If you’re heading to Revolution Live on Saturday night just to catch Orlando rapper Caskey, don’t be fashionably late, as one of the opening acts is a definite must-see. Miami freestyle rapper Zay Copa – real name Jose Meto – incorporates his jazz and Latin roots in a unique hip-hop sound, shaped in part by the infamous Miami bass of the ‘90s.
Copa talks to Miami.com about the concert, how he overcame a troubled youth, and why he spurned college scholarships for his saxophone prowess to join the Marines.
What’s a Zay Copa show like?
Basically, it’s pretty lively music, great hip-hop, and the main person who produces all my music is an FIU jazz performance major named Law [Griffith]. I’ll be opening up for Caskey, an Orlando artist, and I’ll throw in a lot of jazz-influenced instrumentals, plus a bit of my Latin flavor into the hip-hop.
You got into hip-hop at age 8 – who were you listening to?
Definitely down here at that time it was a lot of what we called bass music, like the 69 Boyz, 2 Live Crew, Uncle Al – so that was kind of the first hint of hip-hop that trickled down here. And then they had the music channel The Box and all kinds of other things here in Miami, and you see Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, which I had the pleasure of actually playing with Layzie Bone from Bone Thugs a couple weeks ago in Hialeah, who’s one of my influences. And everything’s taking off, and hopefully it goes in the right direction.
When did you start freestyle rapping, and when did you realize you were pretty good at it?
I would say definitely I took it a little bit more serious in high school. Around lunch time people would bring their little radios and instrumentals that we were able to download on Napster, and then it’d be three or four of us messing around, freestyling. And then before you know it, you look around and there’d be a hundred kids circled around, trying to hear what was going on, trying to hear the music and what you were saying. And then people know your name and you don’t even know who they are, so of course that felt great. So that’s when I started to get more serious, and I started writing songs, and eventually ended up building a small, ghetto-rigged studio at home. And started getting friends to come over and just mess around and record a little bit, and then I wanted to start sound engineering, because there were so many kids that wanted a place to go and record, wanted to be involved in music.So in high school I got together with the band director and we started getting donations from Miami-Dade College and from radio stations for recording equipment, and we ended up building a recording studio at South Ridge Senior High School.
You went through some pretty rough times growing up – what set you on the right path?
I would say when I was incarcerated – for a year, for [drug] trafficking up in North Carolina. And then just a year of me sitting by myself and thinking and re-evaluating all the things that I needed to do – and then I came home and saw that the people that were still doing the same things and getting the same results. And old friends not being around anymore because they’re either dead or in jail. So all of that just made me want to put that part of my life to the side and grow up, which a lot of people don’t. They feel that, “Oh, no, this is the only thing that I have to do, this is my only option,” or because they’re in Miami, “I’m illegal – I can’t work,” or “I have a record – I can’t work.” And it’s all BS – basically, if you want it, you go out and get it.
Why did you join the Marines?
The reason at first was because I was going to join “The President’s Own” band. So one day I was walking down U.S. 1 – because I used to live in the Cutler Ridge area – and it was summer, probably between 10th and 11th grade. And I was very heavily involved with music at school, so I was in the band, jazz band, marching band – everything that had to do with music, I was involved. And one of the recruiters approached me. Now, mind you, I had scholarship offers from FIU and UM to play my saxophone. So I auditioned for the Marine Corps band, because they’re gonna pay for my education and give me everything. So I auditioned, I nailed it, I get the opportunity, I go to boot camp, and what happens when you go to boot camp is everybody gets motivated. Everybody thinks that they can change the world. So I tell myself that I can always play the saxophone – I might as well learn something that I don’t know so that at worst-case scenario when I do leave the military, I have a different craft, a different something to offer. So I switched myself while at boot camp to administration, working with computers, things like that. But by joining the Marine Corps, I wanted to be the best that there is – I think that they’re better than the Navy, the Air Force, the Army, and with the rigorous training, you get more respect wherever you go. It’s a brotherhood brotherhood, you know?