The temperature continued to drop, hitting seven degrees as my photographer, Bryan Lamb and myself pulled up to Emma’s, a restaurant on the west side of Chicago. As we drove west from the heart of the loop of Chicago down Route 64, the landscape began to change. Amongst a neighborhood with more storefronts closed or shuttered than not, Emma’s is a bright light, with it’s freshly-painted windows and well-kept exterior, a hand-written sign braving the bitter cold to announce the day’s special of catfish. Walking in we were warmly greeted, with unexpected laughter erupting when we announced who we were there to see. “They here to talk to Z Money!” his aunt shouted in somewhat disbelief from behind the counter. It’s hard to blame her, too.
The first thing I remember about Z Money is how frustrating it was to find a photo of him this summer when trying to post his music. Employing a homegrown marketing scheme, the west side artist, who only started rapping something like a year and a half ago and his team decided to drop two mixtapes, Heroin Musik & Rich B4 Rap side by side on the same day. The release and the songs it contained made Complex Magazine’s David Drake take notice, quickly branding Z Money as an artist to know by including him on their list of “25 Artists to Watch Out For“. No on had heard of him before that, he hadn’t done an interview, few had seen his face; Z Money was largely a mystery.
To solve some of that mystery, Lamb and myself now found ourselves in front of two steaming plates of shrimp n’ grits, the special at Emma’s. The restaurant is owned and operated by Z Money and from what we could tell, staffed as well by family members. Named after his Grandma, the cozy spot serves soul food with a smile and some home made Kool-aid. You don’t hear about a lot of 20-year-old aspiring rap artists who own their own company, let alone a restaurant. But, contrary to much of his lyrical content, Z Money is out to better those around him as his name continues to grow. Thanks to the folks at Vice, much of the country now in one way or another refers to Chicago as “Chiraq”, a ‘clever’ marketing scheme to sell individual’s realities as a product. Talking to Z, one can feel his passion for showing a different route, his penchant for being a role model and his hunger to continue to climb. There is talk of upping the game and releasing a trio of mixtapes later this year. For now, though, this young Chicagoan is reveling in life and preparing himself to be the next big thing from a city that has steadily produced some of the top up and coming artists in hip-hop over the past couple of years. Check out the full conversation I had with Z Money, below.