“KAPTN is my actual nickname, I’ve been KAPTN for a long time,” confirms the man with the maritime moniker. “I got the name from being in a Jacuzzi with a lot of girls, wearing a captain’s hat. It stuck pretty quickly; my friends used to call up my parents’ house and ask for KAPTN. Nobody, not even my family calls me by my real name. Well, that’s not entirely true; my grandmother still calls me Zachie.”
Thankfully, Grandma has been spared all the details.
Indeed, the man born Zach Ross outside of Detroit, the man behind the smash single “Ricky Ricardo,” has a lot of ‘splainin’ to do. “I’m not an overnight success,” he clarifies. “I’ve been making music seriously since high school. Where I grew up –smalltown New Mexico, after the move from Michigan—everybody was really into underground hip-hop. I never was. I would jump into freestyle battles and just make a joke out of it. Instead, I just had this love for pop music, and I wanted to emulate it in my own way. So when I started to record music, it was different from what people were doing. What began as lighthearted fun turned into ‘Oh wow, people really like our stuff; they can vibe to this. Maybe it could be real.’”
It was this work with boardsmith Sneaks, himself an NM-to-LA émigré, that caught the ears of powerhouse production team Da Internz. Longtime pals and Chicago natives Marcos “Kosine On Da Beat” Palacios and Ernest “Tuo” Clark, Da Internz are responsible for smashes like Justin Bieber’s “I Would,” Big Sean’s “Dance (A$$),” and Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake.” The duo is currently working with luminaries like Justin Timberlake, John Legend, and Chris Brown. Despite their pedigree, however, Da Internz needed little convincing: “He was just shining with potential,” remarks Kosine. “He looks like a superstar, and he’s the real deal musically. I was sold.” His partner Tuo agrees: “The content, cleverness and delivery were all there. He actually reaches another place, a rare place, to get his creativity. I thought ‘With the right music, this dude is outta here.’ And that’s where we come in.”
But Da Internz were thinking beyond the next studio session. Their own aspirations bubbling – “After you get in the game, and you get hits on the Billboard chart, you want to break artists” – Clark and Palacios signed KAPTN to their Write Ya Life imprint. The talented troika then inked a 50/50 joint venture deal with Island / Def Jam Records. Apparently, the relationship is equal parts creative force and mutual admiration society. Says KAPTN: “I can’t think of another producer that would better get the sound I’m going for.” Says Da Internz: “KAPTN takes the ideas and vision we lay out and makes them his own, takes them to a higher level. That’s the sign of a real superstar artist.”
So, while KAPTN and Da Internz have been quietly celebrating what they deem a sound destined to change radio, the world waits desperately to get in on the party. Indeed, KAPTN represents a beguiling, unprecedented concoction of dance, funk, pop, soul, and rap, all whipped together and frosted with a certain cheekiness and unabashed fun. It’s then served red hot; Kaptn’s abs are the un-secret ingredient. The mélange works. Listeners have slurped up the frisky folly of “Juice;” irresistible, dawdling electro-house dances with KAPTN’s signature rhymes: terse, pun-laden, lascivious, and infectious.
“Juice” is an apt hors d'oeuvre for the sizzling main course, “Ricky Ricardo.” Steeped in the soulful Chicago house of Da Internz’ childhoods, “Ricky Ricardo” is a swelling dancefloor maelstrom—“the type of track you hear when the party is at its peak,” muse Da Internz. Complete with KAPTN’s intermittent Spanish accent and zesty Cuban-flavored rhythmic break, “Ricky Ricardo” is part of that radio takeover. While paying legitimate homage to its influences, “Ricky Ricardo” forges a new and surprisingly authentic sound. When pressed to identify it, KAPTN offers the term “luxury rap.”
“I feel like we’ve created a subgenre that hasn’t really been touched upon before,” he expounds. “KAPTN is like a character to me, he can be anyone. And that gives me great freedom. I go into a song knowing I don’t have to use a typical sound or voice each time. I always experiment with different voices: be it in the bridge, the melody, the hook, or the verses. Ultimately, my approach is ‘let’s be weird, let’s take it to a level that people may love it or hate it but let’s blow the mind of that one person in the back of the room.’”
This next-level luxury includes “Lady Tiger,” a 4-on-the-floor scorcher that somehow integrates, seamlessly, the hootin’ and hollerin’ of a downhome foot-stomper. “The motivation behind ‘Lady Tiger’ was straight shock factor,” Tuo admits. “We needed something the equal to, or even better than, ‘Ricky Ricardo.’” There’s also “La La Land,” what Tuo calls a “swagged out, rated-R journey with KAPTN through his world.” Look also for the piano-powered house of “One Night” and the somewhat self-explanatory “Freaky MF’ers.” Finally, there is Timbaland’s contribution to Caviar and Jacuzzi Blues, “God Bless You.”
With an irrepressible new sound and the affirmations of industry heavyweights, KAPTN is scaling the heights of a sonic revolution. And the soaring numbers aptly testify: YouTube views; iTunes downloads; radio spins. Can a new artist process that sort of responsibility? Can he put its repercussions into words? “For me to break new ground, to be the poster boy for that is an exciting and amazingly humbling thing,” KAPTN confesses. “It makes all the difficulty along the way worthwhile.” In vintage KAPTN paradox, the man who’s half-naked in his music videos is even more apt at baring his soul.
The KAPTN has spoken. Now it’s time to strap in, hang on, and enjoy the ride.