(AllHipHop Breeding Ground)
If you haven’t heard of Zookie Baby, allow us to put you on. The rising star hails from Wilmington, Delaware, arriving with an infectious personality to match her infectious music. Reminiscent of a young Missy Elliott in the making, real name Zahiya West brings her A-game when it comes to fusing the worlds of Hip Hop and R&B — with a knack for storytelling where listeners can’t help but tune in.
When it comes to the independent grind, Zookie puts in the work necessary to bring her to the big leagues, even catching the attention of Grammy-nominated producer Sap. Working with everyone from Meek Mill to Mac Miller to Nipsey Hussle, Sap immediately saw her potential and brought her into his Pioneer Crew. Together, they created her debut album titled Zookergy, 11 tracks that showcase her undeniable energy when she hits the stage.
AllHipHop caught up with Zookie Baby via Streamyard, who was posted in the whip back home in Delaware. Read below as we discuss her upbringing in Wilmington, the turning point in her music career, meeting Sap and signing to him, the making of Zookergy, the independent grind, motherhood, goals, and more!
AllHipHop: How is it over there in Delaware?
Zookie Baby: It’s pretty good right now. Weather’s alright. I just got back from D.C., chillin’ right now.
AllHipHop: What was in D.C.?
Zookie Baby: I was out, trying to get away. Have some fun. [laughs] A lot’s in D.C.
AllHipHop: How have you been holding up with the pandemic?
Zookie Baby: I’ve been pretty good. I actually had caught Rona, back in January. I’d caught it in New York before it was a big thing. I was performing at SOBs, it was a lot of people there. Being in New York period was a lot, you’re surrounded by a lot of different people. I started feeling sick right before I started performing, but I’m like the show must go on. [laughs] I went to the hospital right after I got back to Delaware. They said “we don’t know what’s wrong with you, we think you may have the flu.” I’ve had the flu before, this don’t feel like the flu. A couple weeks later, they told me “we think you have Rona.” I was like “alright.”
AllHipHop: The good thing is when you had it, you can’t get it again for a little bit right?
Zookie Baby: That’s what they say, but I don’t ever really believe what they say.
AllHipHop: Being from Wilmington, Delaware, what the household was like growing up?
Zookie Baby: I grew up with my mom. I saw my dad here and there. He’s the reason why I [do music], he instilled music in me and my brothers growing up. Every time we came around him and that part of the family, the music brought us together for real. Growing up in Wilmington, it’s a lot different now. A lot of young people out there, a lot of gangs. A lot going on right now for real, a different Wilmington from when I was growing up. Growing up it was still bad, but not as bad as it is right now. You can get hit whenever wherever, it don’t even matter. Growing up was alright, luckily I had music for real. That’s what really did it for me, I focused on the music. The music kept coming back to me and I stayed with it.
AllHipHop: When did music come into play?
Zookie Baby: Man, I was a kid for real. My brothers played piano, I used to watch them play the piano. They started playing a bunch of different instruments, I’d be like “man, I wish I could get in there and jam with ya’ll. I want to come jam!” They said “nah, you don’t know how to play nothing. Get out of here.” Eventually, I started using my voice as an instrument. It became a thing where they play and I started singing. Growing up in the church, they asked me to start singing more within the church. When I went to school, they asked me to join the church choir. Then I met this kid, he said “yo, I want you to rap!” I’m like “rap? I don’t rap well.” He said “yeah, I want you to rap!” Alright, so I rapped on his track and he really liked that joint. He boosted me for real, it was really Ed. Ever since then, I swear I knew how to rap. [laughs] I started really staying with it, honing in on my craft. I didn’t take it seriously until right before I met Sap, that’s when I really started going in.
AllHipHop: How did you and Sap meet?
Zookie Baby: One of his friends tagged him in my video, it was a known song from back home getting some buzz. He commented on it, I was hype as s###. He said “yo this joint hard!” I’m like “oh yeah, you like this song? That’s what’s up, let’s work!” I dropped another song a little while after that. We started following each other at the time. He reached out to me after I dropped this song called “The Code,” he said “you really hard, I want to send you some beats your way.” Alright! Send them. What’s up? I’m tryna work! I’m ready.” So he’d sent me the pack. I was on his a## too: “yo, don’t forget about me.” He sent me the pack, I went in.
Opportunities like that don’t really come, where somebody really believes in you and it’s genuine. You’re not trying to sell me no dream, you want to see where it goes and what happens. I ran with that joint. Did the beats, he liked them. He was in town, he hit me up to meet up with me. We literally sat in the car, I played him music. I said “this is what I’m working on now, this is where I’m going with it.” He liked it. He hit me up the next day, “I’ma be in the studio, pull up on me. Hell yeah, SKRT! I’m pushing. I went in there dolo. I was on time, I wasn’t playing. He said “you on time?” Hell yeah I’m on time, I’m ready to work! He said “wow.” He cut a couple records that night in the studio. He had sent me some more stuff, he said “I want to do an EP with you, let’s do a project.” I’m really hungry. Boom we did the project, he said “man, I wanna sign you! Alright bet! Where it’s at Johnny? Yup! We been rocking ever since then. That’s really my guy. He became my family, that’s my brother. Love him to death. That’s my baby, real talk. We been solid ever since.
AllHipHop: Was that how the project Zookergy came about?
