Big Zuu Has Big Plans & Breaks Boundaries For The Youth
Zuharir Hussan, more commonly known as Big Zuu is best known for his charisma, larger than life personality and his delicious takes on global dishes alongside his show ‘Big Zuu’s Big Eats’ on Dave. But his contributions to black British culture and the British entertainment industry extend much further than kitchens and British supermarkets. As a member of the infamous rap group MTP (My Team Paid) crew, the North West London rapper has also played a pivotal role in the U.K. Grime scene and pirate radio culture for many years, alongside his longstanding crew peers such as AJ Tracey.
Born in London and raised on the Mozart Estate in East London, Zuu spent his earlier years working towards a career in social work, mentoring young children and studying for a degree in the field. But after years of tenacity and hard work, the rapper, Grime FC and TV personality has since risen to success and become one of Britain's most influential personalities.
Speaking on his success, the rapper says ‘You know, it's funny, because in the time that we've come up in the UK music industry, the UK has picked up and become very prominent in terms of its success, you know, you have people charting every day. If you go back five or six years ago, it wasn't really like that. There wasn't a route to becoming successful in the game so we were just winging it. I never ever thought I'd be doing the stuff that I'm doing now. Definitely not.’
Prior to his involvement with cooking and music, Big Zuu worked as a mentor for young children in a secondary school in East London, before spending two years at Goldsmiths University in New Cross working towards a social work degree.
Words by Thelma Khupe
Creative Direction:Derrick Odafi
Photography Maximilliano Giorgeschi
Photography Assistant Thomas Cockram
Hair/Grooming Blessing Kambanga
Stylist Naomie Meirelles
Styling Assistant Gloria Iyare
Project Manager Jessica Rushforth
Special Thanks to Take More Photos
NW: There are so many great causes in the world but your focus has always been on disadvantaged youth. Why is helping the youth so important to you? What drew you to this cause?
BZ: So I was given the opportunity to work at a charity that works with young people. And it was from there that I kind of realised 'Okay, this is a chance for me to get experience and get into a course at university’, so that was the main thing, just get experience in order to get onto a university course. Once I started working with young people kind of realised that it was something I was good at: Speaking to young people, empathising with them and figuring out a route for them to get into a career path, even though I was so young, which is kind of weird. I was 18 but I wanted to be a youth worker so it didn't really make sense because I was still a young person myself. But I learned over time it's more relatable to work with young people as at a young age.
NW: You’re a member of the MTP collective grime crew which features rap legends like AJ Tracey, and for years you managed to build your rap career, breaking through the pirate radio era on stations like Enfields Mode FM. What is your favourite memory of your time during this era?
It was probably my birthday set. So radar radio, the radio station that cannot be named, was like our main training ground. We were doing lots of other places like Mode FM, Flex FM, a lot of pirate radio stations across London. But radar was kind of like a home for us and I had the first grime birthday set there when I turned 20. Which is so weird because that was only four years ago. I turned 20, all the mandem were there, we were super waved, there were bare bottles. The DJ that was DJing on the night, his sister actually bought me a red velvet cake and we backed it out in the middle of the set. So on the set video online you see them take out a cake and they made me cut it in the middle of the set and then we just go back to spitting. And it was just sick. I'm there, P Money’s there, AJ Tracey was there and so was Novelist. Just a lot of people in Grime that have just become so big in the game and we were all on set together celebrating my birthday. That was probably one of my favourite moments.
Jacket - Diesel
Jumper - Diesel
Jeans - Diesel
Shoes - Nike
Sequinned Strapless Dress Sebastian Nissl
Jewellery Isabel Marant Alighieri & ASOS
Big Zuu has proved himself as a multidimensional artist, with creative talents that range from cooking, to writing to rapping and entertaining.
NW: Asides from being a grime MC, songwriter, DJ and television personality with your own show, do you have any other talents?
BZ: You know, what they say, 'Jack of all trades master none'. I'm lucky enough that music has been very good to me. I've been able to tour, and put out lots of projects and stuff. And with stuff like DJing, cooking and presenting that has all come from things that I have fun with.
