Most people know what they want to do in life by the time they reach high school, and that was no exception for Eastern Kentucky University student Alonzo Spears.
But it wasn't something he shared openly, especially with his parents. Growing up, young kids are told to follow their dreams and to find respectable jobs, but the job Spears had in mind has a reputation for being violent and dangerous, which is everything Spears isn't.
When he was younger, Spears started writing poetry, which evolved into writing rap lyrics. One day, while playing around with the I am T-Pain app, Spears recorded a verse. His words were given life and it was then that he thought he could make something out of the lyrics he had been writing. That moment was his genesis and not long after, his stage name Zotorious was born. But he did everything in secret, trying to keep it hidden from his parents for fear of what they would think.
"They are very supportive. They have always had my back 100 percent, but it's different when your kid tells you that they want to be a famous rapper," Spears said. "I think society kind of tells you that it's not a good thing (being a rapper) and my mom has that fear as a parent that she doesn't want her kid to be a failure, living on the side of the road, not being able to eat."
In his sophomore year, Spears finally told his parents the dream he wanted to achieve. He recalls exactly the message he sent to his father, which said, "Hey dad, would you support me if I wanted to make a career in music?" Emphatically, his father said of course, so long as he worked hard and gave 100 percent. Spears' father said he would support him with whatever he wanted to do.
The next day, Spears and his father talked about what he would need in order to be successful in his endeavors, which included recording equipment. That Christmas, Santa had competition. Under the tree sat everything Spears needed to make his dream come true. Aside from a few additions here and there, Spears still uses that same equipment to this day.
Just a year later, Spears was taking the stage for his first show. He booked the venue, but didn't tell his parents until about a month before and his mother was livid, of course. But he sold all of the tickets for the show, and got his first real performing experience and paycheck. Spears didn't even have a drivers license at the time.
Planting the seed
Growing up, Spears had many role models to look up to, such as his parents, but it was his aunt that planted the seed for his love of hip-hop when he was just 4-years-old.
"I always thought my aunt was so cool, especially at that age," Spears said. "So the fact that she liked that music made me like that music, and the fact that she sang along to those songs made me want to sing along to those songs."
Spears fondly remembers jamming out to Outkast's Ms. Jackson, and listening to Kanye West and A Tribe Called Quest. After hanging out with his aunt, he would go home and put on shows for his grandparents, rapping the same songs his aunt had exposed him to. He knew he loved music and performing, but never realized it would take him to where he is today.
Spears puts recently deceased artist Mac Miller at the top of his list when it comes to musicians who influence him, because of how he progressed as an artist. From parties and girls, to talking about real stuff, Spears has seen himself follow a similar path as an artist. But Spears listens to anything that has a good lyrical quality to it. From John Mayer to Biggie Smalls to the Zac Brown Band, he listens to it all. He joked that he's a rapper who loves country.
Spears doesn't follow the typical rapper lifestyle of drugs, violence and gangs like artists Kevin Gates or Suge Knight. He wants to use his time on stage to promote a message of positivity or serve as something others can related to. When rapping, Spears tries to refrain from swearing too much or dropping the F-bomb every other word.
"When I'm writing, I always think about what my grandma would think when she hears this song. I just think that's one of the things that sets me apart, and I'm okay with that. I don't do drugs, so you won't hear drug references unless it's a story about someone else doing drugs to portray a message. I can't live two lives, I'm not smart enough to do that," Spears said. "I can only be Alonzo and if Alonzo is an idiot that cusses all the time and a parent hears my music on the radio, they're going to tell their kid to not listen to that Zotorious kid because he's all vulgar."
While Spears has come out with music videos, mixtapes and singles, his latest work reflects on his road back to being mentally healthy, something he knows people his age can related to. His next release, an album called Beach House, is slated to drop over spring break on March 9. Spears said he plans on heading to Fort Myers for the event.
To keep up with Spears/Zotorious and the release of his new album with Dreams vs. Reality Records, follow him on Instagram @zotorious, or on Twitter @real_zotorious.
Reach Kaitlyn Brooks at 624-6608; follow her on Twitter @kaitlynskovran.