Getting down with Zebra Katz

By Sophia Coleman

From the intimacy of his bedroom to the runways of Paris Fashion Week 2012, multidisciplinary artist Ojay Morgan, better known as Zebra Katz, has seen his career transform in a matter of months.

Now the Brooklyn resident will be performing at parties for the Chicago International Movies and Music Festival, an event from April 12–15 showcasing films, bands and live performers from many backgrounds and genres.

This year, the festival will be full of queer icons from across the country, including Sister Spit, a San Francisco-based group of lesbian artists, and readings from the nationally ranked slam poet Mr. Transman.

The Chronicle sat down with Katz to discuss the concept behind his hit “Ima Read,” his celebrity fans and what he’s looking forward to at CIMM Fest.

The Chronicle: What other media you have dabbled in?

Zebra Katz: I’ve done film, and I do productions with Polaroid photography. I do a lot of paintings, collages and installations. I’ve done sculptures out of champagne corks and bottles, which ended up turning into [a song] called “Champagne Mixtape.”

The Chronicle: Your song “Ima Read” has been considered one of your biggest hits. What was the concept behind both the track and video?

ZK: We just released our first DIY, unofficial videos that were filmed in my bedroom on April 1. RUBEN XYZ, who was the director of the official video, developed the treatment for the video after seeing our shows. We trusted each other’s vision to make the final product. I’m very thankful that people consider it one of my best works. The song has been out for five years now, so it’s great to finally see it take off and do so well.

The Chronicle: What feedback have you gotten regarding the video?

ZK: Something with combining both the song and video resonated. Icons like RuPaul, Rick Owens [and] Montel Williams reached out after seeing the video and were so supportive. Even the New York Times and the Guardian featured me. People I look up to are watching me. It’s for real. I quit my job to pursue an opportunity that has always been right in front of me.

The Chronicle: Who is your alter ego Zebra Katz, and when did you develop him?

ZK: Zebra Katz was developed in the process of writing my senior thesis. He was a character that I wasn’t paying that much attention to because I didn’t think music was my strong suit. He is a character who is always a work in progress. People ask where he came from, but he’s always been there. I would say Zebra Katz is dark, clever and witty and has a lot to share.

The Chronicle: How would you describe your current sound?

ZK: “Champagne Mixtape” is an angsty, post-grad collection of songs over the past five years. When I first made “Champagne,” I didn’t know a lot of people would hear it. DJ Teenwolf, who introduced my tracks to Mad Decent and Diplo, said that I let it out and let people hear it. My work is very much underground, and my sound is very new and experimental and hits a lot of genres—it’s hipster, it’s punk, it’s hyper-

masculinized hip-hop.

The Chronicle: What made you want to be part of CIMM Fest?

ZK: While I’m in Chicago, I’m looking forward to meeting all these other artists. I’m self-managing Zebra Katz, so it’s entirely a new experience and I want to make more connections. It’s really interesting to get other people’s scope on my work. Some people don’t understand the context of the songs or concept of what I’m doing, so feedback is great.

The Chronicle: What qualities do you think are needed to become a renowned performer within the queer community?

ZK: Don’t come modified. Don’t try to be an image or ideal of queerness, otherness or blackness or hip-hop. We put ourselves in boxes to make people understand us, but I refuse to do that. The material I have produced speaks for itself. I’m not going up and saying I’m this or that because I’m human. I’m going to change. It’s interesting to see how people perceive sexuality in the music industry and in pop culture. A lot of people still can’t wrap their head around it. I love the queer community. I support the queer community and they support me.

Zebra Katz will be performing on April 12 at Berlin, 954 W. Belmont Ave. Doors open at 10 p.m. show ends at 12 a.m. There is a ticket link for free admission before 11 on Tickets at the door are $10-$12. On April 14, Katz will be performing at Beauty Bar, 1444 W. Chicago Ave. Doors open at 10. Tickets are $10-$12. For more information visit