Zack Fox is in the middle of his rap set at New York’s Central Park—specifically, somewhere between sharing a Barack Obama drone-referencing “based freestyle” and twirling on stage to NY legend Jennifer Lopez’s 1999 club classic “Waiting For Tonight”—when he makes a declaration.
“This is hard. Why do people want to do this?”
Either legitimately out of breath for a minute or pretending to pant a little for the gag, Fox moved on from that comment and jumped right into another bit within seconds. That’s what he does as a comedian. But his momentary maybe-fake-maybe-not-fake self-realization was a reminder that he’s still getting used to rhyming about throwing chairs and having sex with a former first lady on stage, as his growing music catalog saw a milestone addition with his October 15 debut album, shut the fuck up talking to me.
“Moving into my 30s now, I’m thinking about bodies of work, and how to communicate the last 10 years of my life in other ways that aren’t so transient,” he shares over Zoom, days before the release of his debut. “[I have] jokes, tweets, and little projects here, and they’re amazing, but this is one of the first bodies of work that I’m giving people. So for those moments it’s like, yeah, I’m a rapper.”
Rap hasn’t taken the place of comedy for Fox at this point, but one spin of his debut album might make you think otherwise. The record is stacked with production from Kenny Beats, the Alchemist, BNYX, and more. It features cartoon references that opt for rarely-mentioned side characters rather than the regurgitated big names, and moments where Fox goes lights-out like his seasoned vet friends. As he reveals proudly, it’s also released entirely independently—Fox’s way of rejecting big companies that prey on musicians, in what he calls his Luke-Skywalker-Death-Star moment.
Yet if you go into shut the fuck up talking to me expecting something funny, Fox can’t promise you’ll get what you want. It’s up to you to decide what you want to take away from the comedian’s first rap album. His only goal was to make an album you’ll be cranking in your car so loudly that vehicular manslaughter isn’t out of the question.
In celebration of shut the fuck up talking to me, we reunited with Fox for a lengthy chat about intertwining his passions, how rap is like origami, and what it feels like to hop on an Alchemist beat.
Do you feel like you’re in album mode?
Nope, which is perfect. I feel like I’m just having fun. I’m focused more on TV and animation stuff right now. But this is fun. I have all these people [my online audience] who are constantly engaged, and I wanted to give them something that felt like a nice first step, you know, while I’m doing all this other shit behind the scenes.
Before getting into this album, I have to talk to you about the performance you just put on in Central Park. When those around me knew the lyrics, they rapped along with you. And when they didn’t, it was an uproar of laughter every other line. Which makes you feel more like you’re doing what you came out there to do?
It’s kind of both, right? I feel like when you’re doing stand-up and doing rap, [they] are so fucking different. It’s like, across the planet, two different things. But you know, when you’re doing stand-up, you’re waiting for that reaction and hoping that what you thought was funny is getting across to someone. And the way you measure that is in laughs. Laughs per minute, for sure. It can be measured down and either you’re killing or not.
I guess for the shows, it’s half and half. Central Park was perfect because it was like a chunk of the audience was turning up. And then a chunk of the audience was like, “Well, I don’t know all the words, but the shit he’s saying is funny as fuck, and I’m laughing.” And then a chunk of the audience was like, “What the fuck is this?” And that’s perfect. I look at a lot of rap shows and they’re like Travis Scott shows, everybody turning up. That’s cool, but where are the people who are like, “Hm, I don’t agree with that.”
I know there was that guy who was in the audience. He thought you were Kenny Beats. You can’t appease people like that.
That was also the funniest shit that could have come out of this. I wasn’t even mad at that. It’s hilarious that a libertarian stockbroker came to my show.
What was he thinking?
Here’s what happened in my head. He’s like Larry David and he was just in the park. You know what I mean? He wasn’t even there for a show. He was just walking around the park and was like, “Hey, what’s that?” And some kid was like, “You don’t know about Kenny Beats,” and he was eating a fucking cannoli. And he was like, “Guess I’ll check it out,” and just sort of snuck around and then was like, “Huh, language is kind of crazy here, might have to take this to Twitter.”
That was a sight to see. But as someone in the crowd, it feels like you’ve discovered something very unique. Do you feel that way?
I would hope that there’s something here, there’s a thread that I can continue to tug on that kind of synthesizes everything that I’m interested in, which is making people laugh. I don’t make songs constructed out of puns. None of my songs are like, “I got to make this one joke. So let me extrapolate it out for this entire song.” I love “Dick In A Box” just as much as the next person, I think it’s a perfect song.
But I’m still from Atlanta. So I want the song to bang. I want you to crank this shit, but the minutiae of how I’m explaining my specific brand of braggadocio can’t be found anywhere else. Because it’s funny, and because it’s goofy, and because it can be nonsensical and non sequitur, but I can delve into parts of my brain and references that other people can’t tap into. And I think what interests me more, doing live shows where I can freestyle, I can play these records, I can tell jokes, and all of it feels like it’s one cell and not like me trying to split time between telling jokes and rap. It’s all one organism.
