By Ben Niespodziany

ZMoney is busy, as usual. When I arrive at the studio in the afternoon to interview him, the Chicago rapper is in the middle of a photo shoot. Despite having been up all night the night before in the studio with SaveMoney’s Vic Mensa, he’s still full of energy as we talk about his soul food restaurant, his upcoming film, and his plan to release three mixtapes on the same day.

“My lifestyle, man, you know. I was just a young teenage guy chasing money. I wanted to change. I didn’t want to deal with the streets the rest of my life, you know what I’m saying? I always wanted to do something, I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had some money I was looking to invest, but the whole time, I had what I was looking for right in front of me.”

On June 29, 2013, ZMoney released two debut mixtapes: Rich B4 Rap and Heroin Musik. With catchy singles like “Regular” and “Want My Money,” the two tapes pushed ZMoney into the spotlight of the hip-hop blogosphere, gaining him attention internationally and earning him a place alongside many other Chicago newcomers as a rapper to watch out for.

“My whole thing is me. It’s my lifestyle. I had so much to express. I just knew that I couldn’t get all of those songs on one mixtape. I decided to come out with two. Music is my biggest release of stress and everything. It calms me down when I go to the studio. After a few days away, something don’t feel right.”

And his studio work pays off. Similar to Gucci Mane and Young Thug, ZMoney’s vault is apparently endless, full of tracks he sometimes doesn’t even recall. “I got so many songs, I forget about songs. I got so many fucking songs. Like ‘Dope Boy Magic’? That was some shit I forgot about, because I record so much. Sometimes I say I gotta slow down and take a break, try to take a week off. I can’t do it. Right back in the motherfuckin’ studio.”

My last two mixtapes, I ain’t even do no promotion. I ain’t let nobody know, I just dropped ’em… And what happened? I’m the man.

With so much music, ZMoney’s next move makes sense. It’s a three-disc project called 3mpire.

“The 3mpire. The 3mpire. The 3mpire. The mixtape will be out the first day of summer. As soon as summer hit… I’m tellin’ you. When I drop a mixtape, it’s not gonna be like just a mixtape. It’s gonna be crazy. It’s not just gonna be like a regular person droppin’ a mixtape. My last two mixtapes, I ain’t even do no promotion. I ain’t let nobody know, I just dropped ’em… And what happened? I’m the man.”

ZMoney’s plans for the industry go beyond making music. In January, his 4Ever Paid Nation brand dropped a project called The Mobb Tape. It featured new music from ZMoney and a troop of other rappers.

“4Ever Paid Nation is my company. It’s my label. It’s a brand. I actually came up with 4Ever Paid when I was in fifth grade. All my journals, everything. In school, I used to write ‘4Ever Paid’ in all of my notebooks. 4Ever Paid on everything. It’s always been 4Ever Paid. I love the stamp. Also, we have six artists. We have managers, a CEO… it’s a real label. And it’s not just Chicago. It’s Atlanta, Baltimore, we’re spreading.”

On top of the music, ZMoney runs his own restaurant on the west side of Chicago called Emma’s. “My grandma. I love her food. I had a vision,” he explains. “My whole life I been eatin’. Eatin’ good food, but I’m from the hood. So me having a restaurant in the hood is like me giving back to my hood. Good food to the hood where they ain’t gotta go all the way downtown. Emma’s is right in my hood. Right next to my barber shop that I walk in every day.”

That’s not all. “Also, I have a car wash,” ZMoney says, matter-of-factly. “I have the lot for my car wash and everything. I actually purchased the lot when I first purchased my restaurant. My car wash should be opened up for sure in like 2015. I don’t know what I’m gonna name it yet. Maybe 4Ever Paid Hand Car Wash.”

“Are you kind of a celebrity when you walk around your hood now?” I ask him. “Oh my God,” he laughs, nodding his head in agreement. “But you know what, though? I’ve always been a celebrity walkin’ through my hood. Always. If I walk through the hood, I’m always one of those guys. Right now, it’s even more crazy. But even before, I was a little popular dude. Like man, bro, I promise you. I was a really popular little guy.”