I think one thing that I really want to do is stuff within football. So my next venture is starting a football club, which is linked to working with young people as well. I'm making this football club to help the young people in West London who didn't really make it in football and give them a platform whether it's to get into football management, or sports fitness etc. I want to give them that platform because it's a tough industry to get into.
NW: Before Big Zuu the chef, many of us were introduced to you as BIg Zuu the MC. What inspired your transition from music to cooking?
BZ: I used to snap food all the time. I'm just a fat brudda so I'm always eating and I’d just snap everything I ate. And then one day I made something called the joints crew. My boy used to always call things joints so I took that and called my Snapchat following the joints crew, made a radio station called the joints show, everything was just joints.
So I was just snapping food all the time. Then I started snapping how to cook food. I then did a couple of YouTube videos and it was from there, [young] people just used to get so gassed when I would Chef.
And I feel like this is because a lot of young people don't really know how to cook. And there are young people at university that are struggling to get through adult life and cooking might not be their main venture so a lot of them are used to ordering food. They might have tuna and pasta but that's probably the furthest it gets. So I think someone like me was relatable to them. I'm not a Gordon Ramsay like telling you to get a truffle, shave the truffle, go get some parmesan cheese and make the pasta from scratch. It was more accessible and relatable. And that kind of just led to me where I am now, with a TV programme.
In late 2019, the British channel Dave commissioned a new food show starring Big Zuu and a range of stand-up comedians which began broadcasting in May 2020. The show features the MC and two friends, Tubsey and Hyder, cooking for a range of British comedy icons from the likes of Jimmy Carr, Guz Khan to Ed Gamble over the course of a ten part series.
NW: You’ve had a range of guest appearances on your show from Jimmy carr to Roise jones, who has been your most exciting guest?
Probably Rosie Jones. Rosie Jones is just completely different to every person I've met and she was super gassed. For the comedians, we cook for them while they're on tour, actually preparing them dinner. So when we're recording the programme sometimes they're tired and they want to go back to the hotel. And they have to do this random programme with this grime MC who says he's a chef. So for them, it's like, 'let me just get it bag and cut'. Whereas Rosie Jones was a bit like, 'Oh, my days. You're cooking me dinner?' Don't get me wrong. By the end of the show, all of them are happy because we actually cook them decent food. But Rosie, she was so gassed saying she needs to book me for her next tour! She was gassing me up.
As the son of a Sierra Leonean mother, Big Zuu takes pride in his roots and culture, often finding inspiration in some of his traditional dishes.
BZ: ‘I was raised by my mum, so I am mixed race, but I see myself as a black Sierra Leonean boy because I speak Creole. You know, I grew up with Sierra Leonean cooking, it's always been part of my life. I think with African cooking, people look at and think, ‘that’s weird’ or ‘that looks mad green’, ‘what's that dry fish?’ But there's a lot of processes that go into it. If West African food was shown to the masses in terms of the process that they go through to cook the food, people would be like 'wow this is top notch cooking'.
And It's not just jollof, we make way more than just jollof rice. There's so much food in Africa.
I think that it's time African cuisine to get its shine. It was sick because on the programme I was able to make fufu and Okra soup which was completely forgeign to cooking programmes in the UK. It was fun being able to break down barriers and it's something that I look forward to doing more of.’
So my next venture is starting a football club, which is linked to working with young people as well. I'm making this football club to help the young people in West London who didn't really make it in football and give them a platform to access Football Management or Sports Fitness etc.
The MC quotes Cassava leaf as one of his favorite Sierra Leonean dishes. ‘It’s basically what it says’ the leaf of the Cassava plant, which is like cooked with a lot of onions and peanut butter. They use a lot of peanut butter in Sierra Leone. It's very weird but it's because that's what they have access to, so much fresh peanut butter. Okra stew is really good too.’
