For the Love

What would you do if gunshots were blasting toward you? "I couldn't see who it was because I was, like, ducking," says local rapper Oczaveus "Zay" Williams of that moment on Thursday, June 12, when a car full of assailants pulled alongside the van he and three other men were riding in and began firing. As the gunmen riddled the van with 9mm bullets, people screamed and scattered across Tyler Street, permanently disrupting the block party where Zay and Smoke from Field Mob had just finished performing the former's new single, "4 Eva Ballin'." The impromptu performance took place in the predominantly African-American suburban enclave of Richmond Heights; it was a tribute to Zay's cousin, who had recently graduated from Homestead Senior High School.

Zay and two of the others in the van weren't hurt, but his hype man, Elijah "Chamber" Vaughn, took a bullet in the back. After the shots were fired, the car sped off; the driver of the van didn't try to follow it, instead heading over to nearby Jackson Memorial Hospital, where Vaughn was treated and released the next morning.

Several days later, Zay is still wondering who tried to murder him. XELA Entertainment Group called it an "attempted murder plot" on his life in a press release sent out to the media. But the truth may lie in a lyric from "4 Eva Ballin'" that talks about his childhood: "Back in the days/Trapped in the maze/Dodgin bullets." Zay wont specify what kind of trouble he used to get into as a teenager raised in Richmond Heights. "I wasnt no angel and I did do my dirt," is all the 23-year-old prodigy will admit. "Everything wasnt peaches and cream. Sometimes you got to get it how you get it and you gotta do what you gotta do to survive."

Clearly the music industry offered an escape from a destructive lifestyle. When childhood friend Trick Daddy blew up on the strength of his major-label debut www.thug.com, Zay says he "put myself on" and simply tagged along for the ride. But Zay grew restless with being a hype man: "I seen all the attention and all the screaming [for Trick] ... they were going crazy! So I said, 'You know what, thats what I want to do.'"

Zay was able to parlay his association with Trick Daddy into a recording contract with Luther Campbell's Luke Records. But Zay says that relationship quickly foundered because "Luke, he wasnt really trying to do music when I was signed over there. He was more focused on doing his peep shows."

After amicably parting ways with Luke, Zay joined up with a new label, XELA Entertainment Group. "Over here I'm free to do anything I want as far as being creative and making good music," he happily notes. The past three months have seen him writing and recording songs for a forthcoming debut album scheduled to be released before the end of the year. His first single, "4 Eva Ballin'" backed with "Fire," was serviced to radio stations a few weeks ago. Produced by Jimbo, it's a bouncy summer fantasy: "Sportin iceberg and Kangols/Legit, eating sugar cane and mangoes."

The recent shooting, however, has derailed some of his current plans. XELA has hired a security team to follow Zay around on the Bacardi Party Tour, a promotional jaunt through the South that also features No Good, Roy Jones, Jr., and Nappy Headz. Meanwhile XELA and Zay opine that the "haters" who blasted at Zay could be anyone, from enemies he made as a reckless teenager to people who have targeted him as a way to get back at Luke Records and Trick Daddy's record company, Slip-n-Slide. Unfortunately he isn't being allowed to perform in South Florida until they figure out who it is, a necessary precaution that keeps him from promoting "4 Eva Ballin'" locally.

Still Zay doesn't want to be known as a Miami rapper who almost got murdered, but as an up-and-coming artist who makes good records. "At the end of the day, people think that these artists make money, but they really dont make money," he says. "So I do it for the love of it."

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Mosi Reeves
Contact: Mosi Reeves