Meet Chaka Zulu,
industry mogul, lover of Atlanta,
manager of Ludacris
managing a career of ups and downs Luda’s albums have met with varying degrees of commercial and critical success. Chaka Zulu has managed the rapper through it all. We caught up with him after his master’s tea last week in Branford.
Q Have you ever … kissed any one of your Facebook friends?
A I’m not on Facebook.
Q … kissed someone you didn’t like?
Q … slept until 5 p.m.?
Q … held a snake?
A Yes. I really like snakes.
Q Should we move on to the real questions?
Q During the Branford Master’s Tea, you mentioned that it was “surreal” to be here at Yale. How does it feel to visit our school for the first time? Intimidating? Inviting?
A Yale is considered one of the top places to form your mind, and the fact that I’m here talking to people that will probably become the leaders of the world in five to 10 years is what felt surreal. How am I influencing them? Am I saying anything of substance? Say one student becomes the president and says “one day at college this guy sat down and told me this …” What’s my impact? Am I really making a difference? Visiting Yale just got me thinking into these things.
Q You have lived in many different places, not only in the United States, but across the world. Do you have a favorite?
A I love Atlanta, Georgia. I guess that’s my favorite.
Q You mentioned that, after Ludacris’ success, your opinion suddenly became valuable. People were listening to you, asking you for advice. You admitted that it was shocking at first, but it must have felt good. Did you feel like you were finally there, wherever you had always wanted to be?
A Yes. It feels like you have all this power and influence. It is invigorating and addictive at the same time. What I had to do was control my ego and myself in general. You need to avoid creating a sense of entitlement and forget that everything you say works, because probably it doesn’t. You have to listen to others and be humble enough to let the whole feeling of self-importance flow through you purely, without affecting your core values.
Q But wait. You got to that point after some shady business. During the Tea you said you initially distributed Ludacris’ music by smuggling it along with other people’s records from the label where you were working at that time. How legal was that?
A I just felt like it was something that I needed to take advantage of because I was in a position of power, though not an obvious one. I took my chance. It wasn’t legal. I mean, I don’t want to say it was illegal, but it was not in my job’s description. No company wants you to use their resources for your own benefit. If you come up with a new doll as an employee for Hasbro, they will take over that idea and call it theirs in perpetuity. It’s like your brain and your thoughts belongs to the company. I was sitting in there learning how the music industry worked — their system. It taught me everything I need to know to make my own.
Q During the Tea, you said that you constantly “battle” to maintain your independent self while working in the system of the music industry. Where are you now in the course of this battle?
A I’m definitely still in that battle. I am still myself. I have changed, but I still fight the real fight. And as long as I don’t surrender I will still be a part of the system. I don’t think the battle will be ending any time soon.
Q You said that you think of Luda as your little brother. What’s one of the most valuable things you think you have taught him?
A There are so many of those. I guess a pretty important one is when I told Ludacris he didn’t owe anybody anything but honesty and respect. There are a lot of people who try to monetize loyalty, or family or relationships. “I was your girlfriend so I deserve this money.” I told Ludacris these people didn’t want him to be successful; they just wanted to get something out of his success. If you help an old lady to cross the street you do it because you want her to be safe. If she finds a $100 dollar bill, you don’t go “so, where’s my $50?” If you can’t do something for someone else, or if you don’t want to, then don’t. Then I told him it’s up to them to decide how they feel about it.
Q Here’s a hot topic: the effect of the Internet on the music industry. Some think that nowadays, the musicians who become successful are the ones who deserve it the most, thanks to Internet exposure and practically free distribution. What do you think? Is the Internet a fairer means by which music can be distributed?
A The Internet makes fans think they’re musicians. Everybody is not a musician. The fans no longer want to support the artist — they want to become the artist. So, now they compete with them. You can upload your own YouTube video if you want to. The two of us could put up a record online right now. But the two of us can’t get on BET that easily; we can’t get on MTV. The Internet is so free that there’s too much to filter through to actually get something decent. But you know you favorite TV and radio stations, and there you get what you like all the time.
Q One of the most influential people in your life was your godfather, who told you that you must surround yourself with like-minded people with whom to join forces. Have you found these people? What is your group like?
A I like visionary, creative people. I like honorable people. I like people who are not afraid to roll their sleeves up, you know, and follow their beliefs. In general, I like people who don’t take “no” for an answer. I’m a problem solver. If there is an obstacle I will do as much as I can to find my way around it — I don’t like to give up. There is always a way; there must always be a scenario that works. And this is the sort of people that I’ve surrounded myself with for my entire life, I think.
Q Finally, what fashion item can’t you live without?
A I love Gucci skull caps.