hip-hop show I’ve been to was Summer Sanitarium in St. Louis in 2003. It was Metallica, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Mudvayne, and The Deftones.

LR: Where do you see the direction of the music industry going, especially with the internet changing the dynamics within the game?

Zach: I’m not sure. I think hip-hop needs what rock had when Nirvana gave it a kick in the gut. I said that several years ago. I feel like there have been a few small instances here and there, but nothing has lasted. I buy music I relate to on some level, which is sometimes hard to find. That doesn’t mean I relate to every single word someone says. It may just be a concept, attitude or experience. I often sing/rap along to songs and change the lyrics to make them personal. Every once in a while I’ll buy something just because it sounds cool, but usually the lyrics have to connect with me in some way (and not necessarily the way the artists intend). With all that being said, I feel people need to make music that connects with people. Music should be made up of skill and heart. If it has no heart in it, that usually shows, and that usually doesn’t make for a timeless album. Make a good album that people connect with. People will get it.

I seem to be different than the average person when it comes to consuming music. If an album has more than one or two good songs, I want to own the whole album and have it in my hands. I love having the artwork on the disc, covers and inserts. I love the liner notes, lyrics, thank you’s/shout outs. Buying music digitally is a last resort for me. I’ll check online if I can’t find it in the store. I’ll pay a little more for it. I want the physical copy of the album. I studied Sound Design in college so I probably notice this more; a digital download does not have the same quality as a CD or vinyl. Most people don’t know that. Most people may not care, but if a few more start buying physical copies it helps keeps that part of the industry going.

As far as the industry as a whole, I’m not sure. I think there will probably always be dope music out there. You just have to search for it sometimes. I’ve discovered so much of the music I listen to now by going to shows or by spending time online checking out new music. Going back to what I said earlier, I think if something comes out that is really heartfelt from a really talented artist then people will connect, and you may have a huge following.

I don’t think people take the time to figure out what happens when they illegally download music. First and foremost you’re stealing. It doesn’t make it okay just because it’s easy to do. Secondly it’s keeping everyone from having new artists and more options. Think it through. If you steal music instead of buy it, the label makes less money. The money labels used to spend on trying to develop new artists and put out lesser known artists is depleted, so now we’re all stuck listening to the same songs by the same artists over and over again. You may not care about doing what’s right or the labels making money, but I would think you would want great new music, so buy albums.

You also have to take into account that we have a culture that is constantly distracted and constantly bombarded with things trying to grab someone’s attention. The music has to be so good and connect so well that people block out the distractions and focus on the music for a bit. There’s work to be done by the artists, labels, and consumers if it’s going to be as good as it can be.

LR: What are your thoughts on the “business” side of battle rap’s current dealings and prospects as a career?

Zach: I’ve done one battle, so I don’t know if I can comment on that with too much insight. I would assume it could not be your only source of income, at least on a continued basis. But I would think at this point you would have to be one of the top guys to even consider it, and I really don’t know what the top guys get paid or how they handle their money. It would be awesome if it could be a career, but I would invest money or have a plan for later, because I don’t think too many rap battles with 50 year old guys are going to go down.

LR: Lavatory Records is a “solutions” for artists’ organisation and not a traditional “record label”. Do you think there’s potential for such a business to thrive within battle rap, to leagues and performers? By solutions we mean, a “consulting” firm. Solutions can be in terms of training or providing administrative support, for the commerce-related activities within entertainment such as branding, revenue streaming, financial modeling etc.

Zach: I would think there is potential for a business of that kind within battle rap.

LR: What projects or events in the future should we look out for from you?

Zach: I’m set up to battle on SLAP again at their Bars Over Bridges event on August 14th. For anyone near Pittsburgh, the address is 2110 Andrews Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15221. I may have a random show here or there. At least one is in the planning stage at the moment. I’m open to other opportunities for battling or doing shows or putting out music, but it mostly comes down to time for me right now. If you’re wanting to book me or feature me, just hit me up & we’ll try to make it happen.

LR: Any special mentions you want to shout out?

Zach: Yeah. As I said earlier, I’m nothing but a sinner apart from Jesus Christ. I could thank Him every second until I die and still not thank Him enough. He took the punishment I deserve on the cross and then resurrected. I urge everyone to put their faith in Him. He’s our only worthwhile hope.

Also shout out to 3PFD for giving me my first battle and opportunity. Shout out to Omega Sparx, SLAP Battles, & JustHis League too. And shout out to my dog, Artoo!

Before we wrapped up this interview, Zach revealed a bit more about himself to us:

If you could…

Have any career besides pastoring or rapping?

I’d be in the NBA or working on films.

Drink one thing for the rest of your life?

Besides water, it would be Sweet Tea.

Collaborate with anyone on a song?

It would be Eminem and Limp Bizkit, which would probably never happen because of their past, but stranger things have happened. They did work together briefly in the past. There are tons of artists I would love to work with including rappers and singers/bands.

Your favorite…

Movie – Star Wars. In my mind I group all of them together, but Return of the Jedi is my favorite out of all of them. Definitely looking forward to the new one J.J. Abrams is making.

Song – It would depend on how I’m feeling, but I normally just say “Sing for the Moment” by Eminem because it pretty much describes why I listen to the type of music I listen to.

Last thing you…

Watched on Netflix – Daredevil episode 9. Trying to hurry up and finish it. I binge-watched half of the season and then got busy.

Listened to in the car – “Ever Be” by Bethel music and whatever song played after that.

Listened to on iTunes – the Gin House EP by Gin House. I know the singer in that band from college. Good stuff.

Ate –  was a sandwich and chips with sweet tea.

Watched on TV – Sports Center on ESPN.

Book you read – The Bible. Trying to go through the book of Mark right now.

Video game you played –  NBA Jam on my phone probably. Haven’t even hooked up my console since the last time I moved.

ZachIsNobody2

Thank you to Zach for an awesome interview. Follow him on Twitter – @ZachIsNobody. Subscribe to his YouTube Channel, and to like his Facebook Page.

Please also follow SLAP Battles on Twitter – @SlapBattles and subscribe to their YouTube Channel.  This is where you can also watch Zach’s first battle and look out for his forthcoming battle on the 14th of August.

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