Palmetto Alumni Sam Zelaya Signs With Grade A Label

Michael Angee, Sports Editor

Miami Palmetto Senior High School Alumni, Sam Zelaya, also known as Zzz., recently signed with Lil Bibby’s Grade A label. Grade A has helped grow artists like Juice WRLD and The Kid Laroi, launching them into stardom. 

“Emo rap” is a phenomenon of the last decade and was ushered in by the rise of SoundCloud hip hop. The SoundCloud era is defined by the many artists, such as Trippie Redd, XXXTentacion and Juice WRLD, who all began their careers on SoundCloud, a streaming platform that became synonymous with the stars that were almost immediately labeled as “mumble rap,” and gained worldwide fame as emo rappers.

Tracks such as “Another Day,” “Ocean” and “I AM” received attention from underground audiences and allowed Zelaya to reach new creative and professional heights. 

Dylan Morris, a junior at Palmetto and music producer, worked with Zelaya through high school and built a bond based on music. 

“Definitely working with other producers helped him,” Morris said. “Especially Haan who is affiliated with Kid Laroi and I’m assuming that helped him get connected to [Lil] Bibby.”  

In collaboration with producers, Zelaya managed to get the attention of rapper and businessman Lil Bibby. Bibby, the head of music label Grade A, is well-known for helping burgeoning rappers such as The Kid Laroi and Juice WRLD make huge strides in the music industry. 

“[Zelaya is] Definitely heavily influenced by that Juice WRLD, Kid Laroi sound. [And] a lot of sort of Indie influence I guess. He has a unique way of doing it though. I think most people would probably compare him to like a Juice WRLD or Kid Laroi, like that type of sad rapper but it’s I feel he’s more than that and I feel like he’s able to do that in his own unique way that makes it original,” Morris said. 

Authenticity and hard work propelled Zelaya into the artist he is today as all of his songs relate to emotions and experiences from his personal life.  

“He doesn’t use a lot of autotune, his vocals are somewhat natural compared to your average ‘sad’ rapper. You can hear the pain in his voice, it sounds like authentic pain in his voice,” Morris said.  “He’s a really hard working kid…I kind of expected once he got to college for him to put music to the side a little bit but I didn’t see him do that. He made his college experience just the way he needed it. He put all of his classes in the summer so he has all of this free time so he can really just work and work and I was like ‘oh that’s really smart.’ I think he has an amazing work ethic and he has a lot of talent and if he really puts his mind on it, he could seriously go somewhere with this.” 

Grade A, which signed Zelaya, consists of a team of producers, rappers and visual artists that work in symbiosis to best showcase their musicians. Offgod, a 17-year-old visual artist from Tokyo, signed with Grade A in 2021 and has created artwork for various singles. Artists like Juice WRLD, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber and The Kid Laroi all have artwork turned into single covers by Offgod. 

The future is bright for Zelaya and the rest of the Grade A team if Lil Bibby continues to scout talent who appeal to fans as well as a sound to carry onto the next generation of rappers. 

“I mean it’s like it makes sense that he [Lil Bibby] would sign him, it’s like the third generation. First it was juice WRLD, then it was Kid Laroi and now it’s Sam,” Morris said.