Zookie Baby: That’s our first album off the label that Sap produced. Zookergy came about because everywhere we went, they kept talking about my energy. The music’s good, but the energy. When she gets on stage or you meet her in person, her energy. Everywhere we went, same thing. If we’re home, New York, Cali, no matter where we’re going to. Okay, we need to try to tie this in towards the album. When me and Sap first started working, him and my manager were having a conversation with me that I’ve never had with anyone before. I wasn’t even thinking about branding and marketing myself. They asked “well how do you want to be branded? What’re you looking to do?” Man, I want some longevity for real. I’m trying to run with this, this all I got. That’s where the whole energy thing itself came from. Zookergy, my energy being so eclectic, authentic, natural, and easy-going.
AllHipHop: How did you get your name?
Zookie Baby: My name came from a good friend of mine, a producer of mine too. We met when we’re about 12 or 13. He said “everybody here has a nickname.” I’d started saying “oh yeah I’m Zookie Baby,” referring to the other person. Honestly people thought I was saying my name was Zookie Baby. I went with it after a while because it was too hard to undo for real.
AllHipHop: Best memory from shooting the P.I.O. visual?
Zookie Baby: Man, everybody about to pass out, including me. We’re in a real desert, that ain’t no green screen. That was real life, sweat, all that! It was 114 degrees there, we wasn’t prepared honestly. [laughs] But it was fun. I’m thankful I did it with the people I did it with because we made the best of it and rocked out. It was really fun, dope scenery. We had a dope team on board, really dope.
AllHipHop: You say “I took the long way so I can never stop.” What’s the reality of this journey and the independent grind?
Zookie Baby: For real before I even signed the SAP, I gave myself a year of “alright, I’ma go hard.” Even for myself, I’ma prove it to myself. I’ma go hard for a year, really focus on my craft. Really have a plan, do some research and really try to really do it the right way this time. Because I’ve always done music, but I’ve never done it the right way. It’s been something I’ve done for fun, never took it seriously. This is gon’ be the one time I do that. To me it’s a long journey, but a well worth journey. The journey don’t stop, there’s always room for improvement. Always room for growth. People have so much unlocked potential in them that they just have to tap into. You have to be at a certain level to even know when you tap into that s### for real, you gotta be there.
I’ma keep going. Even with the year of being signed, people were waiting for the album for 2 years. They wanted that joint. Soon as we announced that me and Sap were working together, they wanted that album. Honestly, I wasn’t in the right space to produce an album right then and there, and I learned that from being with Sap. A lot of stuff I wasn’t thinking about. If I wanted this to really last and be something I could really stand on, then I had to really adapt as an artist. Really discover a lot of things within myself so I can give to everyone. That’s what I put on the album, a lot of truth and a lot of energy.
AllHipHop: What made you not feel ready?
Zookie Baby: I didn’t even really know how to construct a song, I don’t think Sap knew that. I really did not know how to construct a song. I freestyle, I don’t write. I literally hop in the booth and whatever the beat tells me, oh alright. Then I’ll clean it up afterwards and make it look pretty. I don’t know how to count bars. I wasn’t worried about formatting no hook. That “Cook Up” song was a straight song. I send the first version to Sap and Sap said “that s### hard! But where the hook at?” He called me back and said “I think this part right here should be the hook.” Oh yup, you right. That’s the hook right there! I didn’t know about a lot of stuff, he’s teaching me. Me being so fascinated by what he’s done too, I was so quick to learn and observe from him.
My manager too, they helped me learn a lot. Even when it comes to picking the beats. Even when it comes to filling the intro, making the intro not so dried out. Making it build up. Certain things that the engineer could do on the song, different effects. Even when it comes to interviews, I ain’t never really did no interview until I had signed with P.I.O. I didn’t know. Certain stuff I had to get accustomed to. I didn’t know about a rollout, photoshoots, branding. When you want to invest all this time and energy to something, you gon’ expect a certain result back.
AllHipHop: How you liking the interviews?
Zookie Baby: I like interviews though. [laughs] I like it, I’m not a talker for real. I’m reserved, unless somebody’s talking to me. Interviews are better but certain stuff, I don’t be wanting to talk.
AllHipHop: What songs mean the most to you on the project and why?
Zookie Baby: “Soap NWater” because I always felt like the underdog. I’ve always been the underdog where nah, she’s not about to be nobody. She can play with that mic all she wants. “8 Ball” for me was look at me now! Because I’ve done music for a long time, a lot of people around my area know I’ve done music for a long time. I’ll be the first one to say I used to be trash. I still used to put stuff out even though it wasn’t good in my personal opinion. Now, yeah I can stand on this. I know this s### hard now! Nobody better not say nothing to me now about this. That’s what those 2 songs represent for me.
AllHipHop: What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?
Zookie Baby: Honestly, probably teaching. Maybe even a probation officer. I was in school for Criminal Law and Early Childhood Education, but school wasn’t for me.
AllHipHop: I seen your cute little child on the Gram.
Zookie Baby: That’s my baby! That’s my princess, she does her thing too. My baby models, she does not play. She comes to slay, okay! Motherhood’s amazing. It has its challenges especially with balancing everything out, but it’s a dope experience. My daughter’s 5 with a lot of energy so it keeps me on my feet.
AllHipHop: Goals for yourself as an artist at this point in your career?
Zookie Baby: I’m trying to do a lot for real. Music is just the root, the foundation. I want to get my music into different movies, hopefully my music can get scored in different movies and different shows. A goal of mine is to definitely get on Insecure, that’s my show. I’ma have to call Ms. Rae and holler at her about that. Expanding my craft, working with different people. Elevating my craft, I want to learn different instruments and start producing my own stuff. I’ma do that s### for real.