When it comes to music and gaming, it seems the two can be interchangeable — at least according to legendary producer Zaytoven. Raised in the Bay Area — though many mistake his trap bona fides for an Atlanta upbringing — the musician has grown to be much more than just a production wizard, identifying as a DJ, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist in addition to his legendary beatmaking.
It’s in this experience playing piano, organ, drums, and keytar that Zay finds a similarity between the two worlds of creating music and playing video games. Both stem from the ability to manifest what’s in the mind to his own two hands, the same way he was able to craft OJ Da Juiceman’s 2008 smash “Make Tha Trap Say Aye” featuring Gucci Mane, and eventually catapult and influence the careers of artists like Migos, Usher, Future, and Chief Keef. While working with all the elites in the rap game comes with its accolades, Zaytoven remains humble as ever, creating music simply for the love and not for fame. The only place he’s not humble is in his ability to wreck shop in some classic fighting games.
Uproxx spoke with Zaytoven about this and more, including being unbeatable on Mortal Kombat and passing down the love of gaming to the next generation.
What was the first game you ever played?
A Nintendo. My uncle got me and my cousin a Nintendo for Christmas and Super Mario Bros. was my first game. That’s probably still my favorite game to this day.
What are your fondest memories from those days?
I remember being real competitive. When Super Nintendo came out, when I was heavy into Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Street Fighter was my game, you can’t beat me in that. I’d be ready to fight if I lose in Street Fighter.
What? I remember almost getting into fights over that game if you feel like they’re cheating. You’re not going to beat me in this game.
Is there nobody that’s beaten you to this day?
Well, I went to Gary Vee’s office back in November. They had a gaming setup, I was playing Mortal Kombat and nobody could beat me. I was beating all of them, I feel like I’m still the GOAT. [Laughs]
How do you feel music and gaming coincide?
To me, doing music is almost like learning how to play the game. Learning different moves, learning all the different tricks on the drum machine, mixing it in the studio, it’s almost the same thing. It’s a lot of colorful lights, a lot of learning how to do stuff. You’re going to keep doing it until you feel like you’re the best at it. I tell people the reason I don’t play videogames now is because playing with my drum machine is like playing a video game.
Do you feel the same joy from both?
Definitely, that’s why I continue to make beats so many times because it’s like playing a video game to me. I definitely still get joy.
How old is your son?
He’s 14 — Lil Zay. At that age, that’s all they do. Man, I’m not even close to being good. He doesn’t show any mercy, he beat up on me so I don’t play anymore.
What games is he playing?
They play all the games, I don’t know all the names. Madden, NBA2K. He plays Fortnite and GTA. Let me ask my daughter.
I hear kids are making bread off Fortnite.
Zaytoven’s daughter (Livvi): Yeah, there’s this little kid that made three million dollars off a competition.
I don’t know anything about all that. But that’s why I let him keep playing, just in case he does start.
Is there anything you’d like to see happen in the gaming world?
I’d like to see us as producers and artists battle each other. They’re doing it already online but I’d like to see when you set up something where I battle another producer, playing a certain video. Set that up!
Something like VERZUZ, but gaming?
Yeah exactly. For me, it has to be Nintendo. It could be an older game like Tecmo Bowl, Mortal Kombat, Double Dribble. See I might be too old, they don’t even know about that.
I love what you did with G Herbo’s PTSD Deluxe, how was going to Chicago three times in 30 days?
Man, I fell in love with Chicago. I’d never really been to Chicago. I was out there hanging out with G Herbo, my buddy JB, and Mikkey. We’re out playing basketball, we’re in the studio every night. I enjoyed the city. I had a good time, that’s my first time meeting them really. We bonded and had a good time together, then we started making dope music. G Herbo’s dope and such an old school … he’s super raw. That’s what made me keep coming back to work with him. The man rap, he can rap someone under the table. I was trying to give him a little Zaytoven soul.
What’s your favorite song you did with him?
It’s not even released yet, we have so many unreleased songs. “Friends & Foes” is definitely the one we knew “this is it right here.”
“Spam 2 Lamb,” that’s my favorite song. The first song we did, the song that made us lock-in.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on all different types of projects. Me and Young Scooter have a project dropping called Jugging On Zay Street, which is super hard. I’m working. I have my own rap artist I’m working with by the name of Coe Mook, he’s from Alabama. I also have an R&B artist named Tiffany Bleu, I’m working on putting their project out in the next month or so. I’ve got a lot of music on the way.