featured interview

O.U.O. Beneath the surface It's always a pleasure when old-time rap heroes make a comeback. This year, early 90s duo Zimbabwe Legit released their shelved full album 'Brothers From The Mother', a title that you may take literally, because both Dumi Right and his brother Akim were born and raised in Africa before they crossed the Atlantic (the ocean) and signed a deal with Hollywood Basic (the label) through hip-hop promoter and journalist David Funkenklein. Now in 2005, Dumi Right is back, not only with Zimbabwe Legit, but also with this new formation called OUO, alongside his cousin Pep. Time to welcome Dumi back in the game.

Wassup Dumi? The Zimbabwe Legit EP is a real treat to the ear! Unfortunately, it's out-of-print...is it gonna be re-issued?

We took the whole album that we had been working on when we were signed with Hollywood Complex and hooked up with Glow-in-the-Dark records to finally let it see light of day after all this time. (more info: www.gitdrecords.com, ed.)

So 'Brothers From The Mother' is an album of 1992 with songs of the EP, was this LP supposed to drop on Hollywood Basic? Before or after the EP?

Yeah, the tracks on the EP are tracks we were putting together for the 'Brothers from the Mother' album. As fate would turn, the label was starting to go through some stuff and we kind of got left stranded. Eventually the label would close its doors so the album is like the undiscovered archive. This was all stuff done during the time of and in the wake of the EP.

There are a lot of bootlegs of the ZL EP. How do you feel about that?

Yeah, there are plenty bootlegs, but what can you do? 'You bootleg, you get your leg broke', as someone once said. If you have what you think is a reissue of the original 12"? single with the blue Hollywood jacket and sticker, look for the label address on Buena Vista. If it's not on the label, chances are you got a boot. It's all good though. In some ways, that was a stimulus for us to work even harder to get our project out there.

What's the story behind the 'Brothers From The Mother' LP not being released?

We break it down in the CD and LP liner notes but basically speaking: when you're signed to a label, the person who signs you looks out for you and spearheads your project and makes sure it comes to fruition. Unfortunately with us the label wasn't 100% sure exactly what to do with us. The rap division was newly formed and so I don't think they had quite found their identity and while the man that signed us, Dave Funkenklein, had a great vision of where he wanted to go with stuff, the other cats assigned to run the show were strictly about the dollars and so they didn't necessarily understand or share an understanding of what he was trying to do. So at a point during the process Funkenklein was battling a life threatening illness and so other heads were left to run the show and they weren't convinced that Zimbabwe Legit was part of their game plan. Long story short we kept it moving they fronted and the album never got a chance to see light of day.

Why did you decide to drop it now?

We dropped the album now basically because we've always felt that it was important for people to hear the material and I think the rap game is more ready now then ever for a record like this. It's totally unlike any of the run-of-the-mill stuff that's out and even though it was completed years ago, hip-hop fans will love and appreciate it. It smacks of golden age era stylings and production and is essentially a chronicle of two fans of the music who grew up dreaming of the day when they'd be able to rock like all the groups they grew up on, Jungle Brothers, Mantronix, Run DMC, LL Cool J, BDP and were finally able to come to the U.S and make it happen.

You guys were signed to Hollywood Basic, did you know the other acts such as Lifers Group, Raw Fusion, Organized Konfusion??

Yeah, we went to Japan for a short tour with Organized Konfusion, they're a huge inspiration for us. Since we couldn't go to Rahway Prison, we don't know the Lifers but we really respect what they did not only with the two records they dropped but also with the Scared Straight Program. Never got the chance to meet up with Raw Fusion but if you've heard of Hi-C (famous for songs like 'Sitting in My Car' and 'Leave My Curl Alone'), we ran into him a couple times out in LA and he was real cool peoples.

Charizma and Peanut Butter Wolf were also signed with Hollywood Basic, but they got problems with the label too...

Not sure about their situation, I think they got down as things were turning sour for us. I'm only familiar with stuff I've read on-line. I think they, like us, were victims of a lot of unfulfilled promises. Ask yourself, what happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun or does it fester like a sore and then run? (laughs)

On the EP, there was a certain DJ Shadow, totally unknown back then...How did DJ Shadow end up doin a track on the Zimbabwe Legit EP?

My man Dave (Funkenklein, ed.) hooked him up with what would be the launching pad for his career and his first professional appearance on wax for the now world renowned 'Legitimate Mix'. My man is a musical genius and he did that whole thing on a 4-track recorder.

He did a track for Lifers Group. Is that coincidence, or was that because of he produced for ZL and you guys were signed with the Hollywood Basic label too?

The same guy that signed us and essentially discovered DJ Shadow hooked that up because the Lifers was his project as well.

Do you still have contact with Shadow and would you like to work with him now?

I'm not in contact with him but I'd love to reconnect and do something with him.

Mr Lawnge is also on the EP/LP...how did you hook up with him?

