If you’ve been a TDE fan for the last seven years, you’ve seen Zacari’s name on projects like Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN, SiR’s Chasing Summer, the Black Panther soundtrack, and Ab-Soul’s HERBERT. This month, the label’s best kept secret finally drops his debut full-length album, Bliss, and it's come from years of unseen development around some of the best artists on TDE.

“He had me living in this house. Ab-Soul was staying there, and SZA stayed there for a while. Zay would come in and out, and this was like two years before TDE even signed me. This might’ve been around 2016,” Zacari told REVOLT.

In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” Zacari explained the music that came from living in that house, how Ty Dolla Sign impressed him by redoing his verse on Bliss, and how recording behind Schoolboy Q’s home led to him being featured on DAMN. Read the exclusive chat below.

Bliss comes out later this month. How long were you working on it?

I did this over a long span of years. The intro was the first song I made about six years ago. I've been collecting songs for this album for the past five or six years. A lot of things came into play. The pandemic was one that took a couple of years off. When I got [to TDE], I was still learning about my sound and what I wanted to do with it. Certain songs had evolved and changed over the years where it's like if I said something that I wanted, a message I wanted to get across, or a feeling I had that I felt like it was for my album, I would just save it, and then learn more, and stay in the studio and keep going. So, it just feels like this is the time, especially with the tour coming up, too.

You signed to TDE around 2017/2018. When did you have your first session where a bunch of the artists were in the studio working together?

The thing about me with TDE is I met Isaiah [Rashad] before I met anybody. Isaiah met me as a saxophone player. I met my manager in the studio with Zay. Moosa, Top’s son, would come in with Zay, and one day, he took my number as a saxophone player. From there, he started managing me when I played him my music. He had me living in this house. Ab-Soul was staying there, and SZA stayed there for a while. Zay would come in and out, and this was like two years before TDE even signed me. This might’ve been around 2016. So, I was around for a while before I even was brought in on the label.

Let’s get to this first full-length album you’re cooking up. On “Truth Is,” you say you don't know how to express yourself unless it's in music. What was a situation you went to the studio to understand better?

A big one for me was around the end of the pandemic when I was going through a breakup. Sometimes, I would use the music just to avoid things. Also, things that I wouldn't be able to express vocally, I always felt music was the safe place to let all that go.

On “Ocean,” you said these might be feelings you should keep to yourself. Have you ever decided, for whatever reason, not to share something on a song?

That's the one thing I try not to do. I try not to hold any real emotions or feelings back that I'm actually feeling. For this album, I would get in my head too many times about how I may need this song to end up in this happy way, or I need this to end up in this positive way. I had to tell myself, “Okay, I can't put up any type of front. I have to just share how I feel with everything and let all the emotions flow.” Someone told me that emotion is power, and that's one thing that really stuck out to me, especially when it comes to the music.

You have some major guest appearances on this album from Ty Dolla Sign, Doechii, Isaiah Rashad, and Ab-Soul. What were some of those collaborative sessions like?

They're all special moments. I have to talk about Ty. I've done many sessions with him, too. We’ve turned up on New Year's one time. He's just one of those artists that embraced me from day one, brought me into the studio and spent time with me. He actually had a whole other verse on that song [“Ave Maria”] before. When it came time to release it, I pulled up on him and played it for him. He told me, “Nah, let me redo my verse.” He literally went to the back and banged out that verse that's on the album, which is insane to me. It's one of my favorite Ty Dolla Sign verses.

There are only 14 tracks on the LP. How many songs would you say you recorded for it?

With the intention of putting them on my album? I’d probably say 40 or 50 records. But I'll make hundreds and thousands of songs, honestly. All of these songs are timestamps of parts of my journey up to now.

What timestamp does a song like “Nocturnal” represent?

I made that around the time when I was staying in that house I was talking about. It was like an artist house. We had a studio in the basement. Teddy [Walton] was staying there with me, too. He produced “LOVE” [from Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN] and “Nocturnal.” He produced a lot on my album. At the time, I was couch surfing in that house; I didn’t have to pay rent... there was a studio in the basement. That's all I needed. I wasn’t going to sleep, just work. That carried on for years... that studio culture of not sleeping, studio hopping, and doing so many sessions. I'll do two or three sessions in one day and just fight.

Speaking of Lamar’s “LOVE” track, that was your breakthrough song. How was that session?

Me and Teddy Walton had been working after I stayed at the house. [Schoolboy] Q was on tour. Through Moosa, he would let us use his studio in the backyard of his house. We would go back there and I had started “LOVE” by myself with just the hook, and a sample, and Teddy Walton did the beat in Q's backyard. It was a song we were still working on when Moosa said that we were going to get into a session with Dot and play him some stuff. So, we played him a few songs, and we almost didn't play “LOVE,” but Teddy played it, and Kendrick stood up and loved it. The next day, he was asking for stems. That was my first time really meeting Dot, too.

What’s an unreleased collaboration you worked on that you hope comes out one day?

There were sessions I was doing with Usher. I have a lot of memorable sessions with Usher, but there were some sessions I was doing with Usher for a while, and we made this one song that we wrote together and I did background vocals on. He is singing his a** off, bro. I hope the world can hear that one day.

When you write for other artists, do you mimic their voices or play their old music to get a sense of what to write?

Not really. I haven't done too many writing sessions with many artists. It's like Usher and Rihanna are pretty much the only ones. I'll do different sessions and stuff like that, but for artists like that, they're so versatile and can do anything, I just make something that stands out and is different. An artist like Rihanna could nail any sound. So, you don't have to try too hard to imitate a Rihanna song when you're making stuff for her, if that makes sense. I try not to do that with any of my writing sessions. I try to bring an artist into my world and then see what they can do with it because a lot of times artists are looking for something new and fresh. The greats are always trying to evolve their sound rather than make something like their old music.

What do you have coming for the rest of 2024?

Man, my main focus right now is tour. I'm going on tour with SiR in two weeks. It's been weird switching modes 'cause I've been so used to just making so many songs every week. But the past couple of months, I've slowed down on sessions and focused more on my health. We've been doing boxing, gym, and rehearsals. All I can think about right now is tour and my performance. I haven’t been on a real tour. I went on “The Championship Tour,” but it was just to sing the “LOVE” song. I've done festivals, but that was right before the pandemic stopped. So, it's been a while since I've really got up and been able to perform my music.