- Words Elle Evans
- Photography Sam Rahman
Get to know Dutch artist Cero Ismael, whose ever-growing passion for music is pinning him as One To Watch for 2021.
Through infusing an assortment of genres including Rap, R&B, Indie and Electronic into one, Cero Ismael’s nonchalant, melancholic, and luxurious sound has caught the attention of many.
Gracing the heavens at 6ft5, Cero’s ability to captivate you with his thought-provoking and emotional lyricism will leave you wanting more from the offset.
Knocking down all stereotypes with the aim to encourage his listeners to be honest with themselves, last year Cero released a string of singles that in no time at all caught the ears of many over the Dutch border. Growing up in a somewhat musical family, his spark for creating songs was a natural occurrence. Following in the footsteps of both his father and grandmother, who were both musicians at the time, from a youthful age, Cero would take the time to study, listen, and analyse a selection of varying sounds and rhyme schemes that in turn would benefit his knowledge and understanding of the art form.
With the arrival of his debut project, ‘Blue Man’, this 8-track body of work navigates the listener through a story of heartbreak within a series of textured backdrops that are laced with his signature rich tone. Taking us through a journey on the past 2 years of his life, Cero explores the isolation and mourning that comes with losing a love interest.
We caught up with Cero Ismael over Zoom to talk about his “heartbreak story” project, growing up on Boom Bap, what he’s got planned for the future, and much more.
Firstly, how have you been?
I have been doing pretty well actually. We’re back in lockdown over here so there’s not that much happening but I’m not having much trouble with it because I’m pretty used to having my routine and doing the same thing very week – it’s just the social side of things that have fallen off. Other than that, I’m okay, I’m just in my own bubble!
What about creatively? I don’t know what it’s like for you in regard to going to the studio, but I know some people have been struggling.
For the last 7-8 months I have been going to the studio every week in and out, I’ve been busy with a bunch of new music. Now, I’m getting to the point where it is becoming a little rough because I’ve been making so much music and I want to do something with it, other than just releasing it! I want to go out and see people and perform! Last year was a pretty good year for me with the project but now I’m getting to the phase of “What’s next?”, you know?
You grew up in the suburbs of Amsterdam – can you paint us a picture of what this was like for you?
I grew up in a town named Almere that’s 20 minutes from Amsterdam; it was calm! There is a lot of nature, Almere is a new town here in the Netherlands so there is a lot of building going on! It was nice, a lot of people from there have moved but I love it – it’s a little bit too calm for me at the moment and that’s why I moved to Amsterdam a few years ago but growing up there was amazing to me. Everything started for me there, the people I started making music with and still are making music with, everything just happened for me there that’s why I love it so much.
How did you get into music? How did your love for music spark?
My father used to make music – he was a rapper – and my grandmother was a Gospel singer, so having those two around me when I was growing up… I really wanted to become a rapper just like my Dad. Around the age of 11, my father helped me write my first rap verses, so I stuck with it and kept on practising. At the age of 12 I met some friends over the internet and we became a group and started making music, I kept releasing music until I was 15 and decided I wanted to take it seriously around then, I thought ‘This is going to be a forever thing for me’ – or at least for the next however long.
You just mentioned your Dad was a rapper. What kind of Rap are we talking about? What were you taking in?
It was Boom Bap – so really hard rap! I think because I grew up with a lot of hard-core rap, it gave me a good basis as an artist and a writer because you have to really pay attention; these people will spend hours on it, from the flows and rhyme schemes, so that approach really stuck by me and it still does. I approach a lot of my songs as a rapper, I really think about the choice of words, the flows and stay creative with it.
Would you say that you are introverted at all?
I think I am somewhere in the middle! When I was growing up, I was only really hanging out with my friends and not really conversing with people but ever since I have moved here, I’m really sociable. I am somewhere in the middle because I can still be by myself!
You’ve released a slew of impressive singles thus far. Sonically, your sound explores various genres and textures to the point where it can be quite tricky to box you into one genre. How would you describe your sound?
This is such a hard question every time someone asks! I think it’s a combination of Hip-Hop, R&B and Indie and it has a lot of Electronic influences – those combined, then you have my sound!
How did you go about navigating that sound?
It was a lot of listening, practicing, and studying different genres of music! I started out with Hip-Hop, my Dad really helped me to analyse the music and then I got into Trap, Mumble rap, RnB and Indie stuff – I’ve had my phases over the years and if you combine all of those years and phases then you have me!
Let’s talk about ‘Blue Man’ – it’s a great project! Tell us a bit more about your approach to this project and the deeper meaning behind it?
‘Blue Man’ is my heartbreak story, I made this when I was very heartbroken, and those 8 tracks were my self-therapy in order to understand myself and get myself together. That is what it represents, it’s just me trying to deal with the heartbreak and having to be honest with myself – that’s how it all started! I made it in under a year, once I knew the story I wanted to tell it came very easily to me.
I’ve noticed in your lyrics that you are quite vulnerable and aren’t afraid to say how you feel which goes against the traditional “mans man” approach. How important is it for you to do that?
I think it’s very important! At the end of the day that’s all you have, to be honest with yourself so I would always like to be honest with my listeners. I hope it encourages people – men or women – to be as honest as possible towards themselves and in doing that you can create the best things! Even with the stuff I listen to, people are very honest in what they are telling me, and I really like that!
Do you resonate with any of the tracks more now that you have recorded the project in comparison to the writing process?
That’s a hard question! I made the project to finish the phase for myself and looking back, when I was making it, I didn’t really understand myself but now all the songs are finished I understand what I meant when I was making it. I wouldn’t say there was one track that I resonate more with but overall, I understand the project more!
What’s your favourite track from the project? – Not a fair question I know!
I love that song! Were you hands on with the visuals for that? They’re dope!
Thank you! Yeah, the two guys that I made it with, my close friends and roommates are two people that I work closely with they are my creative directors! All three of us were really hands on with the visuals!
Music aside, what do you like to do for fun?
I like to work out and read! I don’t really have that many hobbies! I’m a pretty chilled guy!
Are you a movie type of guy?
I am but I have a concentration problem so it’s always hard for me to finish a whole movie! But I do like stuff like that, my attention span just isn’t very long!
What else can we expect to see from you this year?
The second project, that one is almost done! Last year, I spent that time to finish the songs and begin to record them! After ‘Blue Man’ that one will be dropping!