Zaytoven, who deserves all his flowers, is gunning to go down in history as one of the greatest producers to ever do it. His name alone is a play off the classical pianist Beethoven, drawing similarities in that both hail from Germany and both excel when it comes to playing the keys—and both teamed up with life-changing artists that would catapult their career to the next level.
Zay got his start producing up in the Bay Area, learning the craft in high school in between school and basketball. With his day job as a barber, the superproducer eventually saved up enough money to set up his own home studio in Atlanta, where his family relocated. Soon, Zay would meet Gucci Mane and go on to produce his mainstream breakout smash “Icy” as well as create magic with high-profile artists from Migos and Future to Travis Scott and Nicki Minaj.
Most recently, Zaytoven produced “Better Believe” by Belly, The Weeknd, and Young Thug, a beat that was actually made 3 years ago and just now resurfaced. On the artist tip, Zaytoven is currently fine-tuning his forthcoming album titled What Would the Game Be Without Zay, as well as starring in the independent film Finesse 2. Beyond his unwavering work ethic and passion for his craft, Zaytoven co-owns a barber shop on the east side of Atlanta called First Class and still manages to find time to workout every single day.
Flaunt caught up with Zaytoven via Instagram Live, who was posted in Atlanta where it was raining. Read below as we discuss how his beat made its way to The Weeknd 3 years ago, what sets his beat apart from the rest, ideal date night with wifey, his new project, love for acting, how Gucci put him on, love for cutting hair, hooping, and more!
How are you holding up in Atlanta?
It’s raining. I wanted to step outside to get a little fresh air. I’m supposed to go to Young Thug’s birthday party tonight. You know how the rain makes you be like [sighs]. I like the rain when I want to sit in the house and I don’t want to do anything. I don’t like the rain when I want to go somewhere because I like to pull out a pretty car and put on some jewelry. When it’s raining, you can’t really tell what car it is. [laughs]
How many cars you got?
Right now, I got 6 cars. Nothing too much. My favorite is the Lamborghini. Well I’m an old man at the same time, so the Rolls Royce makes me feel like your granddaddy’s car. I like the Rolls, but the Lamborghini is the most fun car I have.
What did it mean to work with The Weeknd on “Better Believe”?
It’s big. It’s super big for me, because I’m known as a trap producer. When guys like myself work with big-time pop stars like The Weeknd, it gives me that much more credibility; it helps my career, strengthens my brand, and expands my sound. It’s big for me.
How did that play happen?
It’s so crazy, I sent this beat to The Weeknd 3 years ago. Dead serious, this is years ago. That’s how it goes: for most of my big songs, the beat is at least 2 years old. All of them. It’s the weirdest thing to me, because I make music every day and I know they make music every day. If I gave you a beat 2 years ago, how’s this beat about to come out right now? I think “they forgot about that beat,” but a lot of these guys strategize and know what they’re doing. They know when they have the right songs, it’s timing and all that.
Do you know how Belly and Thug came on the song?
I have no idea, but it’s always a good thing for me because I’ve never really worked with The Weekend or Belly. I’ve worked with Young Thug before. I don’t think that combination with all 3 of them has been put together before, it’s amazing to be a part of it.
How did you say you tapped in with The Weekend?
I’m a producer that most people I produce for is someone I’m finding in the streets or guys commenting. Every now and then, I get calls or texts like “hey Zay, I manage The Weeknd or this person, can you send us some beats?” Anytime you throw names like that at me, you’re working with Rihanna or Beyonce, yeah I’ma send you beats. It might not go anywhere or it might do something, I’m sending these beats blindly, with blind faith hoping it does something. If not, oh well. I’ma still keep doing what I do. They hit me back like “he likes this one, he wants to use this one.” This was 3 years ago, I’m like “forreal? I got something with The Weeknd!” Usually after 6 months, I think “man they’re not doing anything with that.”
What was it about that beat specifically?
I never know. I make so many beats, most of the time the beats that people choose are not my favorites. I’m a producer, I make beats like “oh this the hardest beat I made right here” and nobody wants it. They pick the beats where it’s like “oh, that’s the one they want?” When I hear the song, I’ll start listening again like “oh, I can hear it. This beat is special.” They hear something special in it.
Did you add anything when the verses were put on?
