When he was 5 years old, Zach Witness saw Erykah Badu perform on an episode of Nickelodeon’s All That. From then on, he dreamed of working with the singer someday. That’s the kind of kid he was, always focused on music. He was playing drums in a band when he was 8.
“You have to follow your passion,” he says.
Witness began deejaying when he was 11, after getting an all-in-one set (two turntables, mixer, headphones, speakers), and he was a natural. By the time he was 16, he was the headliner at a teen night at the Arlington Skatium skating rink, performing under the name DJ White Chocolate. The event drew up to 2,000 kids and became central to the burgeoning Dallas Boogie movement. At 17, he had already released a well-regarded mixtape (Ahead of the Class Vol. 1) and was working with 97.9 The Beat.
But he began to be troubled by the direction in which a lot of music was headed. He felt there should be greater meaning in the lyrics. So exit White Chocolate, and enter Zach Witness, a name he chose to signal his desire for a deeper experience. “You might watch a football game, but you witness the Super Bowl,” he says.
Meanwhile, he continued to dream of collaborating with Badu, working for three years on a remix of her Mama’s Gun track “Bag Lady,” a song that represents letting go of all that prevents you from moving forward. He could relate to that. “At the time I was getting rid of a lot of baggage myself,” he says. In 2015, the tastemaking site Okayfuture posted the remix on Twitter. It got Badu’s attention. After he introduced himself to her at an art gallery, she asked him to remix Drake’s “Hotline Bling” for her.
A few days later, they were at his mother’s house, in his bedroom studio. That one song grew into an entire mixtape revolving around the concept of phones, But You Caint Use My Phone. He and Badu recorded for the next 11 days, working until 3 in the morning, sometimes joined by another one of his heroes, André 3000. Two years later, Witness can still hardly believe it. “It’s really amazing that Erykah Badu gave me a chance,” he says.
But You Caint Use My Phone had people checking for what Witness would do next. It took a while, but he’ll finally release his debut EP, Electric Revival: Rise of an Outkast Nation, on August 25. A melting pot of genres and styles, it was initially created as a birthday gift for André 3000.
Electric Revival is a small sample of what he’s capable of—not only is Witness a producer and DJ, but he also sings and plays numerous instruments. But it’s a proper introduction to someone who plans to be around for a while. Because, to him, “Music feels like bathing in the heart of God.”