London based R&B up-and-comer Zion Foster's age belies his young years - not just in his maturity of thought, but in his music taste.
When speaking to London based R&B up-and-comer Zion Foster, I was surprised to learn he was just 20 as his music is deliberately reminiscent of early 2000’s R&B.
When it comes to Zion’s thought process, he has already been on a music business journey that has made him have to grow up quickly. He has had label drama that has tested him, yet he has come out on the other side as a genuinely thoughtful and empowered artist intending to spread his message of independence.
Zion, while being at times an old soul in spirit and taste, has thrived in his youth. He is an artist born on the internet and has developed a process of songwriting with his fans on his Instagram Live. Through his Instagram presence, Zion Foster has built true transparency and connection with his fans. However, Zion never refers to them as fans, only as his supporters. Nothing defines Zion as an artist and a person more than this. As he expresses many times, he will take support and genuine love over fame or industry connections any day.
In 2019 he released a solo project called ‘Her, Her & You’, and a collaborative project with fellow UK stud Brandz called ‘25/8’. The two projects show his range from the pop to the hip hop sides of R&B. In Zion Foster’s music, whilst it feels incredibly contemporary, there is always a feeling of nostalgia tied in. On the title track “Her, Her and You,” elements of early Trey Songz and Omarion are noticeable. On a song like “Top,” Zion and Brandz trade R&B bars like Jadakiss and Styles P traded raps for The Lox in the late 90’s.
We spoke to Zion about everything from his taste and influence to his industry perspective and new music.
Your “Lay You Down” video was inspired by Mario’s “Just A Friend” video. What made you decide to follow that?
I’m a really big R&B fan. I grew up on a lot of American R&B. That’s really where I got all of my inspiration and passion for music. It was heavily influenced by that whole aesthetic. I just wanted to bring it back.
How does that era’s style live in your music now?
Through melodies, and the type of songs that I write, and the type of production I prefer. There’s a lot of influence from the early Ushers and the early Chris Browns in the way I express myself through my singing. It even goes past the music like…It’s me! The reason I’m embracing it so much is we’re now in a time where kids aren’t lucky enough to grow up on that. In my generation, we were looking up to that kinda stuff. Now I just feel like everything’s very dark.
What specifically about that energy do you want to exude?
It’s uplifting. It’s timeless music. You can dance to it. You can sing along to it. You just feel good listening to it. I feel like it made me a better person. Where I’m from in London I’m kind of the odd one out. I don’t really fit in, in the local area. I put it down heavily to the music I listen to. I am that.
You’ve said early on you were bullied for liking that music. When did that change?
I used all that bullying and stuff as motivation. I’m the type of person if you tell me I can’t do it…I’m stubborn, I’m gonna try to do everything to prove you wrong. Then the turning point for me was when I started to get recognition from U.K. rappers that were big at the time. They were starting to post my stuff so I started to go into school and kids were like “oh my god this guy posted you!” And from there people started to treat me a bit different.
With “Welcome To The Lion’s Den” you’ve got a new aggressive tone. Where’d that come from?
I’d just come back from LA. I’d just worked with one of my friends Brandz. I’d come to a realization that I want to be more of an all-around artist. Prior to that, I was doing a lot of R&B stuff, and on my Instagram videos, I was doing little freestyles of me talking about deeper issues and concepts in songs. But I’d never put out a song where I was talking about the real negative stuff from my personal life. I gained confidence from releasing the project with Brandz and I saw it as an opportunity. I wanted people to understand me differently. I wanted to let people in and let them know that although everything seems good and rosy not everything’s perfect and everyone does go through their own troubles.
What were some negative things that were going on?
I just felt like everyone was trying to take from me. I felt like I wasn’t fully able to express myself. I felt like everyone was treating me like my ideas weren’t good enough. Everyone was trying to put their two pence in, and it’s not that I’m not open to suggestions, but no one was letting me try things my way. The problem with that was when we didn’t do things my way and it didn’t do what everyone anticipated, everyone went back into their normal 9 to 5 and it’s my career. I’m the one who can’t sleep at night trying to figure out what’s going wrong here. I came to the realization I have to take risks and I have to do things my way. I need to put people around me who are gonna be more supportive and not people who think, “I’ve done it before and I know exactly what to do!” I’d rather come up with people who are hungry and living in the present. If it goes crazy it goes crazy, if it doesn’t it doesn’t. It’s authentic to me. So I had to make a lot of tweaks in my team. A lot of my focus shifted. And yeah…that’s where that song kinda came from.
Is the positive vibe of the song “Señorita” a result of that new energy?
I actually made that on live with my supporters. That song’s about love and positivity but it’s more of a laid back one. It’s one you relax to and enjoy. You’re on a late night drive and you put that on with your girl.
How did the Instagram Live songwriting start?
