Hear It First: DJ Zenas "Real Thing," With Kayla Rae Jackson

Zenas Willard, who performs as DJ Zenas, premieres his new song, "Real Thing," with Kayla Rae Jackson.
Zenas Willard, who performs as DJ Zenas, premieres his new song, "Real Thing," with Kayla Rae Jackson. Serra Mesa Productions
Denver DJ, producer and rapper Zenas Willard still has hope that real, organic love exists. Willard describes himself as old-school when it comes to love. With his technologically obsessed generation, he wonders if people are equipped with the proper communication skills to foster healthy, lasting relationships.

He brings these issues to life in his new song, “Real Thing,” which he's releasing today.  

“Real Thing” showcases Denver singer-songwriter Kayla Rae Jackson. The two met last year performing at the same event. Once the chorus for “Real Thing” was finished, Willard knew Jackson was the missing piece of the song.

Within his work as a DJ and producer, Willard’s biggest pet peeve is being boxed in by a specific genre or style. In his music, he strives to remain open to different genres and learn from their distinctions. He was raised on R&B, oldies and Motown but has expanded his tastes to include pop, country, rock and EDM. “Real Thing” is a piece of an EP he hopes to release next spring that reflects this openness in expression.

We sat down with Willard to talk about his intent for “Real Thing” his thoughts on love and relationships, and his deejaying and producing style.

Westword: Tell me about your intention with “Real Thing.”

Zenas Willard: It samples Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love.” In her song, she was seeking a real love. In this song, I want to spin off that idea. In today’s society, I feel like we’re very incompetent when it comes to love. People are very afraid to open up, be vulnerable and even feel. I feel like that’s almost taboo nowadays. I’m very old-school in a lot of senses, especially in love. I’ve always admired our parents and grandparents. I feel like those were the last generations to actually experience real love. In this generation, I feel like I’ll forever be single. It’s crazy [laughs].

I wanted to embrace the idea that real love is still out there, it does exist, and there are a select few that still do embrace that notion – even in today’s society, where feeling, being vulnerable and love are almost borderline taboo because everyone is so on-the-go and so selfish. I feel like people are really selfish nowadays. There are a lot of things that make us selfish, with social media and instant gratification. Everybody wants everything now. If you can’t give it to me now, I’ll go find it somewhere else. Even in today’s society, where all those underlying factors are working against us in the love world, it is still possible to achieve it, and somehow we stumbled upon it. It’s actually going to play into the music video.

I feel technology has both enabled expression and hindered expression. Have you experienced this?

The good thing about technology is that it has connected us now more so than ever. At the same time, it has enabled that disconnect with one another. People are so busy on their phones all the time; I feel like that’s our only way of communicating. I feel like people don’t know how to communicate with one another. They would rather go and vent their issues on Facebook as opposed to speaking with one another. That’s one huge issue. People are much more vocal about how they are and how they feel, but they don’t communicate that to each other. They use the wrong platforms to do so. They would rather go on social media to vent about their issues or vent to their best friend, which is cool, but if you’re not going to vent directly to the person that is causing those issues, then that’s obviously where the downfall comes.

Was your message or intention with this song hopeful or more so musing on this idea of trying to find real love in our fast paced society?

The intention of this song is meant to be very hopeful, but also realistic. With the rapid pace that society moves at, people have become obsessed with the idea of instant gratification. Everything has to happen immediately. Otherwise, people lose attention and motivation quickly. The message I am presenting can be summed up in one quote from Salomé Albrecht: "You can't rush something you want to last forever.” Love is not something you will find easily, but do not let that discourage you. Focus on loving and finding validation in yourself, and the rest will fall into place.

How do you feel this song "Real Thing" ties into your experience with other genres and your openness to other music? How would you describe the sound of this specific song?

"Real Thing" ties in with my openness to all forms of music because I believe it exemplifies range and vulnerability. Rap music is what my catalog mainly consists of, and the majority of the time I think rap is associated with a lot of negativity. However, this song particularly draws influence from an R&B outlet, blending a softer tone with the storytelling platform of rap. I would describe the overall sound of "Real Thing" as a happy, upbeat, sing-a-long that reminds us all of the belief in true love, or in simpler words, "vibrant rap".

How would you describe your style as a producer and style as a DJ?

I believe my production and DJ styles are very similar, if not virtually identical. I love bringing high, positive energy to my DJ sets and feel the same about the music I produce. In a sense, I suppose you could say I make club music, which I am completely fine with. I am always on an ongoing journey to push my limits, including making amazing beats, writing amazing songs, and being an amazing DJ, and in doing so, I assure you, you will find the groove, find the dance floor, and find an unforgettable experience along with me every time.

Check out more from DJ Zenas at his SoundCloud page.
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Riley Cowing has been writing with Westword since July 2016. She is originally from Kansas City and graduated from the journalism school at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She enjoys connecting with local artists, drinking all types of espresso and loves any excuse to watch The Devil Wears Prada.
Contact: Riley Cowing