Zaytoven has ambitions beyond production, just like the rest of us.
Did you know Zaytoven was a barber when he was in high school? Actually, he co-owns a barbershop in Lithonia, Georgia. When he’s not cutting hair, he’s probably writing a book or trying his hand at acting. From producing early in the late 90’s for local artists in the Bay to now producing hits for industry giants like Nicki Minaj, Migos, Future and Lil Wayne, Zaytoven is just a well-rounded, wholesome God-fearing man with purpose. What stemmed from an interest in my style of interviewing with Nipsey Hussle, landed the great opportunity of speaking with the San Francisco-based legendary DJ, producer et al. He produced Gucci Mane’s “Icy” featuring Young Jeezy from the 2005 release Trap House, for crying out loud. Learn more about Xavier “Zaytoven” Dotson, the man, via a conversation that details the many facets of his life and what he wants to happen in the near future.
“Being a barber was something that was a means of me making a few dollars, back when I was in high school. I wanted to be the guy who was kinda like my barber. He used to cut my hair so that’s one of the things that kind of attracted me to be a barber. I started off cutting my little brother’s hair. Then, it went to the guy’s in school. Then, it went from charging $5 to $10. I was the barber guy for all of the people in school. Then, it went to I might as well get my license for it. That was just one of the ways I was making money. Something I really enjoy to do.” — Zaytoven
So do you still cut?
Yes but I can’t do a shop now. If everybody see me at the barbershop now, they want to do music. Hand me their CD. I can’t do it in a public place no more. I have a barbershop room in my house where I cut my brother’s hair, my dad’s hair.
I’ve read that you don’t smoke, drink or curse, which is amazing, but it seems like every scenario you’re in (industry wise), someone is smoking, drinking or cursing. How do you sustain?
Well you know, I have a very heavy Christian background. My dad’s a preacher. My mom’s been the Choir Director. The reason I’m even into music is me being raised in the church and finding something to do, and being in church so much. So these are just values, coming from what I believe in and examples that were set before me. Like my mom and dad, they don’t do none of that stuff. I’m in church all the time. I live by certain standards. That’s just the reason why I don’t do none of that.
That’s where you learned to play the organ.
Yes ma’am. Every Sunday. At least two services on Sunday.
Nice, so when did you start producing Hip-Hop records? How long has it been?
I first started, maybe back in ‘99. That’s when I first started making beats. You know, and the lil guys around would be rapping in the Bay area to my beats. It’s been a minute.
What was the transition like from playing the organ to using studio equipment?
Zaytoven: It wasn’t hard at all cause the studio equipment is almost like toys. If you’re a musician and you’re into music, those are the things you play with. It was just fun for me. Toys. I already knew how to play melodies and music. I can add my own drum beat to it. It’s just always fun. It wasn’t hard at all.
Richardine: Recently, you’ve produced big records: You have the record with Wayne on Sorry 4 The Wait 2, you did “Versace,” you have the project “Beast Mode” with Future — “Peacoat” is my favourite song.
Zaytoven: Yeah, he went ham on that.
Richardine: Then you have this song on Nicki’s album — what is the ultimate goal for Zaytoven? Who is your dream collaboration and what do you ultimately want out of your music career?
Zaytoven: I’m really living out my dream, for real right now. All of the people that I’m working with are people that: OK, I never knew I would work with this person. Or I didn’t even get into this music to try to work with them. Most of the people that I have worked with that have done good, are artists that come up that you’ve never heard of before. People continue to hear Zaytoven’s name because a new artist might come out. Young Dolph: Oh, Zaytoven did that. Migos, they’re a new group: Oh, Zaytoven working with them. He did their song. It’s like I’m always attached to the new artists that come out. That’s what keeps me around for so long. I really enjoy that and appreciate that more than anything. Working with big artists is good too but it doesn’t mean the same as the guy that was in my basement for the last six months who made it, and now he’s the hottest guy out. It means something different.
So you enjoy the process of breaking through with an artist?
Yeah, yep, and I think that’s why I’ve been around for as long as I’ve been around. I take the time to see a talent and be like: OK, this guy is a star. I’m going to work with him, and then watch him blow up. Then, it’s over for him. I enjoy that.
Richardine: You’ve also worked on movies, Birds of a Feather and Finesse.
Zaytoven: Yes ma’am.
Could you tell me about your involvement with those two films?
The movie Birds of a Feather came out a year and a half ago. It’s on Netflix right now. It’s in Walmart. It’s doing really well. The reason I got into movies is because I always been behind-the-scenes. People have been hearing my name for ten years, but still people don’t know what I look like. The movie done brought that all to light. Now I could see people, it don’t matter where I go, they point me out like: Hey man. I seen your movie. I seen you on TV. That was kind of the purpose of doing the movie. A friend of mine, the one that directed the movie and writes the movies, he was just a close personal friend of mine. I watched him do his own movie and I just said: You know what? Let me act in my own movies. You know, I’m not trying to be no big time actor or nothing like that. With this music stuff, it’s like I got an audience already. I got a demographic of people that love me and love my music already, and love the artists I work with so let’s do a movie. I don’t care if I can’t act that good. Yeah, so what? I can do it because I want. That’s the best thing about doing your own stuff. Can’t nobody really stop you from doing it.
Richardine: Yes, there you go.
Zaytoven: Yeah, and it turned out so good, and people told me so much that I did a good job and really enjoyed it. Then, it’s like OK, let me make another one. I just enjoy making them. I enjoy trying to be an actor. It’s just fun. It’s really enjoyable with all of the rappers that I use. The artists that I use, they love it. It’s a fun time, man.