I was on YouTube looking for instrumentals on live. Sometimes I just go on live and talk rubbish and see what’s going on with my supporters. And I was like ”oh I like this beat shall I make a song?” And everyone said “yeah.” I just loaded the beat, put some effects on my voice, hit record, and started writing. Then once I felt like I made something that was making sense to me I double-checked with my supporters. Then they put fire emojis. They liked it and I put it out.
What’s been your favourite Instagram Live songwriting moment?
There was one song I made when my supporters said to make a sad song. It’s not out yet or on my next project, but I love that song. When I’m sad I usually go into a bubble. So when I’m on live I’m usually in a good mood. So when they said to make a sad song I said: “I’m not in a sad mood.” But they were really motivating me which then inspired me to come up with a sad song. And I actually really liked the song. So I think that was a moment when they really had a big influence on me. That’s one of the most special moments.
What’s the dichotomy like of having no trust of people around you, but full support from strangers on the internet?
The exact word for it is insanity. At one point I felt like I was going crazy. Things didn’t make any sense. I’m someone who needs things in their brain to make sense. If I can’t understand something I lose myself. It got to the point where I was being told one thing from the people who are actually close to me, who are part of my brand and behind the scenes. And I’ve got the whole world telling me to do what you used to do a year ago and it’s so conflicting. It’s like being pulled on two ends I was almost going crazy. My Brandz collaboration was one of the best things ever for me cuz that song “Intro” is literally who I’ve always wanted to be. But I’d never acted on it cuz I’ve always been led by someone else who I’m putting my trust in. “Intro” is the biggest song I’ve ever released and it’s because I just followed my heart. So that’s when I understood what I needed to do. Got a sense of belief and understanding. Now I’ve literally just surrounded myself with my friends. There’s no one behind the scenes now that is not a friend. None of them are big in the industry. Some of them don’t even know anything about the music industry. But for me, I need people I can trust and people that understand where I’m coming from.
How else have you used this new understanding moving forward?
I’m now with Empire. An independent label in San Francisco. With them, the most significant change is the freedom. They’re not trying to make me someone. They see what I’m doing and they say “we could add a little bit more juice to this, let’s do it.” That’s all I need.
Let’s talk more about the Brandz collab album 25/8 that the song “Intro” is on. When and how did you start collaborating?
I was probably 15 when I met Brandz. We were always friends. We had a mutual friend who said, “you two need to make music together.” At this point, I wasn’t really collaborating with anyone, but I went to his house one day, and we went in the car and just started freestyling. Then I thought, this actually makes sense. Then every day for the next four or five days he came to my house and we were just recording. Then in about a week, we had the whole tape done.
How’d you come up with your recording style where you kind of trade bars?
We literally just done what felt right. I would do something good then he would do something good that’s literally how we done the whole thing. We would do four bars each more or less. We were just really bouncing off each other. It was fun.
What did you think of Pop Smoke’s “For The Night” using the same sample as “Time” by you and Brandz?
You know what, it’s not the first time this happened. Burna Boy made a song called “On The Low” and we sang the same sample on the chorus of “No Wahala.” I dropped it a year before him. And I’m personally convinced that he saw it, but I just say great minds think alike. It would be nice since everyone’s thinking the same if we could collaborate.
Can you talk about your upcoming music with Chunkz?
Once again I made the song on [Instagram] Live. We’ve known each other a long time but we’ve never really tapped in with each other. On the live someone commented, “you should get Chunkz on this.” Then I was like it might be a long shot, but maybe I just send it to him. He replied right away to send him the song. Then he was like “I’m in the studio now. I’m gonna record it. I love the song” and that’s it. I am very selective with who I collaborate with. I always want it to make sense. I never want to do something just for fame or reasons that are not true to myself.
Do you have a dream collaboration?
Right now I’d say Tory Lanez. He’s hard and he’s just gone independent as well.
What can you say about the upcoming project?
The projects called ‘Welcome To The Lion’s Den’ meaning my bedroom. The project is about being yourself and believing in yourself. The artwork’s of my bedroom and there’s three little lions. One of them’s writing on the wall, one of them’s recording, and one of them’s sleeping. You don’t need to be in the greatest recording studios in the world. You don’t need to work with the best songwriters. You don’t need millions of pounds like the industry makes it out like you need. You don’t need a major record label. All you need is to take time in your craft, do what you love, get a little set up in your bedroom, record your music, learn how to mix and learn how to master. It gets to the point where you can do everything you love to do for free. That’s the underlying fact. I made all the songs in my bedroom. I wrote all the songs myself. I mixed and mastered all of the songs. I’m working with Empire so I had the option to mix and master professionally, but I just want the project to stand for all that. I just want this to be living proof that you can do it without anyone else. You can and you will, you just have to believe. The songs are new school r&b led with hip hop influence. Positive happy music just global music.
Any visuals lined up?
“Insecure Love” with Chunkz.
I like that title.
They picked that on the Live. “Can’t Help But Wait” vibe. I love songs like that. They’re real to me.