Artists Zo! and Tall Black Guy bring updated riff on classic soul to Atlanta with 'Abstractions' tour

Detroit natives and musicians Zo! and Tall Black Guy presented their indie full-length R&B album “Abstractions,” in 2021 and will be performing selections at City Winery in Atlanta on Saturday, Feb. 18. (Courtesy of McKinley Wiley)

Detroit natives and musicians Zo! and Tall Black Guy teamed up to present their indie full-length R&B album “Abstractions,” released in 2021. The powerhouses put their sampling, layering, and beat-making skills on display to create an updated riff on classic soul, with a touch of hip-hop, while remaining true to its roots.

The duo will be performing at City Winery in Atlanta on Saturday, Feb. 18. “City Lights” producer Jeannine Etter spoke with the two ahead of their show.

Interview highlights:

Two powerhouse producers coming together with instant musical rapport:

“I always feel like with my albums, with each solo album, I want to expand or get better, or bring something new…And it seemed like it was pretty stagnant. And so me and [album guest artist] Phonte got on the phone, and he suggested that I collaborate with somebody,” recalled Zo!. “[Tall Black Guy and I] had never worked before. So I was like, ‘Let me get him a holler,’…I think we were in the studio like two days later, and it was pretty much confirmed off of the first piece of music that we did. We were like, ‘Yo; this is so crazy. This song is so crazy right now.’ And you know, we were kind of looking at each other like, ‘Dude, why we ain’t do this years ago?'”

“Being in the same room with the person that you’re collaborating with, and you’re able to kind of get your hands dirty together, and then on top of that you have conversations, you’re talking about something, and the next thing you know, the spirit moves in the room, and you get out the way,” said Tall Black Guy. “You can’t make music with everybody. You can’t create with everybody. But if you just leave room for the music and the spirit to come through, that’s when the magic happens.”

The artists’ reflections on the 50th anniversary of hip-hop music:

“Another one good brother that… became a mentor to me is Lord Finesse. As of recently, he’s been going back and opening up his machine of choice at the time when he was really in his primetime of his career as an artist, and he’s showing you some of these songs and things that he was doing. This cat was thinking, at 23, 24 years old, using this machine that only had four seconds of sampling time, and made some of the most amazing music ever,” recounted Tall Black Guy. “And it wasn’t just him; it was Pete Rock, it was Premier, it was Dilla, it was all these people, and the fact that these cats were just doing. They were expressing themselves, and limitations are what made that.”

“Some of my favorite music stories are early hip-hop stories from the early ’70s through early ’80s to where it’s not a whole lot of things documented. So I’m hoping that with the recognition that that hip-hop gets, of turning 50 in August, that more of these stories are told and documented,” said Zo!. “There needs to be a biography… on Kool Herc. There needs to be a book on Kurtis Blow. There needs to be a book on Grandmaster Caz, all of these dudes, Melle Mel. All this stuff needs to be documented. Like, we’re getting older, mugs are aging, but they still have these stories… There’s so many dudes that had their fingerprint on the beginnings of hip-hop that nobody really knows about.”

New music and collaborating friends at City Winery on Saturday:

“It’s the ‘Abstractions’ tour, so it is gonna be mainly stuff from ‘Abstractions,’ but you know, we’re going to pull stuff out that fits, and I think most importantly is just having fun. We want to make it super fun and provide that incentive for folks to come out and rock with us,” said Zo!. “[We’re bringing] Debórah Bond. She tours with us.” Tall Black Guy chimed in, “Beautiful. She’s a worker. She’s always doing something.”

Zo! and Tall Black Guy perform at City Winery on Saturday, Feb. 18. Tickets and more information are available here.