By Mindy Campbell, U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern March 15, 2012
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- The life of Zyon Ras Tafari Gooden has many different stories.
There's an early chapter about a boy whose mother fled violence in Kingston, Jamaica and settled her family in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Then, there's the chapter of a dedicated Soldier who's been in the Army nearly 18 years. A warrant officer, wounded in Afghanistan, Gooden now serves with the Army's 19th Battlefield Coordination Detachment on Ramstein Air Base.
Now, there is a new chapter Gooden is writing -- that of a rising recording star.
"Everything that is in my music is me," Gooden said. "I write the songs. I produce the songs. I engineer the songs. I record the songs in my own studio."
On March 16, Gooden released his first official single "Lyrical Murdera" through several online distribution sites. His style is a blend of rap and Jamaican dance hall music.
The long road…
Gooden is not an overnight sensation. He labored long and hard at his dream.
"To be successful you have to work it," Gooden said.
Back in Brooklyn, in middle school, Gooden learned dancing, martial arts and the violin. A neighbor was a famous New York disc jockey and Gooden would listen to hip-hop and rap artists who came over to freestyle.
"I was always into music and wrote poetry," he said. "One day, I asked him if he thought I could turn my poetry into rap. He showed me how."
He tried for time to do American-style rap, but it wasn't working.
"I couldn't really conform to the traditional dance hall style or American rap," he said. "I said, 'Let me see if I can mix a version of rap and Patois -- which is form of broken British English, similar to American Ebonics. I am the only person that does it."
Lyrics come from personal experience and tell the story of his life and beliefs.
"Rap music was developed as ghetto news," Gooden said. "Whatever was going on in your life or what you saw on TV that bothered you from an emotional standpoint, you rapped about. Today's great artists like Adele sing from the hurt they feel and people can identify with that. That's what I do. Most of my music comes to me in my dreams. I say whatever is on my mind. I turn on my mike on and let my spirit come out in words."
As his military career has progressed, Gooden took his act from Fayetteville, N.C. to Hawaii, where he performed, made contacts and learned the music business.
"If you want to be a part of this industry, you learn about this industry," Gooden said. "You don't reinvent the wheel. You learn from people's mistakes. What did they do to make themselves successful? I am not going to go to Iraq without learning about what language they speak, what their culture is like, what the geography is like. Same thing applies -- I am not going to jump into this industry and not know the layout of my enemies."
The making of a hit…
In 2009, when Gooden moved to Germany, he continued making contacts and performing. His two previously-released mix tapes were played in Germany, Switzerland and France, he said.
"Clubs started playing it and asking me to do shows," he said. "DJs were playing my music because they saw the crowd react to it. The crowd went crazy and said it was something they had never heard before."
One day, Gooden heard a dance hall rhythm online that he liked and wrote "Lyrical Murdera." Gooden called Nico aka Red Cat, the Paris-based rhythm producer, who gave Gooden his blessing. In recent e-mails, Nico said he's impressed with Gooden's style.
"Lots of people just copy what is going on in the U.S., sometimes without enough musical background," Nico said. "When I hear Zyon, I feel that he has a large spectrum of influences, hip-hop from different periods, reggae, dance hall. It is a fresh mix. This is a sound that I miss nowadays and I really enjoyed to hear it again, especially on my song."
Dominique Ludwig, a German singer who has worked with Gooden on several songs, is impressed with Gooden's ability and passion.
"You can feel he has that never-ending passion for his craft, which he puts into his music, and along with stories about his life, good or bad," she said. "He's capable of grabbing people's attention and making them not just hear, but actually listen to what he's saying in his songs."
Ludwig thinks "Lyrical Murdera" will be a big hit.
"It is already heavily requested in certain areas, and the song is too catchy to not get major recognition in the music business," she said.
Through social media sites, Like Facebook, Gooden's grown his fan base and promoted his music, especially his new single.
After "Lyrical Murdera," Gooden plans to "stay relevant," he said, by releasing new songs online and circulate a musical video recently shot in Munich.
"I am doing it because I love doing it," Gooden said. "Of course the dream is to be successful at it. When it actually starts happening, you are like 'Did I just get a call from a record label?'"
At times, the military dampened Gooden's musical dreams. Deployments have caused him to lose two potential recording contracts, Gooden said.
"You get out of the scene for a year, they forget who you are," Gooden said. "I wasn't a topic anymore."
Despite setbacks, Gooden credits the Army with helping support his musical dreams.
"I wouldn't be this successful if I wasn't in the military," Gooden said. "The military provides me the capital, the drive, the professionalism. Even though things get hard, I keep going because I want to accomplish the mission."
In the beginning, Gooden tried to keep both his Army-life and musical career separate.
"I didn't want the two to conflict," he said. "I didn't want the stigma of being a rap or reggae artist to hinder my professional reputation."
But recently, Gooden has seen the two merge as his musical career takes off. Col. Stephen J. Maranian, Gooden's commander at the 19th BCD, has been very supportive. Maranian knows Gooden's music is an important part of who he is.
"To be well balanced and fit, we need relationships, activities and interests in our lives from outside the military as well as from within," Maranian said. "When Soldiers show a passion and ability in one of these areas, it's important that unit leaders are supportive."
Gooden's Army technical experience -- information technology -- has also helped his musical career, Maranian said.
"In addition to singing, there are tremendous technical requirements to produce and package his music," Maranian said. "I think the knowledge of computers and software that he has acquired in the Army has helped him greatly."
The Army served as an important role in Gooden's life, he said, and he takes his military career as serious as his music.
"You have to be focused on two levels at the same time," Gooden said. "That can be stressful, but I love what I do on both sides.