Richardine: Well that’s good. I’m glad you’re having fun doing what you want to do because a lot of people don’t get to do that. That’s amazing. You have a new book coming out called, From A to Zay.
Zaytoven: Yes ma’am.
Could you tell me about that? What’s in the book? What can we look forward to?
Really, the book is almost like a manual. It’s for any independent artists or any independent producers that kinda want to follow the same way I did it. I’m giving away the secrets, the way that I made it in this industry and continue to be relevant and stay around. It’s equipped with scriptures. It’s well-rounded. You know, giving people game on this music industry, and some people can have the drive and gift and still don’t make it in this music industry.
Zaytoven: Yeah, that happens all the time so I think God plays a big factor in me making it in this music [industry] so I had to implement that too. I want people to know all the different angles. You know, the reason why I am how I am in this music industry, and if they want to follow that same path, here’s the format right here
Richardine: That’s awesome. I think we need that. We’ve needed it for a long time.
Zaytoven: Yeah, I think people need that.
When you first heard the name GrungeCake, what came to mind?
GrungeCake? You know what? Just cause I’m sitting at AppleBee’s right now, I just thought about a German Chocolate-looking cake. I know it don’t have nothing to do with what your publication is but I just — The way the coconut’s looking — It’s something that looks like a German Chocolate cake. That’s what came to mind.
We laughed through the entire question and answer.
Richardine: Like you were saying about people not really being able to attain what it is that they really want to do, and they’re talented, that’s kind of what my purpose is with my publication. I started my publication by myself. I didn’t really have any mentors to be an editor or a publisher. I had to find out things by myself. I was online, on Google, reading magazine mastheads and all that type of stuff.
Richardine: So because I like music, and I knew a lot of musicians, I always see that they might be really talented but won’t have business savvy.
Richardine: Or they don’t have patience or they don’t know much about timing. You know? Like they want everything to be now, now, now.
Zaytoven: Exactly, exactly.
Richardine: So I definitely get what you’re saying, and the name is a dichotomy of ‘grunge’ being the very beginning, the unknown, and ‘cake’ being your journey. Like where you want to get to, gaining the success, your lifestyle, reaching your goals. That’s what it’s about. It’s about the journey of people that can inspire people that are aspiring to be musicians. So that’s my purpose.
Zaytoven: I like that. I like that. That’s hot. That’s hot.
And I prayed on that name so I know what you’re saying.
Zaytoven: Yeah, exactly!
Totally. I get it.
Zaytoven: It had a whole other meaning to it when you do it like that.
What advice would you give — well, I guess you have that in the book — what advice would you give to someone who wants to follow their dream(s)?
I mean, of course it’s going to take some determination and it’s going to take hard work. It’s making sure you take all the right steps to attain that dream but then I think, nothing really happens unless God says so. It gotta be meant for it to happen. I think that’s one of the biggest things. If it’s not meant to be, it don’t matter how good or how hard you did it, it just wasn’t meant for you. Like, this music, I didn’t come in with this being my dream or me trying to do this or doing everything I had to do to try to make it. It just happened for me. I feel like God put me in this position for a reason, and that’s why I try to educate the people like when I do the book so people will know it’s not just all about that. You can do all the hardest work and work harder than somebody else and be better, and still don’t get there.
And last but not least, well actually I have two, where does the name Zaytoven come from? Like, I know Beethoven but is that a part of your actual name?
No, my name is Xavier so for short, everybody calls me Zay. When I first started making beats, I played the keyboard in church so every beat I make is going to have pianos and stuff because I don’t know what else to put in it. That’s all I know how to do, and my guy, one day I was making beats for him and he was like: These beats so good like Beethoven boy, I’ma call you that. I’ma call you Zaytoven. That was it. That stuck with me, right there.
What would you say is your biggest difficulty so far within the industry?
In the industry, I would say the biggest difficulty is maintaining (I guess) relationships sometimes with this music. Like I said, I like to see an artist come from nothing. The artist be around me. You know, he ain’t never rap until he came to my basement but then it’s like when people make it, or they get signed to deals, they meet other people and get to bigger people and they kind of lose what got them where they at. You know, the communication gets different. You can’t even ask for favors no more almost, and I’m not the type of person to ask for favors anyway. It’s just like, the communication just gets different and that’s just music business. They say it’s like one of the most negative businesses you can be in. You know, people do whatever they have to do to be the biggest or make the most money. That be the biggest thing. We can be close and inseparable, and then once they get to a certain level, it’s almost like you can’t really call them. You can’t get them on the phone when you need something. It’s like dang, it’s like that? It takes them falling off, when they ain’t really hot no more, to want to be around you everyday again.
But do you think that’s based on privacy or fear, or is that just part of the persona? I never really understood why that would happen. Especially if it’s someone that you’re always with.
Zaytoven: Well, I think it’s just different values. Like I said, I was raised in a church and stuff so I have different values. When they come from the streets, they don’t have nothing. Then when they get a little light, it’s like: Oh, I’m going all the way. I ain’t tied to nobody. They try to do everything. They want to get all the glory. That’s all it is, and I know sometimes it can get hard because when you do make it then everybody’s around asking for something. Begging for something. Everybody wants favors so I understand but at the same time, I don’t understand in some cases.
I had such a good time interviewing Zaytoven, and I really hope to see more of him in the years to come.