Article by Mary Sekela
It’s not every day you get to share a stage with names like Tech N9ne and Machine Gun Kelly, but up-and-coming rapper Taylor Zank (T-Zank) has been having a good year. Luckily enough for me, I caught up with this fresh face just a few days after he and his crew opened for the superstars, and he was more than willing to let me in on the fun:
“The show was incredible! Definitely a new experience for me and my team,” he said. “It was our first time with anybody that’s really known in the industry. But we came out with a lot of energy and really made a presence.”
As a 21-year-old rapper who’s only been writing seriously for about two years, its clear that energy is something T-Zank has in spades. And that drive is a necessity—to go so quickly from “messing around” in his friend’s basement to performing with recognized industry giants has required the kind of dedication most of us don’t learn until well into our thirties. But Zank’s got it:
“I’m working at it every day,” he said. “It’s a constant grind—it hasn’t stopped since I started. I’m literally writing every day, recording every day. I put my heart and soul into this.”
So, what is this “heart and soul” that’s lifted Zank out of the basement and into the spotlight? The basic building blocks are simple: conscious raps and regional pride. While having a good time is always among the top priorities for T-Zank and his crew, the foundational goal is social consciousness—creating raps that reflect the very real problems faced by everyday citizens.
“The drive is to make lyrical and unique music that is guided toward the people,” said Zank. “The goal is to awaken people to a lot of the social problems we have today, as well as have a great time doing it.”
In addition to following in the footsteps of conscious rappers like KRS-One and Mos Def, T-Zank also maintains one of rap’s original defining characteristics: boy reps his region. While the Midwest rap scene has long been eclipsed by that of the coasts—and, more recently, of the South—rappers like T-Zank are joining the ranks of Midwestern artists who refuse to let convention determine the potential of their musical territories. Straight out of Indiana, Zank, along with the rest of Team Midwest, sees a bright future for his region’s reputation.
“People immediately judge someone who’s from the Midwest as someone who’s not going to know a lot about hip-hop, because it evolved on the East Coast and the West Coast and eventually the South, but I feel like I could really represent what the Midwest is about,” he said. “I want to branch off in my own direction and really create a new sound for the area, and continue to evolve.”
T-Zank’s latest mixtape—Revolutionary Speech—which dropped just a few weeks ago, contains no small amount of that socially conscious regional pride. Tracks like “Corruption” call out the government for shady dealings and the public for ignorance, while “Midwest” proves that Zank means it when he claims love for the region. But it’s not all about the big picture—this mixtape also demonstrates an obvious pride in Zank’s crew itself. The music isn’t just about social consciousness or regionalism; it’s about strengthening the personal relationships he has with his friends/coworkers.
Interestingly enough, modernity has made it possible for such valuable relationships to form and evolve not only via face-to-face contact, but through that most pervasive of all technologies: the internet! Zank is truly a child of the 21st century—he has promoted himself not only through the conventional methods but also by reaching out to artists and producers online.
Despite the general suspicion (at least among the older generations) of any contact made via social networking sites or other online avenues, T-Zank says he has made great musical progress by developing an online community. Due to his willingness to utilize the technologies as his disposal, Zank has worked with artists around the country, collaborating with some without ever speaking face-to-face:
“I have been able to really network socially [online],” he said. “I actually did a song with a Harlem artist from Dipset named Tom Gist, completely met him through Facebook. And really it’s just been uploading links and messaging artists that are around me… From this point I’m trying to expand, just trying to network and get out with as many people as I can.”
As for what’s next on the agenda, T-Zank is currently planning a tour that could move as far afield as the West Coast itself—and this writer is betting he gets there sooner rather than later. Zank’s dedication to the craft has clearly done him credit so far, and there’s no end in sight. Look out for tour dates starting this August, and prepare to hop on that Midwest movement!