I interviewed Lil B about his influence earlier this year and meshing humor with music. He sent you some major love. He also said his intention was never to be funny. Was humor your mindset or intention when going into the studio on this album?
Really, I feel the same way. I’m like, it’s literally whatever you want. Whatever you feel like you’re taking from it. If it’s funny, if it’s anything else. It should all be left on the table. I didn’t approach the album with any other intention than to make a rap album. And once you get rid of all the other goals and contrived shit, then you’re just having fun. And I think Lil B is absolutely correct. He was just rapping the way that he knows how to rap, just doing what he knows. When you do that, nothing is gonna be twisted or overthought. That’s just what he felt like saying at that moment. He’s made some of my favorite songs of all time that I still quote a decade later, you know what I mean? And that to me is art no matter how you slice it.
How has it been adjusting to having a music career, playing shows, seeing people now out there for strictly the music?
It’s always been something that’s next to me and around growing up in Atlanta. Everybody’s a rapper, and not only is everybody a rapper, but everybody’s a star. It never feels weird when somebody comes up to me and is like, “Yada, yada, yada.” That feels more natural to me than somebody coming up and reciting one of my jokes or a tweet. I’d rather you come up to me and be like, “Oh, you said this on ‘fafo.’” That means it really stuck with you and that you ride around listening to that shit in your car.
shut the fuck up talking to me. We have nine songs and an interlude on this. These songs are each only two or so minutes long. Can you explain why you opted for a shorter project here instead of one of these massive albums that we’re seeing more of?
I hate that shit. It’s something that really pisses me off. That’s not to say there aren’t albums like that that I like. But I just think for me personally, right now, I wanted to make something that felt fast and hard and bangs. Some shit that you could play on the commute to work. It’s a 30-minute drive to work where you want to swerve up the road and kill people on the sidewalk, you know what I mean? Or hit other cars on the highway. This will match your energy in that because that’s how I created it.
This is not a compilation [of old music]. This is all shit that I made in a one or two-week period, some that’s newer, and I was just in one mood. I was just an angry old man that whole week. I want my album to feel like a punk record, I don’t want this whole extrapolation of my multi-dimensional personality. I’ll do that again with the next nine-song thing and try to capture another dimension. But right now the dimension is like, a n***a that is pissed off.
I was listening to the songs that I was making before the inception of this record. I was making stuff that was cheerful or joyful, almost smooth, jazzy, elevator music sounding beats. And this was all dope, but then I was riding in the car one day and I kept turning the knob more and more to try and crank it. And I was like, it’s not cranking more. I’m most myself when I’m in the car, that’s my zone. All of my thoughts, all the words that I cuss out loud in the car. Your thoughts about the world come out so much when you’re driving that I knew I wanted something that’s the soundtrack to driving fast, too. I apologize because you’re in New York, so you won’t you won’t get that feeling.
When did the process behind this record start? How long would you say it lasted?
It was definitely August, September. I sat down one day with BNYX and I was like, “I’m doing it.” We’ve been working on things here and there but it was time. I remember Phil Morris had sent me the beat for “uhhh” two years ago. It was in my beat email. I found it and I was like, “Holy shit, how did I miss this? This beat sounds like a fucking truck transforming into a bad bitch and she start stomping on you. It sounds like a robot fight.” And BNYX just found a way to perfectly line up those two songs. And I was like, “Oh, well, this is the energy for the tape.”
Normally when you think about a debut album, it’s something of an introduction to that person’s life. Do you feel like this is a good opener to you as an artist for people finally catching on?
It’s some of my favorite stuff I’ve ever made. I’m not doing anything that I was doing in 2018. I’m not doing anything I was doing in 2019 or 2020. It’s all coming in completely fresh. I don’t think about music as this thing where you have to be autobiographical and tell people about yourself. I think that’s a cool thing for certain artists and something that I would like to do, but for right now, I’m just a Southern man and I like songs about the type of shit that I like.
“What I like is alcohol, guns, and bad b*tches, so I try to figure out ways to talk about that sh*t. And if you want to make inferences about the type of person I am behind all of that, that’s really on you.”
What I like is alcohol, guns, and bad bitches, so I try to figure out ways to talk about that shit. And if you want to make inferences about the type of person I am behind all of that, that’s really on you. I’m from a place, Georgia, where we go to the club, play pool, drink beers. I listen to songs about bullshit because that’s what’s the most fun. Some of my most favorite songs of all time are “Southside Da Realist” by Big Tuck, “Trial Time” by Mr. Bigg, “Knuck If You Buck” by Crime Mob. Songs that are just an emotion.
