Florida rapper Zl!ster turns hobby into career

Zl!ster wearing a Stay Smiley shirt. (Photo provided by Zl!ster presents)

In January 2021, Orlando Kenny, a Coral Springs rapper known as Zl!ster or Z, managed to organize a free show in just five days at an abandoned Coca-Cola factory in Tallahassee with an audience of over 170 people.

“It was a crazy turnout and it’s cool because I like to go around and talk to people, exchange Instagram stuff,” said Kenny. 

After graduating in May 2021, the tech-loving former Florida State University student moved to Atlanta to pursue his musical career.

With over 700 followers on Instagram and nearly 1000 streams on Spotify, Zl!ster is now an emerging artist. He released a new EP, “The Mellow Yellow,” on March 11 that features six songs.

Broward County has been home to major rappers such as Kodak Black and XXXTENTACION, who was killed in June 2018 at Deerfield Beach. In a recent interview, Zl!ster described what it is like coming from the center of the rap scene in South Florida.

“I remember seeing videos of [XXXTENTACION] at his sold-out house shows, and it inspired me because that’s where it starts,” he said. “Although I wasn’t making music at the time, watching how local the scene was and seeing these normal people making it big was crazy to me.”

It was not until reaching college that Zl!ster discovered his passion for creating music. At Archbishop McCarthy High School in Southwest Ranches, he co-hosted a podcast called “We Are Up Next,” which opened the door for his creativity in audio.

“I feel like working on the podcast with the people we worked with really helped me express my creativity through audio,” he said.

Dillon D’Andrea, a producer, known as Shriekin’ Dreamer, met Zl!ster during their freshman year of high school.

“I think it feels longer than that just how his personality leads him to doing different ventures that he always looks to bring his friends along,” said D’Andrea, “making for many interesting and memorable moments.”

Before becoming Zl!ster, Kenny worked at FSU’s Innovation Hub, an on-campus center for creativity, using advanced technologies. As a computer science major, he says he had little interest in his classes but found a way to create new projects.

He discovered a unique musical style and then made his first album. Last year he released his first EP, “For Demonstration Purposes Only” (FDPO). It includes 12 songs in what Zl!ster calls an “in-your-face rap style.”

“I reached a point in the semester where I was frustrated with everything in my life, school, work, personal life, everything,” said Z. “So I just got in my car one day and drove to Atlanta, my friend took me to the studio and I fell in love.”

Zl!ster in the studio with producer Tyler Denslow of KOTP Recordings. (Photo provided by Zl!ster presents)

What started as a hobby turned into a growing music career when Zl!ster’s manager Grant Louis told him to “give his art the justice it deserves.” Now Zl!ster uses his platform to spread positivity.

The song ‘Four Seasons’ off of his sophomore EP ‘The Mellow Yellow’ contains Zl!ster’s favorite lyrics:

“Times passed

I don’t recall the reason

We couldn’t see four seasons

We still work out in my dreams

Oh my god, well…”

“There was a moment when I first started taking this seriously when someone hit me up and asked if I would ever sell my music,” said Zl!ster. “I was so taken back, I know how music affects me, but I had never imagined someone telling me that.”

Zl!ster decided his music should be heard by new ears. That spur-of-the-moment trip to Atlanta in spring 2021 opened his eyes to inspiration and creativity.

“It was after that trip when I felt so inspired and decided to write about my experience in college,” said Zl!ster. “And that is what ‘For Demonstration Purposes Only’ was.”

Zl!ster reading a yellow book. (Photo provided by Zl!ster presents)

Louis was enthused with Zl!ster’s projects when the two were introduced to each other by a mutual friend.

“After hearing the project and [Zl!ster’s] vision for the whole thing, I knew I had to be a part of it,” said Louis. “I knew [Zl!ster] was going to be a great person to work with.”

Zl!ster has played shows in Tallahassee, Gainesville, and Atlanta. He is constantly sharing his passion for music.

Zl!ster describes “The Mellow Yellow” as a new sound from ‘FDPO.’

“It’s the part of a breakup where you accept it is over and you start seeing things through a new yellow mellow lens,” he added.  

When asked what he plans on doing next with his career, Zl!ster smiled. “I did not expect this to happen within the year,” he said. “It’s cool because I think the music’s gonna be taken a notch up because of it, but honestly, I’m going to get back to the writing board. I know what I want to sound like next.”

Yansall Rasquides is a junior majoring in journalism. Her Venezuelan background inspires her to write and report while giving a platform for people to speak their truths.