Define multi-hyphenate: a conversation with local artist RZ Shahid

Headshot of Bianca Nkwonta
By Bianca Nkwonta

On my personal hunt for local musicians and performers to listen to and support, I encountered an artist named RZ Shahid. I listened to many of his tracks, my favorite being the dreamy and catchy Settle Up Interlude. I read his Spotify bio, which states that he is a multi-hyphenate creative, and that music is just one part of the equation that he must balance in his ‘constantly developing creative persona’.

I’ve always been fascinated (envious, but this is Minnesota so I have to say fascinated) by those who identify as multi-hyphenates. To try something, enjoy it, be good at it, and add it to your professional and/or creative arsenal of skills is impressive and very unfair. I wanted to know more about what it takes to be a multi-hyphenate, so I reached out and asked if he would speak to me. This is what RZ had to say:


Hi RZ. Can you introduce yourself?

I'll give people the artist's name. I’m RZ Shahid aka That Groovy Artist You Discovered, and I am from the Twin Cities. 


You call yourself a multi-hyphenate. Can you define that?

I would consider myself a multi-hyphenate creative with a huge ass emphasis on music. A multi-hyphenate is someone who wears many hats in the creative world, so people that direct, write their own stuff, produce, engineer, all of the above.


What separates your hyphens?

Outside of music, I’m into fashion. I design clothes, and actually, I designed and made the shirt I’m wearing. It’s from my brand, Art of Xanadu. I’m big into film, and I write treatments for my music videos and help co-direct them. I’m also a certified personal trainer. 


Why do you do all of this?

Life’s short. I don’t want to live wishing that I would have tried something. I don’t like the idea of living in regret. If you try something, the worst thing that could happen is you don’t like it. And if you try it and you do like it, it can be a welcome surprise. Originally with music, I didn’t want to be an artist. I wanted to be a writer and an engineer. But I ended up hopping in a booth in the homie’s closet, and we put out a song. People were rocking with it, so I decided to keep going. It’s valuable to try a new, unexpected thing, and trust yourself enough to keep going and see where it leads you. It’s led me to become a music collaborator, so I work with those in the film world to get music connected to commercials, television, and film.


I didn’t know that was a thing. How did you learn about being a music collaborator?

It all comes back to LinkedIn, which is actually a very useful tool for creatives, whether they know it or not. I connected with an individual on LinkedIn who works in the music industry. We started messaging, and I sent them a private link to listen to Broken Dreams. She listened to it, and liked it -- then asked if she could send it to the CEO of her company. The CEO listened, and then reached out to me via email, and we set up a Zoom call about what it would mean to be a part of their artist collective. We had a nice lil’ conversation. And the rest is history. 


Which of your interests came first? Was it fashion, music, or film?

None of the above. Growing up, I was really into the Step Up movies, and it was a dream of mine to be one of the kid dancers. And I wanted to be an actor. I never took it too seriously, but in junior high, I leaned into my love for music and started writing poems. My mom is a singer and always sang R&B and gospel, and my dad put me on to hip-hop. In high school, I started writing beats too. So I guess it was music that came first, but it wasn’t my first creative interest.


Who are your multi-hyphenate influences?

Donald Glover is mad dope, Jordan Peele from Key and Peele who now makes these horror films, and Teyana Taylor too. Not sure if he’s considered one, but Aaron McGruder (creator of The Boondocks) is huge for me. And then speaking locally, Destiny Roberts be killing it, we got XINA, I’d say Ricki Monique and Za’Nia, and all they do in and outside of Tangible Thoughts, and my homie Connor (@mistercreates on IG). That’s a dude that wears hella hats. He runs the studio with me. And my homie Righteous MC is known for his rapping skills, but he also owns and operates an awesome event space that I performed at this past weekend. And my family. Everyone around me is driven and they inspire me. And if I forgot anyone, my bad. I know a lot of people. 


Let’s talk about one of the names you just mentioned. It’s not a local person, all of our local Twin Cities talent is exceptional. Maybe I’m just a hater, but I don’t think this person is exceptional at everything they do. Respectable, but not exceptional. Do multi-hyphenates have to be exceptional at everything they do to consider themselves a multi-hyphenate, or should they remove roles from their title until they master the craft?

I don’t think any multi-hyphenate is a master of all of their crafts. That’s why for myself, I say I have a huge ass emphasis on music because that’s my bread and butter. But honestly, I think people should call themselves whatever they want if they’re doing it. There’s a lot of people out there who call themselves rappers or singers, and over time they’ve greatly improved at their craft and ascertained some credibility. So call yourself whatever you want.


Is there any accomplishment that you are most proud of?

I stay true to myself and wear my heart on my sleeve, and I never try to follow the social rules or expectations of any creative industry. And my fearlessness. I’m open to rejection because I have received a lot of it. I’m comfortable shooting my shot at whatever. I think it’s cool that I’ve participated twice in the Art Shanty projects and performed on a frozen lake Harriet. And of course, starting my company, Art of Xanadu. 


Do you have fans?

I guess you could call them that. I’d rather call them my community.


Can you tell me a story about a time when a fan, or a member of your community, said something to you that stuck with you?

Mine happened very recently. It was my last performance, at the Underground Music Cafe. The audience is usually my friends, and their friends. I felt that it was a good performance, despite a few hiccups at the beginning, with my mic and stuff. A friend I’ve known since eighth grade came to the show and told me, “You know what? You’re a really good performer.” And it was as simple as that. It’s dope when those comments come from someone who’s known me even before I started making music.

The other moment that I’ll never forget was with my mom back in 2018. When I play my music, I never tell anybody that I am playing my music. I’ll just let the songs play and see what their reaction is. I was with my mom in the car and I started playing my music. I was waiting to see if she would react, but she was jamming out to it. She asked me, “Who is this?”, and I told her, “It’s me.” She’s like, “Boy, stop playing with me. Who is this?” and I’m like, “I’m for real!”. I had to convince her that it was me by showing her my name next to the track. She told me it sounded so professional. I love seeing her reaction to my music.


What other titles are you going to add to your multi-hyphenated title?

I want to dig deeper into film, and I am hoping to write and direct a short film. So I’d like to be a director, and I also definitely want to be an actor and a dancer. I don’t want to say too much, but I’m lowkey cold as shit when it comes to dancing. I used to be a lil’ b-boy. 


How can the Twin Cities performing arts community support you?

If you like my music, listen to it. Add me to your playlists. Put other people on to me. Be honest with me too. If what I put out is ass, tell me it’s ass. You can go to my website, my social media (@rzshahidx) and my brand, Art of Xanadu’s page (@artofxanadu) subscribe to my newsletter, and if you mess with what I’m doing, tell people about it. Spread the word, that’s the biggest thing. Pull up to the shows, cop some fly gear, give me my flowers while I can smell em, show love and keep it one hunnid.


Headshot of Bianca Nkwonta
Bianca Nkwonta

I've always been interested in the performing arts, whether it was community theater performances, to fringe festival shows, to coffee shop sketch shows. Performing arts is my personal favorite connection to the strong arts community in the Twin Cities.