ZMoney’s charisma is apparent in his music, but even more present in his videos. His mannerisms are odd and deliberate, and he can make a simple motion like crossing his arms seem like a choreographed move—like ZMoney just invented a new way to cross his arms, and he’s showing the world how it’s done.

“I could record a song in the studio then shoot a video to it ASAP. I did that this week. Honestly, Merk [his manager] told me slow down with droppin’ my music. I can drop music almost every… matter fact, Merk!” he shouts to the other room.

“Yo!” Merk responds, walking in, looking down at his phone.

“Ain’t we droppin’ somethin’ later?”

“Yeah, but I’m confused though,” Merk says, “because we have a lot of shit. We gotta make ’em appreciate it, man. If it was up to Z, he’d drop a song every 45 minutes.”

“Man, I wanna drop a song today!” Z replies. “Let’s drop something tonight. I guarantee y’all, we gon’ drop somethin’ tonight. Know what? I might drop two songs tonight.”

“There you go,” Merk says, walking out of the room and laughing.

ZMoney went to SXSW for the first time this March, where he gained a great deal of attention from his rowdy shows, and he has plans to bring that show to cities across the country.

“Right now, we’re calling it The Greatest Trap Show on Earth. The first one we’re going to do is Milwaukee. Then Cleveland, Detroit, Boston, and a couple of other places around the way. This whole summer, we’re going to be running around, doing tours.”

When I ask Z if he has a favorite music video, he tells me that he’s tired of his own videos, that he needs to shoot some new ones. “You know what?” he asks. “I’m finna shoot a movie. 4Ever Paid, the movie: coming soon.”

With ZMoney’s mix of street content and oddball charm, one comparison that comes up often is Gucci Mane. It’s a comparison ZMoney doesn’t seem to mind.

Everybody keeps thinking I’m from down South for some reason. That’s the music I like hearing. I don’t know why I like it. South music just is what I feel.

“That’s my partna. That’s my big bro. Everybody be askin’ me, do I be studying him? Y’all think I’m studying Gucci Mane? Hell naw, man. But look, like, sometimes people say I’m rapping like him. I don’t rap like him. This just how I rap. You know this is how I rap. Everybody keeps thinking I’m from down South for some reason. That’s the music I like hearing. I don’t know why I like it. South music just is what I feel. That’s what it is. People think I’m from Atlanta or Florida or down from the South. That lets you know I’m bringing something different to the game.”

Speaking on who he’d like to collaborate with, ZMoney already has a couple of people in mind. “Danny Brown,” he says, right away. “Shout out to Danny Brown. I fuck with who fuck with me. But honestly bro, Gucci Mane. Put me and Gucci in the studio together. I was playing Gucci Mane in ’06 and ’07 and motherfuckers were saying, ‘What is you playing? Turn off this snotty ass nigga, man.’ I was like, ‘Look man, this is my shit, y’all need to listen or get the fuck out.’ Real talk. It’s Gucci. To me, Gucci has that swag. You know how he just swag on a track? He ain’t even really doing too much, he’s just being him. That’s all he’s really doing.”

Gucci Mane is currently locked up, so we haven’t heard that collaboration yet, but just last week, after this interview was done, ZMoney and Danny Brown dropped “Jug & Finesse.”

As we close out, ZMoney poses for pictures in front of a graffiti canvas, singing “I been sellin’ dope for ’bout a whole ten hours.” I ask him if he has any final thoughts.

“Stay in tune with ZMoney. I can promise all my fans that I’m coming strong. I’m not letting up. I won’t let up. It’s 4Ever Paid, baby, let’s get it. Shout-out everybody in Chicago doing their thing. All my Chicago people, man. I’ve always been a leader. I’m a born leader. I rock with everybody in Chicago. Shout-out to Chicago and I hope for the best for all Chicago artists. But in the meantime, between time, I’m gonna keep dropping this hot shit.”