Of course, I always do. Once I found out “oh, y’all finna use this beat? I’m finna go doctor it up, add some stuff, add my signature sound so they say “oh yeah, that’s a Zay beat.”
You got the sauce, what game do you have for producers out here?
I always want producers to follow—if they like my style or what I got going on, they definitely can learn from me or take things I do. I ain’t never mad at that.
How was it watching them bring the song to life in the “Better Believe” music video?
Now, they geeked me up about the music video before I even saw it. They said “Zay, we done spent crazy money on the video.” [whistles] He’s telling me about Thug getting run over by the truck. He’s telling me, I’m like “dang bro I wanna see it. I can’t see it?” I didn’t get to see it until they dropped it, but it was everything they said it would be.
How was that COVID-9 pandemic for you? We survived!
I’m a guy that most of my work is done at home. Of course, I wasn’t able to travel that much. I usually do a lot of DJ shows, I didn’t really get to do a lot of shows. I was at the crib. I spent a lot of family time, made a lot of music. Surprisingly, I made a lot of money sitting at home. [laughs] I definitely ain’t mad at that.
13 years is a long time to be in a relationship, what’s your ideal date night?
I’m the simplest person in the world. I’m old school so going to the movies, that’s it. I’m in love after that. I have the best time, we done went to the movies. I took my kids on a date last night to see Don’t Breathe 2. My wife isn’t into movies that much, she’ll go every now and then. We’ll go out to eat. Our best dates are going to the mall. We both love to shop, we both love to get fly. That’ll probably be the best date.
How would you describe your drip?
I don’t really have favorite brands, I just like fly clothes. In high school, I was Best Dressed in the yearbook, and so was my wife. She was Best Dressed as well, so we got that in common.
In high school, did you think you’d be this legendary producer?
Never thought about it. I liked being fly back in the day, I’d do whatever. I got to have the new Jordan’s, the new Tommy Hilger, everything. I had to look a certain way to go to school. It’s so crazy. If you go back to my junior high picture, you’d see me with chains and rings on in my basketball photos. I’m the only person in there with a herringbone chain on. “Bro, what you doing with some jewelry on on the basketball court?” I was into it way back when.
Were you nice?
Yeah I could hoop! We won State Championships. I definitely could hoop, I was great at basketball back in high school.
You still hoop?
Yeah, I still hoop. I don’t know if anyone watches my Instagram, but my son plays really good.
You go to all his games?
What? Come on. That’s one thing I don’t miss about being on the road. I get to make sure I’m at all my son’s games, all my daughter’s games. Right now, she’s playing volleyball. She’s one of them ones that she’s going to play every sport they have in the school. She had her first game today and I watched it. She did good. She did real good, she surprised me.
I remember you said your son puts you on new music, who’s your son bumping?
It’s so many guys, I can’t even keep up. So many, it’s stressful like bruh, I ain’t never heard of none of these. I can’t keep up with all that.
Last time, you said he was bumping Youngboy.
Yeah. See Youngboy, they’re the obvious that all the young kids listen to him. But it be the guys you ain’t never heard of, that’s who they be listening to.
You’re always on talented people, who are you on now?
Right now, I’m really branching out and going hard with my own artists. I have an R&B artist by the name of Tiffany Bleu, super dope. I’m into what I got going on. I have an artist named [CEO] Mook from Alabama, super dope. I’m into their stuff a whole lot right now; I’m a fan of their music. For them to be singing/rapping and me producing their music, it’s given me a whole new juice of energy in making music.
What can we expect from your new album, What Would the Game Be Without Zay?
You know, it’s me. It’s a collage of dope music and a lot of dope artists I personally like. It’s putting a combination together that’s never been put together. I’m keeping it real street because I like to make street music and I’ma keep doing it. I’m excited about the project. I also have a movie called Finesse 2 on the way, I’m really looking forward to that coming out.
Are you acting?
Yeah I’m acting. See, I’ve had 2 movies come out already. Birds of a Feather on Netflix did real good. This one’s a comedy. Me and my buddy Al Nuke put it together, and we’re the leading actors. It’s funny and some laughs is something I think we can all use in the world right now. I’m excited for everyone to see that.
How does it feel to act?
