Zion I Jump “In the Mix” [DJBooth Interview Exclusive]
Time waits for no one – on the contrary, politics, technology, media and pop culture move so quickly that anything or anyone who stays in the public consciousness for longer than the proverbial 15 minutes is an exception to the rule. With six albums under their belt and more than a decade's worth of experience in the game, Oakland duo Zion I are one such exception. On album number seven, the follow-up to last year's Booth-acclaimed The Takeover, rapper Zumbi (a freestyle series alum!) and producer AmpLive follow in the footsteps of many of history's greatest minds in tackling the tricky topic of time – unlike say, Stephen Hawkings, though, they plan on doing it through dope rhymes and fresh, reggae/dub-informed beats. Featuring reader-acclaimed single “Many Stylez” and much more, Atomic Clock hits stores November 9.
In this Booth-exclusive, five-question interview, Zion I discuss the jam-session approach they took on their latest LP, the album's weighty temporal themes, and the proudest moments in their 10-year-plus musical career.
Whereas The Takeover found you sending beats and verses back and forth via Email, you developed Atomic Clock during lengthy jam sessions. Aside from the more organic and immediate sound that comes with enlisting live musicians, how do you feel that the change has affected your songwriting style? Is the in-person approach better, or just different?
Zumbi: I feel like the process for this album was more about writing from my first mind. Basically, letting go with the gut instinct that I received, and giving that primary energy room to breathe. On The Takeover, there was a grip of editing, and re-writing. For this album, it was just straight ahead like we used to do it back in the day. I appreciate this technique a bit more because I think it allows more room for true connection between the heart and the mind. Editing over and over can oft times take the soul out of the music. You strip it down so far, that it just becomes a plug and play formula. This record is more raw in that way.
AmpLive: It was definitely a different process. Especially because we combined with other music producers. So a lot of ideas were tossed back and forth. I really liked it. Was a different perspective, especially because the album is mostly live.
Your seventh LP has been described as “moodier,” and more “reflective and internal” than Takeover. Do introspection and personal soul-searching dominate the album, or have current events and social issues (not to mention our tension-fraught political climate) also influenced its content?
Zumbi: For me the political and economic climate go hand in hand with the soul searching you hear on the album. It's hard out here these days, and I see people struggling with how to handle the pressure. My intention was to let folks know that they're not experiencing the pain alone, and that it gets better if you can learn to focus your energy. I really feel like we're headed toward a collective awakening in terms of reaching a higher state of consciousness as human beings. All of the systems that we've developed over thousands of years are finally beginning to fail us. The monetary system is faltering, resources are becoming more scarce, and there are wars shore to shore. It's time for a change of mind-state. The Atomic Clock is reflecting on changing the ideas we hold so dear.
AmpLive: I think we always try to bring some social commentary into our music. This album probably doesn't carry too much but enough to still make you think.
In your press release, Zumbi states, “Art is not about living in the past.” Do you feel like today's artists should spend less time concerning themselves about what came before, and concentrate more on creating something fresh and new? Why or why not?
Zumbi: There is nothing new under the sun. Everything is about fusion, creating unique blends out of what already exists. I feel like artists today are more into this idea, but for some reason Hip Hop seems to lag behind. Some are fearless, but most just seek to be accepted. In the golden age, there were so many different styles of Hip Hop. For us to expand culturally, we've got to move forward, recognizing the past, but eager to create new visions of who we are, and who we can be. Push.
Zumbi is also quoted as saying “I feel that time is speeding up on the planet and it seems like it's dilating and contracting really quickly.” I always feel like there aren't enough hours in a day – since time flies when you're enjoying yourself, should I be worried that listening to Atomic Clock will exacerbate the problem?
Zumbi: Nah..no worries. You know..I'm on that next sh*t. I like the esoteric and unseen levels of existence. I reflect on the Mayan calendar science and all that. Like I said earlier, it feels like things are shifting. People are either getting closer to their dreams, or falling victim to the darkside. It might sound like Star Wars, but that's really how the world appears to me. It's like the gap between happiness and sorrow is widening...the middle ground between the two is thinning. With that said, enjoy what time you have!
Rolling with the temporal theme, it's now been more than a decade since Zion I first hit the scene. What, thus far, has been the proudest moment in your career(s)? What's one thing you wish you could go back and do differently?
Zumbi: The proudest moment would have to be rockin' "Rima com Paz" in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2003. It was surreal to rock over a thousand folks who didn't speak English, but were hella feeling the energy. It's a great memory that I go back to. Also, recording with Too Short was the sh*t, because I grew up idolizing his album Born to Mack in the mid 80's. To have rocked a song with him let's me know that I am on the right path, following my dharma. We should have dropped our album on Tommy Boy back in the day when we were signed in the 90's. I feel like we cheated ourselves of the full major-label experience by not actually dropping the music we made. Yet, at the same time, we learned everything we needed to know from the going through all the drama and then dropping off. It all worked out for the best in the long run.
AmpLive: One of the proudest moments would definitely be the first Paid in Full show we did in SF, CA. We did the show at the historic Filmore where groups like The Grateful Dead and The Rolling Stones performed at. We ended up getting a big poster they put on the wall for groups that sell the place out, right next to some of those classic artist. Felt good.
Final thoughts? Confessions? Shout outs?
Zumbi: Check out that new Burnerz LP!!! Zumbi X the Are = the Burnerz.
AmpLive: Check out new Zion I & the Grouch album dropping next year. I got my first instrumental album, called Love God Music Life- Mi Headphone Concertio dropping.