Zero Forbidden Goals, or ZFG, is the brain child of two individuals: Andru Defeye and his business partner, Liv Styler. Composed of over twenty individuals, ZFG holds regular poetry and hip-hop events throughout the city of Sacramento. The collective has hosted events ranging from rap contests (Loud! at the Press Club), a poetry and brass extravaganza (Flow at the Crocker), and multiple improvised, impromptu events all over the city and parts adjacent. While at first ZFG might sound like a standard event promotion vehicle, the philosophy and drive behind the group is what set them apart from what Defeye called “the stereotype of hip-hop.” This is what he and the other members of ZFG had to contend with as they tried to spread their message of community engagement in Sacramento.
Defeye started out as a poet, rapper, and community organizer for Sacramento’s Sol Collective, a community-focused collaborative that has fostered many artistic endeavors over the past decade. For several years on Monday nights, Defeye hosted an open mic with “comedy, spoken word, acoustic music, singer-songwriters, [and] hip-hop.” These open mics drew a regular crowd of almost eighty people and served as an open, creative place for people to share. This was also where many of the founding members of ZFG met.
Things would not remain so ideal, however. As Styler recounted, “Through no fault of [people at the] Sol Collective…we ended up losing the venue” early in 2014. What had been a consistent home was now pulled out from underneath. Unfazed, Defeye attempted to take the open mic to other venues in the city. Instead of finding a new home, however, they found discrimination and resistance.
A venue that consistently drew a large crowd on a Monday night “seemed like a no brainer for me,” said Defeye. Yet when explaining what kind of music the event would host, the venue owners would reply “We don’t really do hip-hop.” Styler and Defeye both think this attitude comes from a lack of understanding. The standard imagery for hip-hop has long been things like chains, drugs, and stacks of money. A common archetype in representation of the hip-hop culture has been the selfish individual that cares only about material wealth. This is what Defeye called “the stereotype of hip-hop” that he and his fellows were being lumped in with. The goal, or rather one of the goals, of ZFG then became to show what hip-hop can do for a community.
And so the pop up events were born not only out of necessity, but a desire to highlight the community Defeye, Styler, and the others had flourished in, and that it was nothing like what was imagined. The group would go into an establishment, anything from a bar to a barbershop, unannounced and start up what Defeye termed “guerilla open mics.” These events included poetry, rap, dancing, improvised percussion and singing, anything born out of compulsion and truth. Without the need to live up to a brand or live accompaniment, those present were free to connect on a more intimate and personal level. “I think it really forced lyricists to be honest,” he said. Not only that, the surprise performances consistently drew crowds of dozens, sometimes over one hundred onlookers, some of whom would be inspired to join in with the festivities themselves. This bolsters Defeye’s theory that people are hungry to connect and to experience something unfiltered by corporate noise. “People aren’t [inspired by] bitches, money, guns, and hos. People that are in the hood, and have to deal with that shit, don’t want to deal with that shit.” Defeye pointed out that not only were these events good for showing the benevolent side of hip-hop, they were good for business. “You can talk to any one of those businesses and they’ll tell you they haven’t had a Monday night like that since.”
The bustling energy and good vibes of the guerilla open mics quickly influenced other creative pursuits. In August of 2014, ZFG organized an event called “Gorilla Storytime.” The event was a live concert with rap artists and other performers, yet it was geared entirely at children. Defeye hosted the event as a pirate captain emcee while accompanied by Ms. Unicorn, a visitor from outer space with a knack for loop pedals, and Trilla the Gorilla, who was a pink gorilla. In addition to activities hosted by these characters, Defeye had the children read Shel Silverstein’s “Listen to the Mustn’ts” all the way through twice. On the third repeat, however, Defeye dropped a beat and turned the poem into a rap song with the children singing along. “It was just to show that there’s a correlation between poetry and rap, and that rap is poetry.”
ZFG has existed for only a little bit over a year, yet in that year they have had quite an impact on the city of Sacramento. What started as a group of a few artists has blossomed into a hive of activity. The ZFG lair buzzes with collaborators from ten in the morning to ten at night, with any number of the twenty-plus members working on their projects. ZFG has plans to throw another event similar to Gorilla Storytime in March, as well as continuing the open mics. There are even talks of heading to SXSW later in the year. In a town that is mostly government and business, it can be hard to show that art is just as essential to a healthy society. Yet Styler sums up the ZFG philosophy nicely when asked how they feel about the coming year. “We’re Zero Forbidden Goals for a reason. We don’t want to be like those people we’ve encountered our whole lives that say, ‘You can’t do it that way, it’s never been done.’ We were told ‘no’ in about twenty different ways, and eventually we just got tired of it.”
Words by Evan Nyarady.
Photos by Alexander Amaya.
Check out some of the ZFG crew and friends featured in the photos above.
Follow Alexander Amaya on Instagram @AmbulatoryLexicon
Matt Brown: IG: @TheHeartOfMattBrown
Paul Willis — www.soundcloud.com/iampaulwillis
Luke Tailor Music: www.soundcloud.com/luke-tailor