No one can accuse Ralph Gustavo Zamora, PZ ‘21, of being a slacker.
Zamora is an environmental analysis major with a policy track, a genre-ambiguous rap and hip-hop artist, and one of the co-presidents of Live Your Best Life Records (LYBL). When I met him for his interview, he was helping his friend lug massive speakers to the GSC pool for a LYBL-sponsored pool party. I soon discovered that this little moment was very representative of Zamora’s work ethic and love of music and collaboration.
You probably are familiar with LYBL. Even if you aren’t, you most likely have attended one of their many events such as BLACK OUT!, the 2000s Party, Groove at the Grove, Latinx at the Grove, and Grove House Rock. LYBL has also been involved with One Night Only, Kohoutek, Nochella, the BIG BROWN APRON, and many other events on campus. Pitzer Student Senate officially recognized LYBL as the most active club at Pitzer College, and the group is on track to possibly earn the designation of the most active club at the 5Cs sometime next year.
So you might be shocked to hear, as I was, that LYBL only officially began as a student organization in September 2018. Zamora described all that the club has accomplished in under a year, in addition to their participation in the previously mentioned events.
“Since September, we have 10 artists on all streaming platforms that range from Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, iHeartRadio, everything you can think of. Pandora, all that. We have 10 artists on there, including myself… all under the record label. We established a studio space called the Music Co-Room under McConnell… We have a bunch of instruments in there, we have recording equipment, that’s where we record our music,” said Zamora. In total, 81 people now work under LYBL’s label as musicians, coordinators, and artists.
LYBL’s rapid rise in influence and popularity can be credited to the tireless work of Zamora and his co-presidents, Cam Cocking and Kaylyn Wright. Zamora applauds his co-presidents for their enthusiasm and ability. The three friends decided to start the record-label in hopes of creating a space for artists to collaborate and learn from each other.
“It would suck if, you know, I’m an artist and there’s an artist at Pomona, we kind of knew each other, not really though, for four years and didn’t do anything ever and then graduated and do our own thing. We want to take advantage of the time that we’re all here so we want to do it all together.”
While fulfilling his duties as a LYBL co-president, he also manages to find time to make his own music. Last December, Zamora released his first two songs, “Oppression Translation” and “Life Finesse” under the artist name E-List (which stands for “environmentalist,” reflecting his passion for environmental activism and politics). He’s also featured on Hubris Insecurities, the recently dropped album of Sharrieff Muhammad (AKA Obsideon).
Zamora believes that collaboration is fundamental, and even unavoidable, when making music.
“I feel like you can’t really create without collaboration even if you’re independent. If you’re your own producer, your own mixer, and your own rapper, if you make your own beats and you rap them… I still would argue that [you’re] not alone because [you] were inspired by another artist in some sort of way or [you] were inspired by an experience or situation in order to write or in order to produce whatever [you] did,” he said.
He enjoys tackling difficult subjects in his music. “[I talk about] three different things. One would be hardships, things I had to grow up with from my background… Another thing would be social and political issues. I’m very radical in my political beliefs. I like getting political in my songs, I like talking about social issues [like] racism or toxic masculinity, and I like talking about more of the political stuff like corruption, conspiracy… intersectionality, white politics versus POC politics. The third thing I like talking about is philosophical contemplations, what is the meaning of life, that kind of thing. My songs can tie all those three things together or sometimes they’ll be very specific to one of those things.”
I asked Zamora if he could list any lines off of the top of his head that he felt proud of. “I think ‘Oppression Translation,’ there’s probably a few lines in there. ‘Black and brown, look around,’ … I’m talking about black and brown people, open your eyes, look around, and then the next line is ‘Whites living safe and sound.’ … The way I was trying to talk about it was that sometimes white people have white privilege, they’re so unaware of [it] that they just do things without knowing it and then black and brown people gotta be a little more aware of that because it’s affecting us.”
I mentioned to Zamora that I had listened to (and enjoyed) his music before the interview. He grinned. I admitted that I had been surprised by his production value, and to this, he immediately responded, “Cam produced it. He’s one of the main producers in the record label.”
I was further astonished to learn that Zamora, primarily self-taught, had not been involved with music before college – the quality of his work had fooled me into thinking he had done this for years.
His SoundCloud bio sums up his experience well: “E-List has always had a deep appreciation for music, but never considered being on the creation side until around early April of 2018. In college, he became inspired by his two closest friends (@Ka-y & @cammakesbeats) to go beyond just listening to music… And now, E-List has found himself dropping music on all major platforms just 8 months after he initially started making music.”
Zamora believes that art should be for its own sake, and he refuses to create if he is not inspired. Luckily, Zamora tends to find inspiration everywhere and specifically enjoys working with others. “Inspiration comes from [collaboration]… I get inspired by my friends within the label… The most fun part is the collaboration.”
Beyond his friends, Zamora admires the work and authenticity of Nas, J. Cole, and Kendrick Lamar. “I think even beyond their fame and their streams, if you really listen to their lyrics, I really like what they talk about. They always talk about struggle and things I can relate to… never change what you’re talking about. Never sell out. Before they blew up, they were talking about the same thing that they’re talking about right now. I appreciate that.”
Despite being ineffably positive and enthusiastic, Zamora recognizes the obstacles that student artists face at the 5Cs. He believes that their greatest challenge is funding, and is grateful to Student Senate for being willing to put money towards LYBL. “They had a tricky situation first semester because we were a new club… They were really generous and they funded us quite a bit and they took a risk by doing that with us.”
Zamora plans to put LYBL’s funds towards an even wider variety of events in the future. “We want to create bigger projects, we want to create bigger events. We want to be able to go off campus, we’re thinking of doing a California tour soon.”
Up until this point in the interview, the pool had been relatively quiet. As music started playing through the aforementioned massive speakers, Zamora asked if I wanted to move our interview inside the GSC. He held the door for me. As we finished, I asked him to tell me where readers could find E-List and LYBL online. Zamora listed countless artists, social media pages, and events for LYBL before I gently reminded him to promote himself as well. Even when given the explicit invitation to shamelessly self-advertise, Zamora put his people first.
Zamora deserves not only success but immense respect for the sheer quantity of work he does and the ethic with which he does it. We should all strive to emulate his generosity and perseverance in our own efforts.
LYBL holds open meetings at 3PM on Sundays at the Grove House and they welcome all creators, artists, and organizers, regardless of musical background. If you are interested in using their music facility, attend their orientations at 7:30PM on Sundays in the music co-room under McConnell.
Elyse Endlich, Pitzer ‘22, is a co-founder of The Outback and a linguistics nerd. Don’t get her started on French phonology.
Note: After its publication, this article was amended to include Ralph Gustavo Zamora’s full name. Additionally, it originally stated that LYBL was created in September 2019 instead of September 2018, and that LYBL holds its weekly meetings in the music co-room as opposed to the Grove House. The Outback regrets these errors.