I first met Unique while at work when I moved to Los Angeles. And from the very second he stepped through that door, I knew something about this guy was different. You could feel his energy radiate from a mile away, and his lust for life that is so infectious.
After a few weeks working together he learned that I was here in Los Angeles pursuings many things - photography being one of them. He asked if I would shoot BTS for a video he was working on that following week. Not paid. Didn't really know what I was doing yet. Totally nervous. Wasn't sure how it was going to go. But without hesitation replied, "hell yeah."
Since then, Unique and I have developed a relationship that is timeless. A brother, mentor, and creative equal - we meet up almost once a month for a photoshoot, glass of white wine, and good conversation. I am incredibly grateful for him, and consistently inspired by his story.
This week we met up in Echo Park, CA. And this is what happened.
A: Where did you grow up?
U: "I was born and raised in a Puerto Rican household in Brooklyn, NY "bed stuy do or die" if you know Brooklyn you know what I'm talking about.
A: What brought you to Los Angeles?
U: "What brought me here to Los Angeles... man I could go on and on about what brought me here. Change, growth, music, opportunity, and being over those bloody cold winters brought me here.
This is something I’ve always wanted to do. So I kind of dared myself to live my dream. I grew up in the hood watching MTV cribs, Trl, and all the pop stars. I remember always thinking it would be so dope to wake up to palm trees & warm weather,
As an artist I've traveled back and forth to LA for years now recording and working with different producers. I always wondered what kind of life I could live in LA and kind of spoke it to existence. As a kid my sister and I would pretend to have MTV cameras follow us around our NYC apt and pretend to be LA.
I’ve always had a fascination with Hollywood and I think LA is a. cool place for a guy like me especially at this point of my life. To move here not really knowing many people still kinda trips me out lol in Brooklyn, we mad brave."
A: When did you first start singing?
U: "I can’t even tell you an age to be honest. My mom told me I was singing before I was talking, and I would sing myself to sleep in the stroller. Music was apart of me before I had a choice. My grandfather was a swanky Doo wop singer back in the day , with a band called the “Brooklyn Connection”He was such a rockstar. My inspiration."
A: Have you ever been signed? What was your experience like?
U: "Yes I have been signed. I kind of got signed right after graduating high school, to Def Jam Records. While most of my peers were picking colleges to go to I was picking attorneys & which grammy award winning producers I wanted to work with. I had been on the grind for years prior, competing in talent shows, competitions, and booking gigs opening up for artists like Chris Brown, Neyo and a bunch of other talented artists as an independent artist.
I was able to create an organic fanbase on myspace and street buzz in the US and internationally on my own which eventually lead me to a meeting with LA Reid and a recording contract shortly after. I guess thats the ultimate goal when you’re on the rise, to be signed I thought my life was gonna be red carpet every day and that i’d be FAMOUS because I had been doing this music thing for so long and it be my big break.
Lol. I mean the positive thing I can say about being a signed artist on a major label is that it was a cool experience, a learning experience, I got to experience the music business from the other side. Now that I’m a little older my perspective of a deal has changed & so has the music industry. So many independent artists are doing well for themselves. Being on a label or not you have to grind just as hard to be heard or for your project to get attention."
A: What is one piece of advice you would share with a new artist moving to LA?
U: "I’d be selfish if I gave an artist moving to LA one piece of advice…ummm “God”. Seriously though, stay true, keep your feet on the ground, work on your craft daily, get a job cause shit ain't cheap …don’t get lost in Lalaland and bring dope sunglasses. Be selective with your time, talent, love and always trust your intuition. Build a team. Remember why you came here. Be open to the universe"
A: What is something you miss about the culture of New York vs. Los Angeles?
U: "Man, New York is the jungle. Its home, my foundation. I miss the people & their raw genuinely, I miss my corner store bodegas, getting my hair braided on the stoop, the culture in NYC is so diverse compared to LA. New Yorkers are born with style in their DNA, Theres just a different rhythm. New Yorkers don’t have time for small talk or bullshit its either this or that there’s no in between. LA is beautiful, its sunny, people here are more about health, fitness, organic this or that. LA is laid back, spread out , living here now, I too make time for the sunsets. I feel like I'd be able to grow old slowly in Los Angeles and if I needed any plastic surgery theres a bunch of doctors here lol."
A: First album you ever purchased?
U: "I don’t remember the first album I purchased, I used to buy my 5 dollar mixtape cds from the African man on Graham Ave. They had all the latest r&b, hiphop & reggae tunes. I do remember one Christmas my late aunt Titi Nancy bought me Brandy's “Never say Never “ Album. I'll never forget that year."
A: What is your biggest motivator?
U: "My biggest motivator is my dreams, man I’ve seen somethings that I’ve actually got the opportunity to live out. So I continue to let my journey be guided by my dreams because I think those are gateways to our passion."
A: Do you compare yourself to others?
U: "Nah I don’t compare myself to others, whats the point in that. I love that I’m different, my backgrounds different, we all are. I think when people embrace who they are it adds layers and colors to the world. We are all unique."
A: If you could collaborate with any artist living who would it be and why?
U: "Man I think Rihanna and I would be dope on a record. I'd love to sing with Anita Baker…Sade, Drake, Brandy , Usher, Marc Anthony."
A: Favorite Usher song?
U: "Follow me."
You can find Unique on IG at @unique_zayas and his website http://www.uniquezayas.com.