If you’re listening to “Ima Read” for the first time you’ll be waiting for the music to come in – four minutes later and you’ll have completely forgotten about music altogether. The thumping 808 drum-loop, which accounts for the entirety of the song’s instrumentation, comes dangerously close to repetitive, before Zebra Katz’ deep and commanding tones leave you barely noticing it’s there.
In spite of the song’s numerous scholastic references, “Ima Read” is far from the ode to education it first seems – ‘reading’ is a slang term used to describe “someone verbally insulting an opponent about something not so apparent to the average viewer.” The expression originates from New York’s ball culture, a gay and lesbian subculture where the emphasis is on an individual’s ability to out-perform their competition, whether through dance, costume design or simply outright sex appeal. These are the very same roots as ‘voguing,’ a dance universally recognised ever since the release of Madonna’s 1990 pop hit, “Vogue,” though ‘reading’ seems rather more sinister and for that, more exciting.
Ojay Morgan, the 26 year old Brooklynite behind the Zebra Katz facade, was lucky to find a home on Jeffree records [super-producer Diplo’s imprint under Mad Decent] as the label offered a breakthrough for a song that had spent five years circulating the internet – “I've been making music for the last seven years, but it really didn’t take off until the release of “Ima Read” on Jeffree. It's always just been me making music for fun, as opposed to a professional career.”
Morgan’s big break finally came when “Ima Read” was selected to accompany Rick Owens’ show at Paris Fashion Week in March of this year. The fashion world were quick to show their approval, as writer and tastemaker, Derek Blasberg, labelled it the song of Paris Fashion Week – high praise for an artist still working their day job, as Morgan was managing his catering company at the time.
This is not the first case of an artist’s propulsion to fame on the coat-tails of fashion – Lana Del Ray’s “Video Games” was first heard at the showing of Christopher Kane’s Spring/Summer 2012 collection last September, sending the singer to the top of the charts by the next month. In January breakout hip-hop starlet of 2011, Azealia Banks, was invited to perform at a celebratory dinner in Karl Lagerfeld’s home, but not before the Harlem rhyme-slinger could take a moment to support her fellow New Yorkers – Banks played the guests Zebra Katz’ “Ima Read” before launching into her own energetic performance.
When dealing with a character like Zebra Katz it’s always interesting to look at the roots of an artist and, more importantly, where these roots will allow them to go. Morgan says of his breakout track, “if you’ve seen Paris is Burning [revered 1990 documentary about New York ball culture], there's a section with Dorian Corey where she says “shade comes from reading, but reading came first.” We can only guess at what comes next.
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