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Introducing… Zuko Rosemeid

With a sound somewhere close to Knucks by way of Dave and Skepta, Zuko Rosemeid is a product of his musical upbringing, an artist well-equipped with tracks fast making their way beyond their home south of the river. Zuko chats with UD about his background in acting, his love for performance, and his Avatar origin story…

Photo: Vincent Dolman for UD

Zuko is closer to cartoon than you might expect, drawing on his aptitude for performance and history of acting to conjure up a character that takes his name from Avatar’s greatest firebending master. And yet Zuko’s character extends beyond the two dimensions of a screen, an artist larger than life with a uniquely cinematic sound and lyrical delivery. 

Occupying that hazy space between drill and grime, Zuko has generated a fresh sound rife with collaborations, with his track ‘Night Tube‘ featuring rapper Saiming reaching over an impressive two million streams on Spotify alone. Having also been featured on Spotify’s Fresh Finds playlist, Zuko is well established in the scene, aligning himself with a plethora of talented comrades within and beyond that ever illusive genre-less genre of alt UK rap. 

With his latest London-bound release SOUTH TO THE STARS landing to high acclaim and a hotly anticipated UK tour, Zuko is set to be yet another shiny celestial in the UD family, a bright talent with a fruitful future ahead of him.

Photo: Vincent Dolman for UD

For someone who doesn’t know your music, how would you describe your sound?

I would say alternative UK rap – it’s not quite drill and it’s not quite grime, but my flow is something similar to AJ Tracy, my content is kind of like Dave, and delivery is similar to Skepta. The “triad” as I like to call it (laughs).

Tell me about your journey with music. Which artists did you rinse as a teenager? Do you still listen to them now?

Dave released an EP called Game Over when he was like 19 or 20, I was in sixth form at the time and just remember it being the first kind of project that I felt was written directly from my experience. I was like, ‘wow, I’ve never had anything even similar to this before’. The title track of that EP also kind of taught me how to rap and catch my breath – I knew all the lyrics so when I first started to rap, it was a great help.

Was music a big part of your childhood? 

My parents were into music in different ways – my mum was just a massive music lover always playing music, she would always specifically ask for the live version so I was growing up listening to live music a lot in the house in comparison to just regular singles. She would love the performances which is how I kind of fell in love with the performance side of things. 

My dad was actually a musician in the 80s and 90s in a band called Honey Chile. He was signed to Sony I think and was very, very passionate about music, always pushing us to learn instruments like the trumpet and sheet music and to have an understanding of the theory behind music. When I was like nine years old, he tried to put me in a rock band called Kids in Rock – my stage name was Max Steele (laughs).

Do you feel like your upbringing with performance has influenced your artistry?

Yeah, 100% – I used to act before I did music, and was pretty sure it was the thing that I wanted to do, but I realised that what I love about acting is the one thing I loved in music. It’s the theatrical side of things, like building worlds and creating spaces. I really love the fact that I can explore myself creatively without many boundaries, especially with the variety of rap that has developed in the last 20 years – you can do anything in hip-hop. 

That’s so interesting. In terms of acting and performing – is “Zuko” a stage name?

Yeah it is… When there are many people with the same name as you or are adjacent to your name, it can take something away from you as an artist and your artistry, so I wanted to choose this new character that I could explore. I was just chatting with my brother about finding a stage name and we thought of Zuko, the name of my favourite character from Avatar, and then Rosemeid came up as a surname and I thought, yeah, not bad! 

Photo: Dre Lenses

What’s your approach to performing live? Do you try to assume Zuko’s personality or do you “play” yourself?

It’s like a heightened version of myself that can’t exist in the real world, if that makes sense. When it comes to performing, there’s a way of translating that to the world – it’s all about escapism essentially. I feel like that’s why my name is a bit dramatic, because you’re not going to come across someone with that name in the real world. So when it comes to performing, I try to be larger than life with a lot of crowd interaction, I want us all to be enjoying this simultaneously together. 

Your Spotify bio says “South to the stars” which is the name of your latest release and tour – does coming from south London have a big influence on your sound or what you listen to?

110%. Until I was 16, I didn’t have any reason to leave south London. There were like 350 different nationalities at my school, and I can see now as I get older how being around so many different types of people has shaped the way that I view the world and the way that I make my music. I love using live instrumentation when I can and live sounds and samples and I think that comes from my appreciation of different cultures and hearing different music growing up. 

One thing about south London is that everyone is very proud of where they were from. Where I grew up there were a lot of Jamaicans who were very proud of being Jamaican, you go to Elephant and Castle there’s a big Hispanic population where people are very proud to be Hispanic. And it’s a beautiful thing. I think with that pride comes the music, because it’s intertwined with the culture. Music is the voice of culture.

Photo: Dre Lenses

Are there any artists or rappers from south that inspire you?

Dave is a massive one. Like there was drill and there was grime, but I didn’t directly relate to either – drill was a bit intense, and grime just never felt like me. But when Dave came through, he was from literally around the corner, like I knew the history of south and the rap that was coming from there; it felt like I was a part of something.

How are you finding the Incubator Programme with UD? 

I’ve been doing music for four years now without a manager or a team, so doing this with UD has been fantastic because it’s allowed me to have conversations with people that I wouldn’t have had prior to this. I went to university for three years and did a music course, but I really appreciate the fact that UD is specialised in music of Black origin and are 100% behind Black artists like me who don’t have a team or booking agent or connections or whatever it may be. 

Incubator Bootcamp 2024

What does the future hold for Zuko? 

Everything I’ve been doing tenfold. I don’t want to say anything specifically because anything and everything could happen (laughs). 

Incubator 2024

South To The Stars is out now. Listen to Zuko HERE + follow him on Instagram HERE.

Words: Elsa Monteith. A Brighton based writer and broadcaster working in and around the arts and on the radio waves. 
Subscribe to Elsa’s Discontented newsletter here.

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