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Transformation and Truth - ASHA.FM x XZO

In PART III of ASHA.FM’s three-part documentary series 'Sounds of our Past’, Glasgow- based multimedia artist XZO presents a love letter to hip-hop.

The documentary, made in late 2021, focuses on seminal moments in hip-hop history and XZO's relationship to the genre. Following the film’s premiere on ASHA.FM, Cameron Evans (aka Zenrei) sat with them to discuss the film, and their creative work and community outside of it since.


XZO speaks in the documentary about how they got exposed to hip-hop:

“Growing up, my dad was a softboi - he listened to bands like The Doors. My mom was more diva, like Destiny’s Child and Whitney Houston. Neither of them liked hip-hop because their experience of it was misogynistic and sexist. But I think that’s because they never knew about any of the hip-hop that championed women. Like Tupac, Tribe [Called Quest] and De La Soul come to mind. I got into the Fugees because my mom liked Lauryn Hill. The Score was my first favourite hip-hop album, and to this day I still know every word off that record.”
“I remember hearing that Lou Reed sample in “Can I Kick It” and having a revelation about sampling as an art form. Then I discovered Ladies First (Queen Latifah & Monie Love) and MC Lyte - the first women of hip-hop. “Ruffneck” has been a favourite of mine ever since then. I also got really into conscious rap - all of it was really inspiring.”

Documentary still: MC Lyte performs 'Ruffneck'.

In our chat, XZO spoke more about hip-hop and Scotland in particular:

“Scottish hip-hop is interesting, because it’s still young, it’s still growing. There’s so much space to build up the culture, and there’s space for everyone - some people even move to Glasgow from London because it’s easier to break into the scene. Scottish hip-hop artists I love right now are people like Lady Incarnate (@ladyincarnate), Syn (@syn6syn), Eyve (@nameseyve), Danny Cliff (@dnnycliff), Sina Gordon (@sinagordon), Chong (@scottmaxwell42069), ACE V!S!ON (@blackmanbegins) just to name a few off the top of my head.
The scene is pretty friendly and inclusive, too. I went to see [Scottish hip-hop artist] BEMZ earlier this year at The Poetry Club, and everyone was really nice. We were the only trans people in the room, so we were expecting people to be a little weird, but it was a really fun and welcoming environment. In general, though, the more clout-oriented element of hip-hop can be hard to navigate, especially if you’re neurodivergent.”

I asked XZO about how they feel with regard to marginalisation in drill music, given their comments in the documentary on censorship in late 1980s ‘gangster rap’, such as NWA:

“In hip-hop, there’s a lot of different marginalised communities, but it’s Black People who are censored more. Racism is so ingrained in the culture that people can’t believe they’re even experiencing it or engaging in it. People don’t understand that this music represents real lives and experiences, and that’s what they’re censoring.

Grime and Gangsta Rap are autobiographical, so they’re often oppressing healing voices too - [Dr Dre’s] The Chronic, for example, was a time of serious healing for LA. It’s about channeling rage and oppression and coming to the political from the personal, while still keeping that classic LA party feel to it - something that just can’t be replicated unless you’ve had to experience something similar.”

XZO further explained what they love so much about hip-hop:

“It’s rap, you know? Rhythm and Poetry. MF Doom demonstrated that it works with anything you could imagine - no matter what your voice is, what instruments you do or don’t have. It’s such a diverse tool of creative expression.”

Projects and the trans community

I asked XZO more about their own work and how elements of rap formed part of it:

“Alongside sound work, I’m working on a project at the moment where I’m focusing on my own stuff and trying to get a portfolio of my own sound. I’m experimenting a lot with vocal percussion and syncopation in vocal production. I really enjoy the playfulness of sampling, which I just completely stumbled on. I sample myself, hip-hop, electronic stuff, and I love it. Sampling particularly revamps and transforms - it’s an empowering and reviving practice, and I’m excited.”