BZ: ‘Our food has a lot of really good vegetables in it, which you wouldn't think because of how savoury the dishes are. We also use a lot of palm oil too, which isn't really good for you but you can swap it out. If you want to make cassava leaf or okra stew you can use coconut oil, that's something that my mum has started to do, or even vegetable oil’.
NW: What’s your favourite cuisine to cook and why?
BZ: Italian. It’s not easy to cook if you really want to make it authentically, but it's one of the starting points if you want to learn how to create food. Like making a tomato sauce without using a dolmio jar or a really nice and simple cheese sauce. There's a lot of simple dishes in Italian cooking, but they're also really tasty.
NW: And to eat?
I really love Chinese food.
NW: We've heard of writer's block, is there such a thing as Chef's block?
BZ: [Laughs]...You know what? Unlike writing, in terms of creativity, everything has been done. At least with music, you can create a new melody or punchline but with food - most food has [already] been cooked so you're kind of drawing inspiration from other food. If I ever do get stuck on recipes all I have to do is think of the cuisine, think of ways to merge stuff or google...google is your best friend in the kitchen.
NW: There are quite a few different shows in the cooking world that cater to different audiences.
BZ: Bun all of them
NW: What sets you apart from the rest?
BZ: I'm a young mixed-race brudda who's black and Arab, grew up in the ends and I don't shop at Waitrose. That's what makes me different, I don't have a Michelin star, I don't own a restaurant and I have no Chef skills. The only Chef skills that I have is that I worked in Nandos when I was a little kid. It's just about the authenticity and the way people relate to it.
NW: You recently released a single 'Move Right' from your upcoming tape which has links to your Sierra Leonean heritage, is this what we can expect from the project? If not, what can we expect?
BZ: I think this is just one flavor in terms of the project. I think it was just something for me to explore and have fun. For the album, there are just going to be little extensions of me. There is going to be parts of me singing on the album, there is obviously going to be some Grime, a bit of rap and I think the Afrobeats, like what you said, was throwing it back to by Sierra Leonean heritage and pay respects to the music that made me the person i am.
Shirt - Diesel
Pants - Harem London
Shoe - Nike
I'm here with my brothers so I'm able to be myself. If you have to create an ego, you're going to eventually resent it
NW: You have a great relationship with AJ Tracey, what is that bond like from your perspective?
BZ: That's my cousin! family tree. I'm with him almost every day. He was just grilling me for being on someone's Instagram, I'm like 'bro, you follow no one on Instagram and you have a million followers, why are you looking at random people's Instagram and sending it to me?' [Laughs]. He was like 'bro it just popped up on my page' and I said to him 'no it didn't, stop watching on insta and go promote my song or something'. It's love forever, that's the big homie.
NW: It's great to see, you guys also delve into the garage sound from time to time, what is your opinion on the genre and its longevity?
BZ: Garage is part of the music that created the foreground for UK MCs to come up, Grime comes from Garage. I think Garage is having a good time right now and it's about vibes, two-step, and getting gassed at the function. Everything in music is a cycle, it all comes back around eventually. Whatever is popping now won't be popping in five years, it all has a lifespan and just because it's not popping now doesn't mean it won't be popping later. That's what he [AJ Tracey] did with Ladbroke Grove, he proved to people that even though you may not like Garage, you like this song and Garage can't be dead because the song was on the charts for so long.
NW: Is that something you are also looking to do on the upcoming project?
BZ: Yeah, I wouldn't say I have any Garage in the works but it's definitely something I've always worked around. I'm looking to get some sessions in with people within the drum and bass kind of vibe, you never know what could happen in the future.
NW: Lastly, your energy is infectious, who would you say is the person that brings your energy up
BZ: Umm, That's a hard question...It's probably my mandem. I've been with the same guys for 10+ years and we've been friends for so long. When I'm with my friends in a music setting or industry function, it reminds me that yeah I'm 'Big Zuu' but I'm here with my brothers so I'm able to be myself. If you have to create an ego, you're going to eventually resent it
NW: Thank you so much Zuu!
BZ: BIG LOVE!