by Erinn Fortson
Many rap critics consider Illmatic a hip-hop masterpiece. Michael Eric Dyson and Sohail Daulatzai dedicate an entire book to dissecting the album and explaining why it is so significant.
For ZZ Ward, discovering Nas and this record is what bridged the gap between her and hip-hop. “I just felt the passion in his lyrics,” says Ward. “I didn’t know who he was before I heard him and then I heard him and it was exactly what I needed to connect with hip-hop. Nas was rapping about becoming more and getting out of where he was. And even though I was in Oregon in the middle of nowhere, in my own way I can relate to that.”
On what I imagine to be a sunny day in California, I talk to ZZ Ward while she drives to a music studio in Los Angeles. Back in May, the singer was home for a few days before heading to Europe.
“It’s the grind out there when you tour,” says Ward. “It’s not for the weak or the mild. But at the end of everyday, I have a great group out there with me. My band is a great group of guys. We have a great time on stage and we get along off stage which is really important because you live with the people on the tour bus. We love playing shows. So when we get on stage and the crowd is just like into it and they’re having a great time, then it’s all worth while. The travel is hard sometimes, but it’s definitely worth it.”
Last October, Ward released her first full-length album, Til the Casket Drops, on Hollywood Records. The record stays true to the singer’s love for hip-hop, as it’s full of influences from the genre. Ward even features rappers Freddie Gibbs and Kendrick Lamar on the album. Blues also plays an important role in Ward’s work and it’s evident throughout her music.
“I’ve always been attracted to music that has extremes in emotion,” says Ward. “Whether it’s heartbreak or heartache or being angry; that’s why I like the blues a lot. I got that same feeling from hip-hop.”
This weekend, Ward will be performing at the Firefly Festival in Dover, Delaware. Shows start Friday afternoon, with Ward and her band set to play on Saturday. “That’s the coolest thing about these festivals,” says Ward. “It’s not just one concert; it’s like you get to watch a band, watch a concert and then go get a beer and go to another concert and then go get something else and then go to another show. There’s so much traffic and you know, for music lovers like me and a lot of my fans, it’s so exciting just to be able to walk around and see other shows. I can’t wait.”
Born in Abington, Pennsylvania, ZZ Ward grew up in rural Oregon, moving there when she was a child. Ward comes from a home where she was exposed to many different types of music. Between her older brother and parents, the singer was introduced to a plethora of artists and albums. “They just embraced music so much,” says Ward of her family. “Music was beauty, music was fun, music was a party; it was always cool in my house to express yourself and that was always kind of valued and my parents always nurtured that. I’m very thankful that I had that growing up or else I don’t know if I would be doing what I’m doing.”