Man, that’s more fun than making music almost. It’s so fun to do, I guess because it’s our own movies, putting it together ourselves. We make the rules, there’s no rules to it. I enjoy that, it drives my creativity in a different type of way.
You gon’ play yourself ever?
Now in Birds Of A feather, I played myself. If you haven’t seen that, go to Amazon and see it. There’s another movie where I play this wanna-be rapper, you gotta put that on your must watch list, too. I’m a joke. I’m a rapper that’s from Atlanta, but I moved to the UK.
You got a banger with Doe Boy on the way?
He’s on my project; he’s so hard. These are the guys that you’ve never seen me work with before or heard our music together, that’s why I call it What Would the Game Be Without Zay. It’s easy because guys like Doeboy grew up on my music. They grew up on Gucci Mane and Zay, that’s all they love. That’s their favorite sound of music, favorite era of music. Making music with him was almost like going back and being in the studio with Gucci back in the day, that’s the type of vibe they want to be on. That’s my favorite type of vibe.
What’s your favorite song with Gucci?
My favorite song will always be the original “First Day Out.” That’s the first time he went away for 6 months, came back home and that’s the first song we did. I remember it giving me chills, made the hairs on my arms stand up like “man, Gucci’s a monster!” I haven’t seen him in 6 months, we talked over the phone but we hadn’t recorded in so long. That being the first song we did made me think “ain’t nobody harder than Gucci.”
When will producers finally get enough credit?
I think producers are getting credit right now. A producer is meant to be behind-the-scenes, meant to not be mentioned as much as a rapper. That’s how I got into the game because I saw Gucci was starting. I just wanted to be behind him to help him get to where he needed to go. Let me make the music, let me be the background. He’s one of the guys, the reason why my name’s so big now. Back when we were doing music, all he’d say was “Zaytoven this, Zay that. Produced by Zay, Zay on the beat.” Ain’t no more credits you could ask for.
I can’t remember, is he on your producer tag?
My tag is my daughter: “Zaytoven!” [imitates daughter’s voice]. I wasn’t making tags at first, but Gucci would say my name on every song he did. You can’t beat that. Money can’t pay for that.
You were a barber in your formative years, talk about co-owning your own barbershop on the Eastside of Atlanta.
I’m still a barber. I don’t get to go in there and cut like I want to. I cut my son’s hair, my dad’s hair, my brother’s hair at the house because I love to do it. I still love to do it. Barbering will always be a part of me. I have a personal barbershop in my house because of the passion I still have for it. I’ll always have my hands in that. My wife is a beautician, that’s how we met. She was doing hair, I was cutting hair. She has her own shop now. That’ll always be a part of me and my legacy.
You’ve always been healthy, what’s your workout regimen?
I get up Monday through Friday, take the kids to school. I get to the gym around 8am, leave around 10am. My workout partner is my dad. We workout everyday Monday to Friday, it’s the best time spent in the world.
You don’t miss a day?
No. Unless something really important is going on, but 99% of the time we’re there at the gym every morning. It’s bonding time as well. The gym is man time so we’re lifting weights and doing cardio, but we sit in the sauna and talk. It’s hanging out with your dad, good quality time. Pops and I hang out like brothers.
Food-wise, how healthy are you?
My wife’s mom does my meal preps. What I mostly do is chicken and asparagus, salmon and string beans. Monday through Friday, I’m eating that twice a day. For breakfast, I’m eating eggs in the morning. When the weekend comes, I eat anything. That’s when I cheat, I need something else to eat.
What’s your favorite cheat meal?
Hibachi-style is my favorite food to eat. Or I might get pizza, ain’t no telling what I might get. I might go to JJ’s and get some fried chicken.
How do you balance church life and music life?
Church life is first. That’s been instilled in me since I was a baby. I’ma always be at choir rehearsal and church on Sundays, unless I really have to be out of town. I hardly miss Sundays. For me, that’s my dedication to God. It’s showing the gift He gave me with music, I’ma always put church and God first before all of this stuff. That’s why I continue to be successful.
What’re you most excited for next?
It’s the movie, the music, the artists I’m working with. All of that keeps me excited. The family stuff I do, even my kids playing sports, that keeps me going, all of that keeps me excited. I salute everyone rocking with me and the ones who keep rooting for me, staying in tune with what I have going on. I appreciate y’all.