North Carolina twin brothers Zack and Cam Cokas are making waves in different musical lanes

By Cameron Lee 

October 29, 2021

There have been many talented musical siblings throughout history: the Wilson Brothers of The Beach Boys, the Jackson family, Duane and Gregg Allman, and more notably in the Carolinas, Cedric “K-Ci” Hailey and Joel “JoJo” Hailey of Jodeci, and the Avett Brothers from Concord. But maybe none quite like twin brothers Zack and Cam Cokas from Raleigh, North Carolina. 

On a quiet Friday afternoon, Zack, the blossoming young lyricist, dialed in from Brooklyn where he currently lives, and Cam called from Asheville, where he attends school at UNC Asheville. It was only days after the release of Cam Cokas’ latest project, Sketches, a plush ten-song debut album with nifty instrumentation and sleek production, all proudly produced by the budding singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.  

The 22-year-old twins share a special musical bond, but their styles and mediums couldn’t be more contrasting. As early as seven years old, both Zack and Cam started taking piano lessons, and that’s when their musical journeys began to diverge.

“I kind of quit early because I didn’t understand music theory. It hurt my head. There came a time where I was just like, nodding to the teacher, and I didn’t know what he was saying, but Cameron kept taking lessons,” Zack said. 

Zack and Cam Cokas at age 10 playing the famous keys at FAO Schwarz.

For Cam, playing piano just made sense: “Theory isn’t my favorite, but I think it naturally made sense to me. So whenever I write, I don’t like, think about the math. I don’t think about the theory, I just write it, it just comes out. And then I analyze it after.”

With the early influences of Elton John, Billy Joel, and Michael Jackson playing in the household by their music-adoring parents, Cam started writing compositions at nine and songs as early as 12. Around the same time, Zack would record Black Eyed Peas and Kanye West covers on GarageBand using pitch correction to mimic auto-tune. 

Cam Cokas playing piano at the age of 15.

While the Cokas twins were starting to develop their musical styles, they were also trying to find their way in school growing up in suburban North Raleigh. 

“The kids who we grew up around, there was a lot of entitlement and privilege and like this whole vibe that we never had about ourselves. I don’t know, like we would make the weirdest friends…We hung out with anyone, we didn’t care, we didn’t discriminate,” Zack said. 

Their musical aspirations didn’t really surface in school outside of impersonating their teachers in rap parody ciphers, but in their junior years, a talent show gave them the confidence to perform live. 

“That was like, the most redeeming talent show because we’re like, ‘Yo, like, we can actually do this,'” Cam said. 

Zack Cokas at 20 years old at Imurj after a show with Lesthegenius, Marco Luka and Jaxson Free. Photo; Ben Leahy

Post-high school, Zack attended Savannah College of Art and Design to pursue a career in advertising, a path similar to his parents. But after a couple semesters in Savannah his passion for making music started to intensify, and he moved back to Raleigh. Attending Wake Tech and working at a Vietnamese restaurant (Pho Sure, off of Six Forks Rd), Zack hit a low point in his life. With most of his friends off to college, he was stuck back in suburbia and wasn’t where he thought he would be. But in 2018, things would soon turn around after a local DJ played one of his songs on Raleigh radio station 92.1 FM, giving Zack the encouragement to continue. It was a song Cam produced off Zack’s mixtape, “’99 ’til,” which was inspired by the Souls of Mischief song, “93 ‘Til Infinity.”

“It was like the first time I had people reaching out to me about my music and like, listening to it, and getting this good reaction,” Zack said. 

It wasn’t long until another opportunity presented itself. In March of 2019 at SXSW, Zack spit a freestyle at Sway Calloway’s Sway in the Morning Rap Cypher, where he captured the attention and imagination of Heather B. and Sway.

Zack’s most popular song from the mixtape, “Broken,” was a song produced by Cam. Cam sampled fellow Asheville resident Moses Sumney’s voice on the song, “Plastic,” a track that only exists on Soundcloud.

Cam seems to have an older soul, at least musically. He credits some of his teachers and mentors like Gerry Diamond of Family Piano Academy in Raleigh, multi-instrumentalist and member of The Mountain Goats and The Hot at Nights, Matt Douglas, and Anthony Michael Peterson aka Tru Born, an accomplished guitarist and one of the youngest ever faculty members at Berklee College of Music, all of whom have helped him develop his skills over the years. 

“I would say my main influences are like the O.G. singer-songwriters,” Cam said. “I’m really just trying to honor the old school while keeping it like, you know, fresh and young and new.”

Zack Cokas (L) and Cam Cokas (R) at 18. Photo: @Linusandhiscamera 

Cam’s fascination with classic American R&B and soul even led him to befriend singer Ted Mills of the famed ‘70s Philadelphia soul band, Blue Magic. They’ve become acquaintances and Cam looks to him for inspiration. While his respect for the soul music of the past is evident, Cam’s style is rooted more in modern UK R&B, a sound that blends soulful hip-hop beats with melodic sometimes jazzy instrumentation and fluid vocals. Drawing from legendary boom-bap producers like DJ Premier, Pete Rock, 9th Wonder, and J. Dilla, Cam produced, performed, mixed and mastered all but one of the tracks on his latest album, Sketches

Always tweaking sounds, instrumentation and samples, Cam’s style is evolving every day he continues to create and experiment with music. 

“Cam’s style is rooted more in modern UK R&B, a sound that blends soulful hip-hop beats with melodic sometimes jazzy instrumentation and fluid vocals.”

“How can I make this as unique as possible, this one beat, like how can I do something that I haven’t done before? That’s my approach when it comes to production,” he said. “I’m really trying to take people like, you know, on an experience, in different places, kind of traveling through different sonic landscapes.”

Eager to play more shows, and to get his name out there, Cam has now formed a live band based in Asheville and is ready to help cultivate the city’s local music scene. 

Zack, on the other hand, has already helped enrich his own scene in Raleigh, by collaborating with a bright new generation of rappers and singers in the Triangle.  

​​”I was making music with, you know, Marco Luka, Abel Maasho, Kevin Powers, Jaxson Free, Lesthegenius, all those kids, Weston Estate, we’re all friends, all making music together, all hanging out. And now everyone’s just doing their own thing, doing really well and people are starting to move and get traction, it’s super cool.”

Zack recently moved to Brooklyn, and now after the release of his second EP in as many years: PABLO in 2020 and WARHOL in May of 2021, he has management through Quadio Records. He’s also signed a deal with British label AWAL (now owned by Sony Music Entertainment), the same label that houses Mercury Prize-nominated rapper Little Simz. 

Zack Cokas (L) and Cam Cokas (R). Photo: @Linusandhiscamera 

At just 22 years old, the Cokas twins, with their curly manes and blue eyes, often joke about their “dorky white” appearances growing up pursuing rap and R&B music. Although they don’t take themselves too seriously, their collective talents should be. Just scratching the surface of their potential and developing their artistry, the twins certainly have the capability of becoming the next great sibling musical duo from North Carolina. 

Listen to the latest from Cam Cokas (Sketches) and Zack Cokas (WARHOL).

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