One glance at Zaytoven’s résumé will quickly quell any doubts about the Atlanta-based producer’s work ethic. In addition to his prolific output with longtime collaborator and friend Gucci Mane, Zay has also put in work with the likes of Usher, Young Jeezy and Nicki Minaj. But music won’t be the Bay Area-native’s sole hustle in 2012. Not only will he be working with Gucci and Minaj to rekindle their past magic for the two stars’ upcoming albums, but he also has plans to pursue a number of extracurricular interests in the coming months. From getting into the film biz (Zay will star in the upcoming Al Nuke flick Birds of a Feather) to shooting a reality show in his basement studio, the hyper-productive beatsmith won’t have much idle time on his hands anytime soon. In a recent talk with BET.com, Zaytoven elaborated on his upcoming projects and explained, among other things, why controversial female MC V-Nasty reminds him of a young Gucci.
BET.com: We know that you and Gucci are hard at work on new music. What do you guys have to do this time around to get him back to where he was earlier in his career?
Zaytoven: I think keeping his sound more home-based. His last year or so, the labels had Gucci out working with a lot of people, which is good, but now it’s more so about getting back to home base. Me and him started out our music careers together so our sound and our chemistry is one-of-a-kind between me and him. So I’m in charge of a lot of the production for him now and now we’re not trying to put out so much music as before. You know before we was just putting out mixtape after mixtape, song after song. Now, we’re moreso strategizing, shooting videos for every song we got coming. His mixtape comes out February 5, Trap Back, so we just really building up the anticipation on ‘em now instead of just putting out a whole lot of music and giving out all that music.
You produced the bulk of Gucci’s BAYTL collab with V-Nasty. Why did you guys feel that project was a good move for Gucci’s career?
If you know Gucci Mane, controversy is always surrounding Gucci. So somebody like V-Nasty was an incredible fit. I remember, he first told me about V-Nasty. Now, I’m from the Bay, she’s from the Bay, she’s from where I’m from. So when he told me about her I had to go check on that. Started looking on YouTube to see all the hype and see what all the hype [was] about. And when I listened to her, she didn’t do nothin’ but remind me of Gucci when he first started rapping. The way she came across, the controversy — she’ll get in trouble, she don’t care about what she say, she just bein’ free. And she had a style, she had something brand new to me. So we started talkin’ about it and we was like, “Man, that’s gon’ be a perfect project for us to put out.” Me being from the Bay, coming out to Atlanta making money; her being from the Bay — and she’s a big Gucci Mane fan. That’s one of her biggest things.… You see her on YouTube rapping with a “Free Gucci Mane” t-shirt on. We just thought it was a great collaboration. Give these folks something different they didn’t expect out of nowhere. And it did exactly what we wanted it to.
What was it about her specifically that reminds you of a young Gucci?
I like V-Nasty a lot, and I know anytime I like an artist and the majority of people really don’t like her, I know it’s something special. That’s the same way I felt about Gucci. Didn’t nobody really like Gucci when we first were working. When you take your music around to your people in the city or your label and don’t nobody like it but you really like it, and you like “Dang, these folks don’t hear what I hear.” Then Gucci ends up being one of the biggest guys to come out of Atlanta. That’s what I feel about V-Nasty. She knows that people hating on her and a lot of people don’t like her but she still continue to do what she do. That gives her the confidence to keep going. I had to have a talk with her and let her know that that’s the same exact way it was with Gucci and I feel the same way about her that I felt with Gucci. She’s something special.
Speaking of female MCs, you have a long history with Nicki Minaj and you are one of many big name producers rumored to be working on her next album. How did you two end up in the studio this time around?
It’s something we’ve done before she got big. She used to come to the house and started in the same basement that Gucci Mane, OJ [the Juice Man], Yung L.A. came through. We been working with each other from ground zero already. This is us just really reconnecting, getting back to it. Her people reached out to me saying they working on the album and want me to be part of it. We just really doing something we done before already, just years later and in a different situation.
What’s it like seeing someone you worked with from the beginning blow up to the level that Nicki has?
It always surprises me and always makes me proud when I see people that I know I worked with at the house in the basement on TV being superstars. I remember when I seen [Gucci] on the screen with Mariah with the white suit on I was like, “Man, I can’t believe this guy used to call me every morning at 7 to come over and record.” So it always made me proud to be a part of the situation with these two who’ve become megastars and they still desire to have me be a part of it.
Since you have experience working with upstart talent, is there a current young star that you predict will be the next big thing?
It’s Future, most definitely. He’s like the hottest guy going right now. He’s like something new; he’s got the young people in the palm of his hand right now. What’s special is his creativity. The way he approach music, he sings with his music, he’s just like the young folks’ president right now. The things he say, he’s in tune with the streets and when he add his melodic sound to it it’s something fresh for the music game.
Word is that you have plans to get into the film game, too. Can you give any details on what you’re working on?
Right now, I’m actually working on my own film. I did a project with Gucci Mane and Rocko and I called it Birds of a Feather. The music was so hot, but Gucci went to jail, so I said, “Let me hold this music, I’ll sit on it for a while.” I always wanted to get into acting and messing around with the camera. I have a director by the name of Al Nuke from Detroit. He’s done a few movies. He seen the footage that I had — I shot my own footage with Gucci and Rocko, just us the week we was putting the album together — he seen it and put his thoughts together and wrote a script that was starring me. And it’s featuring Gucci Mane, Rocko, Gorilla Zoe, Yung L.A. He wrote that script out and got me into acting, man. So the album that we did is now gonna be turned into the soundtrack for my first movie that I’m putting out.
What’s the plot?
It’s almost like my life story. It’s close to my life and how I made it into music, really. My cousin from out of town is trying to manage me. In this movie, Gucci is already a star, so they hook me up with him.… You really have to see the movie I don’t want to tell it all.
Who’s going to be involved with the five-piece band that you’re putting together down in Atlanta?
It’s me, another keyboardist, a drummer and two guitarists. I call the band the Eragance and what I want to do here in Atlanta is almost start like a House of Blues like they have in L.A. and New York where all the rappers, especially the Atlanta rappers, can come out and my band will play behind ‘em doin’ their biggest records.… I always played live instruments, that’s what got me into producing. I played the organ and keyboard in church every Sunday. I can play the drums and the guitar, too. I’m a musician first before anything else.
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(Photos from left: Courtesy myspace.com, Zaytown USA Records, Taylor Hill/Getty Images)