Growing up, Davion Ziere Colbert — AKA “Zai Air,” was always discouraged from entering the music profession seriously.
“Stick with school, get your education,” his family members counseled Air, who had skipped ahead two grades by the age of 11.
That’s exactly what he did, beginning high school at age 12 and eventually enrolling at Emory University in Atlanta at the age of 16.
Air had lived in six different households and attended 13 different schools before his freshman year of college began.
But one night his freshman year, Air purchased a keyboard, and the rest is, well… history.
While managing school work and outside projects like brand consulting, Air “started to take songwriting more seriously,” honed in on poetry, and spent hours watching the YouTube videos of Ryan Leslie and John Legend.
“I basically told myself, ‘I could do that, too.’”
Zai Air in his dorm room/studio.
Three years later, Air released his first album, Clear, and has contributed to shows like NBC’s The Voice and BET’s Hip Hop awards show.
And it all began in his freshman dorm room. “No studio, no problem.” he says.
What’s the fuel that keeps him going? USA TODAY College talked to Air about his rise, his future plans — and advice he’d give for someone who was in his shoes.
Q. Tell me a little about your music: the genre, the style, the inspiration behind it.
A: Karmaloop and Soletron have called it “New Wave R&B.”
I want to create a world where passion is our currency and all can do what they love. I believe when people are passionate, they are more loving, and that love would spread everywhere. So, I make music that embodies honesty and life’s realities, with hopes to inspire others to do the same. I help others who are also passionate aspiring artists, and I am currently producing for about five other projects, including my own set of new songs to release as I go.
Q. So, everything was done from your dorm room?
A: About 90% of my album was made in my dorm room—everything from recording, producing, writing, mixing, photographing.
Q. How do you balance everything? It seems like you never get a break?
A: I have been pressured to learn the meaning of balance.
I feel it’s important to know yourself and know your limits, and I’ve learned many of mine, which has pushed me to turn down major opportunities and a lot of “fun.” But, I know it’s ok, because as long as I keep working and being passionate, I’ll be where I want to be, which is fun to me. Plus, life happens in stages, and its okay to be patient sometimes. I almost feel that there is no other way to manage the amount of different things without learning these things and making some types of sacrifice.
Q. What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
A: There is no such thing as “can’t.” My parents and grandparents always made sure I knew that, and almost chastised me for using it. laughs
Q. So, you’ve released an album, and you’re almost done with school. What’s next?
A: I plan to continue my community involvement, develop my own consulting firm, become one of tomorrow’s musical stars, and work towards being a better me everyday, as well as helping others do the same.
Q. What advice would you given to, say, a freshman student on winter break now who has an interest in something but no outlets to pursue it?
A: Know that no one can thrive without others. Find people who are lovers of your passion, and start building together. We all make mistakes, so when you make mistakes, acknowledge them, learn from yours and others, and keep striving to be the best you can be.
Q. And the meaning behind Zai Air?
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