Mr. Lawnge was one of the first hip-hop artists that Dave introduced us to, when we met up with him in New York City. He knew Black Sheep because of his ties to the Native Tongues and they were about to drop and he figured that Mr. Lawnge was the perfect producer to pair us up with to put our afro centric rhymes and concepts of gritty NY beats.

Before you came to the US, you lived in Zimbabwe, how many people listened to hip-hop over there, back in the days?

When we were growing up we were so hungry for hip-hop culture. All of our friends were into it to but access to all the latest jams and videos was extremely hard to come by. It came down to having an overseas connection who could mail you stuff. Either that or if a family member went out of the country you hit them up for all the latest tapes or records. We all came up breakin and poppin and were always drawn to all the elements of hip-hop. Because of the lack of access, the culture and movement were definitely not as big as it could have been. There were some rap contests but we only had like a 30 minute 'rap show' on the radio that we could listen to and even then they only played a limited amount of stuff.

One of your brothers was, as you put it, an 'overseas connection', he was a DJ back in the days... Did he bring along many records?

My oldest brother, who went by the name Fu Man Chu, was in a DJ collective and used to spin at events and parties around town. Since that was a business venture, he and his partners made sure they had access to all the latest funk, soul, R&B and rap. I remember he had everything in his crates from Loose Ends to Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash, Midnight Star, Lakeside, Cameo, Rick James, Gwen Guthrie, Run DMC, Whodini, the list is endless. I used to spend hours transferring his records onto tapes to trade with my friends.

What was the first hip-hop record you heard?

I remember he had a lot of Sugarhill Records so those were probably some of the first. I know I rocked Kurtis Blow to death and memorized all the lyrics.

Man, I read somewhere you had the Tall, Dark & Handsome's LP on B-Boy Records, it took me a few years to get that album cuz it's kind of rare, the fact that you got that album says a lot about you knowin hip-hop very thoroughly. What other 'obscure' artists did you listen to?

Stuff was hard to come by out there but we did what we could to get what we could. Not so much rare stuff but we managed to get up on stuff like Pumpkin's 'King of the Beats', Steady B's 'Bring the Beat Back', a whole bunch of Mantronix, we were just happy to get our hands on anything that was dope.

Who were your favourite artists back in the days?

We really dug KRS-ONE, UTFO, Big Daddy Kane, Heavy D, Dana Dane, I thought Salt and Pepa were just so fine, even non-hip-hop like Midnight Star, 'Freakazoid' was my joint in the electric boogaloo era, Loose Ends, the Dazz Band.

One day, you wrote a letter to David Funkenklein after reading an article in The Source...so people already read it over there?

We would get rap magazines only every once in a while through friends and given that The Source was way smaller than it is now and the culture was not as widespread, it's amazing that we could even get The Source. Even some people in the US didn't know about the source back then. Anyway, yeah I wrote the letter letting Funkenklein know that while heads in the U.S were rapping about Africa, there were some ill African emcees doing their thing over there.

Then you moved to the US...was it a big cultural clash or did you adapt well? What do you like/dislike about the most powerful nation of the earth?

We grew up in a city and had been to the U.S before so we didn't experience culture shock. I like the fact that there is opportunity and access to the things you need to make stuff happen for a lot of us. In terms of music and entrepreneurship it's amazing what one can do. I dislike the fact that they discount the fact that even in 2005 everyone doesn't have equal opportunity.

How important was Funkenklein for your career?

He was extremely important. He gave us our first opportunity and he really believed in what we were trying to do. He was also really well known and I remember him telling us if we were unsure if he was bona fide to ask people about him. He knew like EVERYONE and I mean that literally. He was also a visionary because he saw beyond all the fads and trends and wanted to build something true. He actually passed on signing some gimmicky groups that would have probably been one hit wonders if he was out to make a quick buck.

You also rhymed in the African language... that must have been a big challenge for the American listener?

I think coming out when it did the record was quite risky. I mean especially as the lead single. I think a lot of people got it and then some people didn't. The response we got from it was all positive. I'll never forget once we were at a hip-hop show at the Muse and this DJ who is a household name now, euhm, Funkmaster Flex was spinning. Way before he controlled the NYC airwaves and before he was the big dog he is today. This friend of ours grabbed a copy of the 12" and went over and told, not asked, TOLD Flex to spin it. He said 'yeah yeah' and put it aside. Dude is one of those persistent heads who is determined to get what he wants so he pushed his ways passed Flex's boys about 10 more times and behold, 'Doin' Damage' was blaring out of the speakers at the Muse. Heads were bopping to that joint too.

Does Zimbabwe know about Zimbabwe Legit?

Oh yeah they definitely know. The group is like a favorite son because of the impact of the debut EP and the fact that we kicked in the doors for global hip-hop in general.

How's the scene right now?

The scene over there is growing. It's limited by access due to the economics of a developing country but the movement is strong.

So after plenty of years you returned with Pep as the group OUO, what made you come back?

