• 17May

    Independent’s Day: Interview with Zumbi Of Zion I

    There’s a lot of fuss made over and attention given to having a household name, especially in the music game. For the longest time, the common mode of thinking has been, if you’re not on TV every five minutes; or your song isn’t being played on the radio in heavy rotation; or your face isn’t plastered on every billboard; magazine cover and promotional tool then what’s really the point? If you’re an artist, especially in Hip-Hop, you want your career to be as big, gigantic and enormous as it can possibly be. Millions in sales, legions of fans, more endorsement deals than you can count on both hands…bigger is ALWAYS better!

    But when you sit down and think rationally for a quick sec, you might just ask yourself, “With all of the Hip-Hop artists looking to make a name for themselves, will the majority of them really see all of these accolades and be on our lips all of the time?” Answer: doubtful. Which begs yet another good question: Are all of these things REALLY what matter?

    To the majority, Zion I and The Grouch aren’t a Hip-Hop household name. But the truth is, the group has managed to carve out a specific niche, built an extremely loyal fan base and maintained a solidly successful career for themselves that spans an extensive amount of time, all while staying true to their specific brand of Bay area Hip-Hop and savvy business acumen. Their first collaborative effort, the 2006 album Heroes in the City of Dope, garnered much critical acclaim and led to the group touring and hitting spots around the nation from California to Texas to New Mexico, Arizona, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York and all over. This past March, the group followed up City of Dope with the new album, Heroes in the Healing of a Nation, for which they are currently on a promotional tour.

    BrooklynBodega.com caught up with group Zion I’s emcee, Zumbi for an exclusive interview, discussing everything from the stock in the game the group has gained over the years to their collaborations with artists from several genres and generations, to partnering with some growing non-profits as a benefit to their community and a recent show where they were blessed with much love at the Knitting Factory.

    And they say there’s no glory in being an independent artist.

    BB: So can you bring us up to speed on what Zion I and The Grouch has been up to lately? 

    Zumbi: We just finished the first two legs of the Healing of the Nation Tour. We’re chilling at our respective homes and then heading out to Hawaii to do another round of shows in a few weeks.

BB: You guys are veterans in the game right now. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen throughout your time in the industry?

    Zumbi: I’ve witnessed the collapse of the record label, as it was once known. Back in the day, we had an A&R. Today, that position barely exists. It is an unnecessary role in today’s world. Technology has made it so the connection is now directly between the artist and fan. All the layers that once separated out into a staff, is now condensed down into one person.

    BB: The album, Heroes in the Healing of a Nation, is the second collaborative effort between Zion I and The Grouch. Is this album an extension of Heroes in the City of Dope?

    Zumbi: Yes, this is an extension of City of Dope, in that the Heroes have once again assembled together. However, this album is much more focused on uplifting the people who tune in.

    BB: What is the inspiration behind your latest single and video, “Drop it on the 1”?

    Zumbi: Drop it is one of the few songs on the album that isn’t compelled by a deep concept. It’s more of a club banger, where Grouch and I just floss to the beat. The video was done by our homey Pete Lee, and came about during an impromptu session while we were filming a whole other video! We had a gang of Canons in the room, so we figured that we should take 20 minutes and knock out a video. Pete had to go get more footage of the dancers, but yeah, that video kind of created itself.


BB: We understand that you recently had a show at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. Can you tell us how it went and how well the crowd received the performance from Zion I and The Grouch?

    Zumbi: The BK show was dope! New York has always shown Zion I love. The Grouch doesn’t travel to the East coast as much as us, so it’s a special event when he does make it out. The spot sold out, and we rocked, despite heavy rains. It’s always a trip to drop songs like “Don’t Lose Ya Head” in New York and watch the crowd go Stuey. Gotta love it!

    BB: There are lots of collaborations on the new album, from former Roc-A-Fella representative Freeway to Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival alum Fashawn, and even Roy Ayers. How was it working with such a wide array of MCs and musicians and how does it help to extend your message to more people?

    Zumbi: It’s always an honor to work with such accomplished artists. Roy Ayers was a very unexpected feature that ended up on the album. I’m a huge fan from back in the day, so that was just ill for me. All the folks on the album are artists that we respect. It’s a way of cross-pollinating in that we all spread the vibes to our perspective fans, which helps the idea to spread further, faster.

    BB: On your website (zioniandthegrouch.com), it’s expressed that many people are going through a difficult transitional period these days and that you want this album to help those people get through it. Specifically, what affect do you want your music and this album to have on people during times like these?

    Zumbi: This album was created to bring a reflective thought to the mind, when you might be having a bad day. It’s built to be a reminder that we can always change our situation with our thoughts and the calming of our emotions. The way we perceive things dictates how we respond to them. Our goal was to make an album that would help alter perception in an uplifting way.

    BB: Tell us more about how the album and tour ties into your partnerships with Hip-Hop Congress and Universal Giving.

    Zumbi: We basically partnered up with the organizations to combine like-minds and forces. Initially, we wanted to create a non-profit with this album, but it turned out to be unrealistic for our time frame. Instead, we decided to donate a percentage of our proceeds to those that are working to empower the communities that they live in. The results of this partnering have been dope. It’s been amazing to see how excited people are when they come into the shows because not many artists are reaching out like that. It’s such an easy thing to do, it amazes me that it took us over 10 years to come up with the idea.


BB: You guys are known for creating a good balance between making music, being entrepreneurs and having success independently. With Hip-Hop constantly changing and evolving, where do you see the game in the next five years of so, especially for artists that are just starting to make a name for themselves?

    Zumbi: I feel like music will continue on the path it’s on now. The actual music will be more like a commercial into the core values of the artist’s brand. The relationship between artists and fan will be even more crucial, as fans will start to realize that the culture cannot exist without their participation. The artist will have to be savvy at creating multiple streams of income as well. I also feel that all of the “industry” jobs will dissipate. Anybody working in the field of music will have to be doing something that has an obvious effect on marketing, promotion or sales. Hopefully, there will be no more “consultants” per say.

    I think a lot of the youngsters have it down already, because they understand the importance of communicating with their fans. If you don’t do that now, you already can’t cut through all the noise in the market.

    BB: Can you talk about some more of your upcoming show dates for the Healing of a Nation tour?

    Zumbi: We’ve got some shows lined up for Hawaii in a couple weeks. That’s going to be fresh. I can’t wait to get in the ocean. Last time I was out there, I got to chill with a giant sea turtle. It is a place of sheer magic.


BB: Anything else that Zion I and The Grouch would like to share with BrooklynBodega.com readers about upcoming projects or shows?

    Zumbi: We’ll be rocking the Summer Stage in Central Park with Roy Ayers in July. That night, we have our own show at Brooklyn Bowl. I’m juiced for that. Summertime in NYC is always a treat. Zion I, Zion I & the Grouch, and myself are all working on new music. We should have something out by the summertime. Peace!

    Zion I and The Grouch’s new album, Heroes in the Healing of a Nation, is currently available in stores and online. They’ll also be at the Brooklyn Bowl on July 2. For more information on upcoming tour dates, new releases and videos and more, fans can visit the zioniandthegrouch.com.

    Follow Ron Grant on Twitter @RonGreezy

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