Evident by his empowering debut album Electric Revival: Rise of an Outkast Nation, Dallas native Zach Witness is leading a revolution. This didn’t happen overnight, as music has been core to his being for as long as he can remember. From drumming at eight years old to DJing on Dallas’ notorious hip-hop radio station 97.9 at fifteen as DJ White Chocolate – a name for which he’d be known as a spearhead of the Dallas Boogie movement, to evolving in his music as Zach Witness and eventually producing But U Caint Use My Phone for Erykah Badu – he’s covered a lot of ground in 24 years. But this is only the beginning.
We sat down with the multi-instrumentalist, producer and songwriter to learn more about his highly anticipated project, Electric Revival. The album is a gift to André 3000 that serves as his personal letter not only to Outkast fans, but to the misfits of the world.
“To be honest, music has been there since day one. I didn’t ‘find’ music. We birthed each other.”
When did you know that music was the way for you? Was there a particular artist or experience that impacted you in a strong way?
There’s been many along the way. I could make a list for you, but that’s boring. To be honest, music has been there since day one. I didn’t “find” music. We birthed each other.
Collaborating with others and producing their work has been the cornerstone of your career up to this point. What motivated you to create Electric Revival: The Rise of an Outkast Nation?
I’ve been writing my own music more or less since I was a kid, but it’s only now that I feel comfortable sharing my creations with the world. Along my journey, I’ve met such incredible people. Be it Erykah Badu or the ever-resilient Walmart cashier who checks my groceries every week. The list is endless. Through their stories, I’ve been awakened to so much: what it means to be alive, what it means to know love, what it means to be a white man in America. Between their experiences, my own, and the political shift happening in the U.S. right now, I just felt it was important to share those things. The best way I know how to do that is by communicating through the language I know best. The one we spoke before words. The one God gifted us: MUSIC.
You’ve said that this project is not only an ode to one of your (our) heroes Andre 3000, but is also an ode to the outcasts in society. Why is the work of Andre/Outkast so integral to this conversation?
Hip Hop culture is like a microcosm of society. In the ‘90s, the rules for a “rapper” were much more specific than of what exist today. You had to look, talk, dress and act a certain way to be accepted. When Outkast started to come into their own, they totally flipped Hip Hop on it’s head. Everything about them was a no-no in the rap rule book. They were talking about the south, wearing flamboyant clothes and incorporating musical styles beyond the typical hip hop palette. Being a follower of Hip Hop music from a young age, I realized how groundbreaking that was at the time. For me, André’s pride in being different inspired me to be fearless about my own differences. When you’re nine years old, that’s a pretty huge lesson to receive. ‘Electric Revival’ is all about what it means to be different and the music of Outkast couldn’t be a better creative muse to articulate that with.
How do you think that relates to the South – a region that is overlook for being the source of mainstream culture, and more so known as the outcast in American society?
In the ‘90s, when Outkast emerged, you have to realize this was at the height of the whole “East coast vs West coast” drama. Tupac and Biggie were Gods. Nobody was trying to hear about collard greens and Cadillacs. The fact that a single group could change the entire perspective of a culture is mind blowing. In my eyes, when it comes to Hip Hop, there’s music before Outkast and there’s music after Outkast. Everything changed when they arrived. Southern culture has been a driving force ever since. It’s like Hip Hop passed the ball to the south and they never got it back!
How can the plight of the southern culture and all it encompasses serve as motivation for other cultures that are being devalued right now?
There’s something I call the “Human Effect”. Basically when a single person, group or culture has been pushed down for long enough, the power of the human will eventually conquers that oppressive energy in time. Just as grass grows back stronger every time it’s burned, a marginalized people will come back stronger with every blow. It’s a fact. Southern Hip Hop culture is a great example of the Human Effect in action because there was a time when you were flat out hated if you were from the south and creating rap music. But now the impact of southern urban culture can be felt within every corner of the world. You’ve got people from England to Egypt, Germany to Japan, France to Finland rapping like they’re from the south! If we could do it, there’s absolutely no reason why any one else can’t.
What do you want this album to say to anyone who’s ever identified as an outcast, and everyone else for that matter?
From the first second to the last, ’Electric Revival’ is a journey. It’s the soundtrack of the Human Effect in action, it’s motivation for those trying to get there, and it’s the foreshadow of what the future of an oppressed people sounds like. People need to know they’re not alone.
Electric Revival: Rise of an Outkast Nation is a powerful, protest-esque album for the modern era that, like you, vibrates on a higher frequency. Where is the Electric Revival already moving in our society and what does it mean to be part of this movement now and in the future?
Stateside, the Electric Revival is being felt most within the walls we’ve so long upheld among skin color, gender, and sexuality. Most don’t realize, the labels we assign each other are in fact entirely invented by man. Just as we created these labels, we can just as well destroy them. Unfortunately being “American” has become as much about manifesting your own destiny as it has learning how to categorize people. We’ve been looking through an illusionary lens created by the self serving white men who constructed our infrastructure back in the 1700s. Three hundred years later and the joke is still on us – we’re living in an 18th century society with 21st century technology. We need to stop seeing the world as flat and go to the vista of humanity to realize that the world is in fact round, that we are in fact the same species. We need an Electric Revival.
If you could drop a line to past, present and future Witness, what would you say to each?
Past Witness: Thanks for not letting go.
Current Witness: You’ve got work to do.
Future Witness: It’s only the beginning.
WORDS / CHEYENNE DOERR
VIDEO & PHOTO / MATT WINKLER