We were always involved with music and had just been away from the industry, never stopped making and being a part of the music. Pep is me and Akim's cousin so we've been hooked up from the very beginning. Pep and my brother used to run together in Zimbabwe and were both in a break-dance crew. After that, they got into recording and rapping. When my brother left Zimbabwe to come to the U.S., Pep and I started hanging out more and started vibing and working on songs.

As for Zimbabwe Legit, have they actually made a comeback or is it just the 'Brothers From The Mother' album?

Essentially the release of the lost tapes is just that. It marks the return of Zimbabwe Legit and there are plenty of new joints in store so stay tuned. Zimbabwe Legit is totally still here. We should have a single out soon and a full length shortly thereafter.

How's your brother doin? What is he up to?

My brother Akim is a dancer, beat boxer, emcee and performer. He actually does all that full-time. He is prominently featured in the documentary 'Freestyle', has a series of performance shows that he's taken all across the U.S to theatres and colleges and he routinely rocks at prestigious spots like New York's Lincoln Center, the famed Blue Note night club and other high profile venues.

The OUO album 'Of Unknown Origin' is an absolute banger! How are the reactions on the album?

I think most heads reacted to the album the way you guys did and thought it was great that we didn't try to come off with the trends of the bling era but rather stuck to our roots and made progressive music. The album is moving well, we have a lot of outlets across the U.S and internationally. We're in the process of trying to make some moves to solidify our position in the international market. We certainly appreciate the reaction and support people like you guys have given us. It validates for us the reason why we do this to begin with.

Why do you consider your music as underground hip-hop?

O.U.O is official underground original. Our stuff is underground without question; we are denizens of the subterranean realm as GZA so aptly put it, 'beneath the surface'. We are underground because we eschew the trite and recycled trends and fads that the mainstream caters to. We don't rap about guns but metaphorically we stick to our guns and make music that comes from the heart without trying to play into the flavor of the week. Underground just means that you're true to the art and you're not catering to the latest fad or hopping on a bandwagon. In the most simple terms 'underground' is a category, there's 'pop rap', 'trendy rap', then you have 'the underground'.

How did you come to work with German producer H-Peh?

That was actually totally random. He had a post on Africanhiphop.com that was calling songs for a remix project he was doing. I hit him with something and was real happy with the result. So later when he said he was doing a production album with international artists we agreed to get down. In return he hit us with some heat for the O.U.O album and as you can tell from 'Pushin' Pens', 'Yesterday' and 'Unorthodox', it was bananas.

The OUO album is released on your own Ph Music... what exactly are the activities of pH?

pH Music is the business entity that conducts the affairs of Zimbabwe Legit and O.U.O.

Where do you want to take the label? Are you about to sign new artists?

For the moment we're just focusing on our in-house ventures. We also have internal side projects that will definitely be manifested through pH Music. We've also started using the company to do our merchandising for shirts as well as other stuff.

What projects are you on now? What can we expect in the near future?

Working on some new stuff for ZL to hit people in the head once again. Got some new O.U.O flavor in the hopper. Also I'm working with Cadence on this project called 'Alternate Reality'.

Do you listen to other styles than hip-hop?

I like a lot of classic jazz and soul. I was a big fan of Janet pre- JD, Jermaine Dupri! (laughs)

Do you buy a lot of music?

I buy a fair amount of stuff. I think as an artist it's only right to support other hard-working artists. I have a huge CD collection, much of it amassed back when I was a freelance writer, but these days I try to cop the stuff I'm feeling.

What are the last five albums you bought?

Smif n Wessun - 'Reloaded'
Muggs and Gza - 'Grandmasters'
FatLip - 'The Loneliest Punk'
C Rayz Walz - 'Year of the Beast'
Sean Price - 'Monkey Bars'

Do you use the Internet often?

I stay on the net. The Internet basically changed the paradigm of music making and put power back in the hands of the people. I've connected with people all over the world through the Internet on the music tip. Also it allows you to disseminate your message to massive numbers of people with great ease and at low cost.

Do you produce?

I do a little something. I've been focusing on the rhymes and the business side of things.

What is your equipment?

Pep has an MPC, I have an ASR-X Pro.

Top 5 hip-hop albums of all-time:

Big Daddy Kane - Long Live the Kane
Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation of Millions
Eric B and Rakim - Paid in Full
LL Cool J - Bigger and Deffer
KRS ONE - By All Means Necessary

There are so many classics but these are the all-time classics. You have to include Run DMC's 'Raisin Hell', then modern classics like Tribe, Wu Tang, Masta Ace. Those are like the top 5 old school records that I could think of at the spur of the moment.

Your favourite non-hip-hop albums of all-time:

Loose Ends - 'The Real Chuckee Boo'
Weather Report - 'Sweetnighter'
Mary J Blige - 'Mary'
Michael Jackson - 'Off the Wall'

OK, that's a wrap! Thanks a lot for the interview!

 

POSTED 04|05|2005
conducted by cpf

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