zoe.jpgAtlanta’s latest trapper turned rapper, Gorilla Zoe, has the drive to survive in the streets forever. Having been chosen to fill Young Jeezy’s very big shoes in the four-man collective Boyz N Da Hood, and signed as a solo artist to the Bad Boy/Atlantic Records–distributed Block Entertainment, the 25-year-old MC is connected to more marketing departments than billboard.biz. But Gorilla Zoe himself is the strongest force behind his candidacy for stardom in the Southern rap capital.

“Ain’t nobody gonna promote me harder than me,” says Zoe, whose song “Hood Nigga” is gaining momentum on national airwaves. “You wanna know why I got a street buzz? I did nine mixtapes this year… Why do you need a label to show you how to promote your muthafuckin’ self? If you’re working harder than everybody, you’re going to make it.”

Born Alonzo Mathis, Gorilla Zoe learned the value of hard work at a young age. Kicked out of high school after the ninth grade, he enrolled in the U.S. Department of Labor’s vocational training program Job Corps in Kentucky. Upon returning home in 1999, he worked a variety of day jobs—including cleaning airplane cabins at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport—while supplementing his income by hustling weed on the city’s drug-infested west side. Seeking to diversify his résumé, he went into business with a friend who owned a record store. But retail wasn’t ringing the register enough, so, in 2005, Zoe turned to the production side. “I wasn’t making no money off CDs,” he says. “So I opened up a studio right next to Tip’s studio and DJ Drama’s studio. I’m thinking I’m gonna sell studio time, but the shit didn’t work. It actually turned into a hangout. So I was like, Fuck it, I got all this equipment, I’m finna learn how to work this shit. I learned Pro Tools in 30 days. The fourth song I recorded was ‘Hood Nigga.’”

Zoe’s catchy ode to the everyday pleasures of purple smoke, 24-inch rims and women of varying hair color was all it took to convince Russell “Block” Spencer to add him to a roster that already included platinum-selling artist Yung Joc. While he promises to “keep it hood, folk,” in song, Zoe insists his music carries a message that runs counter to stereotype: “I ain’t about the gangsta shit and the drugs and the guns. ’Cause we was raised with that shit. It’s about how to stop that shit.”

With his debut solo album, Welcome to the Zoo, scheduled for a September release, Boyz N Da Hood’s second offering, Back Up in Da Chevy, coming in October and a spot on the Screamfest ’07 tour alongside Joc, T.I. and Ciara, Gorilla Zoe’s presence is bound to grow bigger. “I’m No. 1 in the trap, I’m No. 1 in your dope hole, I’m No. 1 in your strip club—I ain’t gotta be No. 1 on radio and TV,” he says. “But because I’m signed to Block Entertainment, Bad Boy and Atlantic, I will be.”