Zach Beck has been writing raps since he was 6, long before he became the Forbes-approved rapper Futuristic. He recalls recording music in his father’s studio and then hawking his albums to his classmates.
“I’d go to my dad’s house on the weekend. I’d record an album and then sell it for two weeks, go make another one, come back and sell it,” he says.
“I would literally go up the lunch line at school and see who wasn’t getting free lunch and I would be like, ‘Oh, you’re going to buy lunch? Why don’t you buy this CD?’”
Now, the 28-year-old Warped Tour veteran is headed out on tour to share sounds from albums like his latest collection, “Zachary Lewis,” and in the hopes of continuing his mission.
Futuristic headlines the Arizona Hip-Hop Festival at 8 p.m. Saturday, November 16, at the Pressroom. The festival continues Sunday, November 17.
He says the show is a journey through his catalog. He’ll perform about two songs from each album he’s made since he moved from Illinois to Arizona during high school.
Grasping your roots
Beck was born in Bloomington, Illinois, where he was one of eight siblings, to his black DJ father and Caucasian mother. His dad, Joe Beck, opened for the likes of Snoop Dogg, so music was a natural part of the fledgling rapper’s upbringing.
“From early on, I was always rapping while he was playing drums and he’d have bands come over, so I was always around music,” says Beck, who describes his dad’s studio as having an ’80s drum machine that sounded like Eddie Murphy’s “Party All the Time.”
He began writing at 6, and two years later he laid down his first track: a remix of Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” Music was in his blood.
“I felt it from the very beginning,” he says. “Literally the first time I wrote a verse, I was like, ‘This is it. This is what I’m going to do my whole life.’”
Inspired by Will Smith, Nelly and Ludacris, Beck enjoyed recording sessions with his father, who jumped on the drums as they wrote and recorded verses. The two recently toured together recently, bringing Beck’s career full circle.
“He drummed and DJed,” he says. “We were in New Orleans and he’s having fun. I just took a step back and I was like, ‘Man, this is what we talked about when I was 6.’”
Do it your way
Beck has had a strong indie, DIY approach since he began touring in 2012. He eschewed a booking agent and that proved to be a learning experience.
“My only expenses were the car and the gas and then I would just stay at my fans’ house,” he says. “I would just get on stage and be like, ‘We don’t got nowhere to go. What’s up?’ and we would just have parties with our fans and stay at their houses and it was fun as hell.”
That approach may have not been ideal, but it helped create a relationship with his fans.
“I think that as an artist you should do as much stuff as you possibly can by yourself,” he says. “You should do everything. You should sell your own merch. You should book your own shows because if you do that, you’re going to learn the process and then nobody can screw you over.”
Spread the word
Lyrics are important to Beck, as he’s adamant about spreading a message like his favorite artists.
“I’m into lyrics,” he says. “I like the artists for what they’re saying and the energy that they bring to a track. Sometimes you can get that through a beat, but most of the times it’s through the lyrics. I’m not a huge fan of artists who don’t say anything. I like people who make you think, so I’ve always prided myself on providing lyrics, providing a story and providing things of significance in songs.”
Beck is all about positivity as well. He encourages personal growth and speaks about making dreams a reality.
“I’ve always preached that if you believe in something, do that and do it relentlessly,” he says. “Because if you really believe it and have passion for it, you’re going to be happier doing that than anything else.”
With experiences under his belt, Beck says people should be grateful for what they have. Success and money don’t always lead to happiness. The happiest people he’s met aren’t wealthy.
“I tell people all the time, no matter what’s going on in your life, there are millions of people who have it worse than you,” he says. “They wake up with a smile on their face every day. I was just in Mexico and Costa Rica a couple months back and there were people living in villages and tents and they’re the happiest people in the world. So how can you sit there in your house, with your car and your job and hate your life?”
Although he never really lost sight of his goals, he admits he could have been happier and more stable.
Beck considers himself passionate; someone who struggles with holding back harsh words during arguments. It didn’t help that some of those were alcohol-induced arguments.
“I realized every dumb decision and every time I’ve gotten in trouble in my adult life had been while I’ve been drunk,” he says. “I thought, ‘When was the last time I didn’t have a dream?’ and I couldn’t remember.”
Calling himself a tad antisocial, Beck says he no longer wanted to rely on alcohol to loosen up. He challenged himself to go 50 days without drinking and chronicled the mission on his social media accounts. He did not necessarily believe he had a problem with alcohol. He just wanted to take control of his body.
“I needed to prove to myself this isn’t a real addiction to a point where I need this,” he says. “I need to know I can stop anytime I want to.”
He admits to going through minor withdrawal symptoms like the chills and sweats, but after a week he says he learned he could kick the habit.
“I had to do some things sober that I was used to doing drunk, so now I know I can do those things,” he says.
Changing his tune
Beck describes his latest album, “Zachary Lewis,” as being more melodic than previous efforts. He used live instrumentation, something he had longed to do.
“I wasn’t worried about making a hit,” he says. “I was just making music that made me feel good, and that is a little bit of like when I was a kid making music.”
When he is not spitting rhymes into the microphone, Beck plays basketball or spends time with his family in his “Space Jam”-themed game room. He doesn’t want to be a larger-than-life figure like the characters in that room. Beck is humble; someone who frequently contributes to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
Futuristic doesn’t present himself as a larger-than-life figure and he doesn’t want to be one. He is part of his community and enjoys being an Arizona resident. Charities are also part of his career, as he has contributed to causes such as the Make a Wish Foundation.
“I just want to be known as a positive dude who did a ton of things inside and outside of music and that I helped people,” he says. “I see myself doing more and helping out a ton of artists.”
He has his fans to thank for that.
“The fans definitely impacted me,” he says. “It’s almost like having a family. Some of them really live off the music, so I always try to give the right message and let people know it’s OK to party, to have fun. We all make mistakes, but the overall message is for fans to better themselves and to grow to be happy.”
The Arizona Hip-Hop Festival
The Pressroom, 441 W. Madison Street, Phoenix, azhiphopfestival.com, Saturday, November 16, and Sunday, November 17, tickets start at $30.