That emotion could be, “I’m rich.” Let me just talk about that. Or, “Imma fuck somebody up.” Alright, talk about that for two minutes and 30 seconds. I think music gets very overthought where people are like, “I gotta say something about me. I gotta say something about the world. And I gotta say….” You need to just speak about how you feel because somebody else a million miles away might take a completely different idea from it. “Knuck If You Buck” was a fight song, but I’m damn sure somebody’s first date happened because of that song. You wouldn’t think it is a love song, but somebody out there met the love of their life. And they had a beautiful relationship that blossomed over the years and and it was because of a song about stomping n****s out.
You think this album is a relationship starter?
Hell yeah, I do. I think anything could be a relationship starter. Any app is a dating app. You know what I mean? Anything could be anything now. We’re in the fuckin’ age of information and nothing is static or in one place. I hope to just inspire people to have fun with their music and not be too locked in a certain shit.
My favorite bar on here is “beat him purple like he’s Grimace.” Do you know what Grimace is exactly? The McDonald’s wiki has him labeled as an “anthropomorphic being of indeterminate species.”
I heard through the grapevine that Grimace was a taste bud, a big old taste. But really, I don’t know. I think whoever made that was just on shrooms and they were like, “Alright clown, dude who steals hamburgers, fuck I’m so high, purple.” But yeah, I think including Grimace was… I mean that’s like the biggest source of my bars. It all comes from cartoons. I try to dig for shit that’s not just surface-level references that anybody could get, SpongeBob, Dragon Ball Z.
You’ve got a whole song called “Lois Griffin.” [Editor’s Note: The song title is now “mind your business.”]
I’m trying to go for the deep cuts like “fafo,” I got Alex Mack. These little n****s don’t even know about Alex. That’s what I love about rap is that you can say something and it might take somebody six times listening to it over and over again in the night, Google it, and then they see, “Oh he meant because Alex Mack literally turned into liquid” and then get all of these entendres. That’s the fun of it, you get to build origami, like a box that someone has to unfold and if they unfold it wrong the first time they’ve got to put it back together and then unfold it a different way. Grimace was one of them ones where I was like, “I love this bar.”
Let’s talk about production. This Alchemist-produced title track, specifically, sees you in a pocket I haven’t heard before. It just feels like a lights-out moment. How’d you tap him for this?
I just told him what I was thinking and the direction, and he was super gracious and was, to my surprise, super gung-ho. That was the first thing he sent. And I was just like, “Fuck, well, that is the perfect day.” That was the perfect fucking thing you could send. We didn’t have to sit and, you know, think about it. It was like someone handed you a sword and you’re like “Oh, OK, well I’ll be right back.”
What’s the feeling of hopping on an Alc beat?
I won’t even know until like two years from now. It’s crazy to me right now. I haven’t even processed that.
With the special guests at your concert the other day, you clearly surround yourself with some talented musicians. Does who you surround yourself with light a fire under you?
Being friends with a really good writer might make you focus more on your art or focus more on your music. Or being friends with a crazy musician might make you feel like I need to get better at driving. You don’t know where it might land. I try to be around comedians who are way better than me, writers who are way better than me and smarter than me, artists who are way more talented. Better is always objective, but in my eyes I’m like, “Whoa, that’s cool. I want to be friends with that. Teach me your ways. Let’s make each other better.”
What does this album title mean to you?
For me, it felt like a lot of being in the limelight and dealing with social media shit and dealing with TV shit. It’s a lot of people trying to shine you up and people trying to censor you or tell you, “This is too punk or this is too much this or too much that.” The project feels like stepping out, a rejection of that.
“It’s a rejection of the contrived, a rejection of things being too shined up in the age of information and massive media companies buying all the IP of these little artists.”
It’s a rejection of the contrived, a rejection of things being too shined up in the age of information and massive media companies buying all the IP of these little artists. You know those memes where it’s a tiny knight with a sword thrown up against a massive dragon with eight heads? That’s how I feel. It’s definitely about to kill him, but that’s how I feel.
Shut the fuck up talking to me, as I am doing my album completely independent. I’m self-funding it, no features, just my friends involved, artwork that is going to be off-putting to people but in my vein. You know, having the whole thing kind of feel like Luke Skywalker shooting the fucking missile into the hole of the Death Star type shit. I just wanted it to be anti the bullshit right now. Hopefully people fuck with that.
What are you most excited about having it out in the world?
People telling me they crashed their car listening to it. People telling me that they got in a fight. I have very low expectations for what music does, especially in my life. I don’t know what it’s supposed to do. I’m putting it out because it’s fun. I remember one time I was outside of a Trader Joe’s and the dude was like, “Bro, you’re funny as fuck, bro. I was trying to smash this girl and your song came on. And she was just laughing, bro. I didn’t even get to smash because she was just laughing.”
That’s why you do it. Somebody is gonna have a funny story attached to your music. And that in itself, that is enough for me. As a comic, when someone says, “Me and my homies recite your joke at work all day,” that’s literally why we’re here, to make people happy. That’s it. For entertainers, you know, entertain people. Don’t be boring. That’s literally your only job.