Last month, Zaytoven arrived at Bob Boilen’s desk with a full band in tow with the intent of backing up his Atlanta friend and collaborator Future, who had dropped his latest album, The Wzrd, earlier that day. The plan was to translate the bass-heavy trap sound Zaytoven helped originate to real instruments with Neil Garrard on guitar, Bernard “TreWay” Lambert on drums, DJ Spinz and Elena on flute (for what would’ve been a live version of “Mask Off”).
After several hours of waiting, with the band all warmed up and ready, word came that Future would be a no-show. So, to our thrill, Zaytoven redeemed the occasion with his own Tiny Desk concert, featuring instrumental versions of a couple of the earliest hits he produced for Future’s Beast Mode, the mixtape that helped usher their respective rebirths in 2015.
The Tiny Desk also served as the perfect platform to highlight Zaytoven’s own career-long faith walk.
“I wasn’t even allowed to listen to this type of music, let alone to be producing it,” he told me a little over a year ago in the church outside Atlanta where he plays organ every Sunday morning. He was remembering how conflicted he’d once felt as a young producer who’d grown up in the church to be playing his trade for street artists like future trap god Gucci Mane (who Zaytoven would later back on keys during his first visit to the Tiny Desk). “To be the godfather of the sound, it was almost embarrassing for me, like, ‘Hold on, bruh. This ain’t really how I was brought up. This ain’t really what I do.’ I’m a guy that’s in the church and I try to lead people more so that way.”
Indeed, there’s a long legacy of sanctified musicians who took their gift, honed in the choir stand, and went the secular route, before finally renouncing their fame and returning to their gospel roots. But Zaytoven sidestepped that guilt trip on the way to becoming one of the most celebrated and imitated hip-hop producers of the last decade. Where so many musicians before him fell into a morality trap, Zay found a way to make trap music his ministry.
“God made it where my sound has been heard over the years by millions of people,” he said. Instead of preaching to the choir, he brought his faith to the trap.