It has been a busy year for East Bay hip-hop duo Zion I. First, DJ AmpLive came out with his fourth full-length, “Murder at the Discotech,” in the summer of 2010. A few months later, emcee Baba Zumbi dropped “The Burnerz,” a collaboration with The ARE, a group he met while on tour. Then in November, Zion I released its seventh full-length album, “Atomic Clock,” and immediately hit the road in support of it. Now, after a break for the holidays, the two return to play the first show of 2011, at Oakland’s very own New Parish venue. Earlier this week, Zumbi took the time to answer a handful of questions about what the two have been up to:
What has the reaction to “Atomic Clock” been like, from critics, fans and other musicians?
There’s been a very positive reaction to the new album. Critics and fans alike seem to be more drawn to this record than to “the Takeover”, which had a more pop-based sound.
How would you rank this album among the other six full-lengths? Are you the type of artist that always considers the most recent work to be the best, or do you evaluate the art you’ve produced in a different way (and if so, what are the criteria)?
I judge our work by whether or not people enjoy listening to the music years after it’s been released. With that said, “Mind Over Matter” and “True & Livin'” seem to have those types of songs that people can return to.
What is your take on art? Do you feel that it is something that an artist produces for him or herself, like catharsis of sorts? Or do you think that art serves a greater good, that it should be for the masses? Or some kind of balance of the two?
I feel that art is a psychological need for the artist. When that catharsis is reached by the creator, the audience can’t help but feel the same release and relief. Art definitely serves a greater good; we tune one another’s emotions by the art and music we create.
Lyrically, you seem to be getting at something deeper (and sometimes more controversial) than a lot of other artists out there today. Are people ever surprised when they hear Zion I and realize that hip-hop doesn’t always have to be about things that are, for example, excessive, fantastical or degrading?
People aren’t surprised; they seem to be refreshed by the messages that we drop. We hark back to the golden age when the music had a social consciousness. We haven’t forgotten the importance of the music. People are affected by the music, the intention goes out and is received and multiplied.
You utilized a new process on this album, seeking to expand upon Amp’s initial gut feeling and framework for a piece, instead of the meticulous back and forth until a song is just right. Was this decision conscious? Do you feel this method resulted in songs that were more fleshed out and evolved? Will you continue with this in the future, or do you feel it was a tactic that only works with a certain kind of music or approach?
This process was due to circumstance more than anything else. We had to finish the record within a very short period of time, so we weren’t afforded the luxury of going back and revising the songs. This was actually more similar to the way that we started making music. I enjoy this method, because it allows us to be more connected to the moment, instead of considering what people will think when they hear it.
What’s next for Zion I? Are there other moods or musical directions that you haven’t yet pursued but want to?
Indeed, we have a new Zion I & Grouch record that is dropping in late March that we’re excited about. We also have plans to do an electronic based record next. That will be fun.
Of all the experiences you’ve had in the past decade or so, what has taught you the most? Were there any particular preconceptions or ways of thinking you brought with you into the Zion I collaboration that have since been reinvented or completely turned on their heads? In what ways were you naive, and how have you grown or been challenged?
Just watching the industry continually wax and wane has been a lesson in and of itself. The trends, the shifting formats, all of these things are what most people are so compelled by. But, for me, the only sanctuary amidst all this change was the music itself. We are seeking to create art that is timeless, and that speaks to the human condition. Focusing on living has been the greatest lesson of all.
Anything else you’d like to mention or share?
Check out “the Burnerz” online and on YouTube..and big up yaself!!
Zion I plays the New Parish in Oakland, Calif., tonight. 9:30 p.m., $20 in advance / $25 at the door, 18+