He's the Lowertown Neighborhood Association president. And he once had a hip hop recording studio
Columnist Steve Lange asks Benjamin Zastrow 10 (or so) questions.
How do you want your first name to appear in print?
So you don’t tolerate Ben?
Ah, you know. Friends, family, sure. But I prefer Benjamin.
And what’s your title?
Lowertown Neighborhood Association President.
We’ll start with that. Rumor has it that you received and spent about $400,000 in dark money to crush your political opponents in your run for the Lowertown presidency.
Quite the opposite. No one ran against me. In 2021, my wife and I had both been attending the Lowertown Neighborhood Association meetings and they were just trying to keep the organization going.
Did you write or perform any hip-hop music this morning?
It’s actually been roughly 10 years since I’ve done that seriously. I was living in Madison (Wisconsin) at the time. I had a studio in my basement and did a lot of recording there. In 2013, I started selling that off, going more full-time into my wife’s photography business.
In your song, “Liquid Reflections,” what car do you rap about driving?
Oh, wow. So it was a Ford Focus. That was a collaboration with my producer at that time. His stage name was Dejection, and he was living just south of Frankfort, Germany. It was one of my last projects, and in 2016 I flew over there and worked on that with him.
Was the hip-hop a money maker?
Well, the paychecks came from youth mentoring through music. So I was active in Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago, and a bunch of cities in between. My friend Roberto Rivera — now Dr. Roberto Rivera — pioneered a national hip-hop curriculum. So he brought me in as an artist and mentor to work with him through that. I also had the recording studio at home, so those were smaller checks here and there.
What do your kids say when they hear your music now?
They will say something like, “Oh, I showed your music to my teacher and my class today at school.” I get red in the face and say, “Oh. That’s great. I haven’t been doing that lately, but it’s really neat you showed your class.” So they think it’s cool. My oldest is almost 16, and he’s in his room all the time with his computer trying to make beats and write lyrics.
Tell me about your family.
My wife, Laura, and I have four kids. A son who’s 15-1/2. A daughter who is 14, a daughter who is 12, and our youngest is a son who is 10.
In May of 2016, your wife was bitten by what animal?
Well, I remember she held a baby kangaroo. We had a ferret that came into our gardens and wouldn’t leave her alone ... Oh, she got bitten by a baby squirrel.
I was just asking about the squirrel. But it sounds like she has an issue with animals at some level.
And you and Laura run Zastrow&Zastrow?
We do product photography and general creative consulting. Between the two of us, she’s the more skilled, for sure. We do weddings under Laura Zastrow Photography. She’s the talent in that arena. So I’ll gladly pick up a camera, do the edits as well. I’m a good second to her lead. I am kind of the more creative business mind.
Were you always entrepreneurial?
Yeah. So starting in high school, I was really into computers. Ultra nerd, OK? ... I had access to all these old parts, so I could go buy a box full of computer products for $5 or $10. So I built and sold PCs to my classmates for $100 or $200.
That’s impressive. You’ve been in Rochester for three years now. What can the Lowertown Neighborhood become?
Just about anything under the sun. Depends who moves there. Who has the ideas. Who injects their creative spirit.
Can that translate to all of Rochester?
The neighborhood sense of community in this town is growing. It’s needed. It’s easy to do. Go meet a neighbor. Go shake a hand. Help somebody shovel. Even if it’s an extra two squares on the sidewalk, just doing those little acts of kindness and believing in one another. I think it’s crucial.
That would be a great, positive way to end this. So I’m going to ruin it with this: Could Lowertown kick Kutzky Park’s (butt)?
I wouldn’t word it that way because we love all of our fellow neighborhoods. But, yeah.
Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.