This upcoming work will follow their debut Lotus mixtape they released in 2019 and the Revolution Retribution work with [Scotland's first all-female and Nonbinary production house] Hen Hoose. XZO explained how they relate to their music output:

“Well, everyone in my life expected me to be a singer, I didn’t want people to be expecting things from me and about my life. And then during the pandemic my dad left me and my sister. I had some shit to work through, so iIturned to hip-hop, rapping, making music. I laid it all out on the track ‘cause that’s just what I needed to do at the time. I put my music out and what I am out, from my show on EH:FM to what’s coming. So many people never learned to be sincere - they never needed to, and that’s what makes proper MCs rare. The best MCs are the ones that own their shit, that mean what they say from the very pit of their stomach.”

It’s the trans community that really enabled XZO to focus on music, as they explain:

“I recently received the Music Space Bursary from Counterflows, which means I’ll be able to focus on music until April - I’m hoping to make a 3 EP series and an album. It involves a stipend, mentors and workshops - it’s amazing. I was nominated for it by a now good friend of mine Nusa (@nussatari). We ran in a lot of the same circles, but had never really crossed paths before until I was struggling financially and they reached out to help. I’ll always be thankful for people like Nusa in my community - they really understand the importance of community through lifting each other up, and creating space for one another. I’ll be paying that forward by getting features and outsourcing the mixing & mastering to my friends. Given how many years I spent on GarageBand doing shit from nothing, it’s crazy to see where everything is going now.”

XZO went into some more detail about the Glasgow trans scene:

“I’m working with Lady Incarnate on a project called Top Surgery now, we’re a DJ duo and upcoming club night that plays jungle, footwork, jersey club, dancehall, bassline, any Kunty music beloved by all Queers alike. I’ve been here a few years now, and Glasgow’s Trans Community is pretty strong - it’s generally concentrated in Southside, and I’ve found it easier here to integrate than Edinburgh. It's also more diverse - there’s more POC in the Queer community here too. They’re incredible - there was a point where I had to quit Uni and quit my job; I was struggling a lot financially, but managed to survive on a fundraiser for around 2-3 months. So many members of the community that I didn’t know donated and helped me out. Everyone’s got each other’s back.”

XZO told me about another recent experience within the trans community they had that was transformative:

“I did a residency called ‘Transformations’ down in Newcastle in February. It changed my life. I decided to do what I wanted to - I knew I needed to do this or that I’d go insane. It’s a residency for trans producers and writers - there were 12 of us for a week, making music and coming back, collaborating and working on shit together - there were big workshops and led by I. JORDAN. I also performed at Tranuary [an event in Manchester]. I connected with people like me and people in lots of different genres and disciplines. I finally understood what it felt like to be surrounded by other trans people. I’m excited to explore that more, and my mum being South African, I’d love to go out there and integrate into the community out there too.”

XZO adds:

“Up in Glasgow, there’s ‘Excuse my Beauty’, an all-trans collective, trans fundraisers, raising money by throwing parties, activities and sober events. They champion trans people and are trans- run. I just played Kelburn with them [one of biggest local festivals in Scotland]. Might have been the first all trans line-up in Scotland, and I really felt part of a community there. They also pay fairly! They really advocate for healthcare access, which is a huge issue we’re fighting for at the moment. If we didn’t come together in our own community like this to advocate for something this important that we all need, no-one else would care.

One big problem I’ve had with today’s progressive movements is that so much of it isn’t intersectional, which leads to a lot of in-fighting. We are all so focussed on what we disagree on that our leaders don’t even know what we all fundamentally believe are important. My experience of the Trans Community here in Scotland has been different from that though. We all agree that we need healthcare, no matter who we are, and folks like EMB show that diversity by advocating for the whole community. There’s an understanding that the fact is, there’s so little to go around, - that means we won't turn on each other over it.”

With their growing space and confidence to engage in and experiment with a unique sound, grounded in and bolstered by a supportive community, XZO is set for great things.

If you haven’t checked out XZO’s documentary yet, watch it here.

Give Kacper's interview on Polish identity, DJ'ing and music a read and Hiba's on Lebanese identity and intergenerational trauma.

Cameron Evans is a writer, poet, and Russian to English translator. He also releases hip- hop as Zenrei. He can be contacted at


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