featured interview

The Burnerz Raw emotionz In November, the duo of Zion I, Zumbi and Amp Live, release their sixth album. But first the charismatic MC Zumbi takes a walk on the raw side with another producer, Houston's The Are, known of K-Otix and Trackmasterz fame. 'The Burnerz' is an album that'll entertain and school you at the same time. It's a manifesto driven by dirty drums, booming basslines, and claps of thunder, fresh out of The Are's beat machine...

Ok, let's start with a clich?but interesting question; how did you two connect?

The Are: We met in Europe in 2002. It was my group K-otix and Zumbi with his group Zion I.

Zumbi: We spent 3 weeks together weaving through Germany, Switzerland, France and Austria.

Zumbi, you rap on the album; 'I'm Zion when I'm mellow, Zumbi when I'm mean, so can fans expect a more angry rapper on this album? Is there a big difference between Zumbi solo and the Zion I emcee?

Z: As the MC for Zion I, my style is a bit more methodical. The group has more history, and people expect certain things from a Zion I record. Plus, it is a group, and at times it is requested that I change my wording, or my sentiment. Sometimes I agree, other times it is frustrating. With the Burnerz, I just say what I feel in the moment and leave it be. The process for this album was more raw, there were little to any revisions, and the main purpose is to capture the raw energy, instead of trying to create 'perfect' verses.

After the release of the Burnerz single, 'Cops Hate Kids', a song that followed after a case of police brutality in Oakland, Zumbi, you mentioned 'As we move towards a 'new America,' it will be important that we learn to work together'. Months later, is America doing better and what's Obama's role in this?

Z: No, unfortunately America is still struggling. Since Obama's election, it feels like there's been a backlash against his administration. The 'change' that everyone was so excited about didn't happen fast enough, and now there are all the groups like the Tea Party which pride themselves in trying to re-store the 'old' America, back to the good ol' days. But in reality, the good ol' days were only good for rich people. America has always been a place which exploited the poor and the weak. What they're really saying is, give us back our white privilege, because it today's economy, most people are struggling. I support Obama, but he's still the president of the United States. He was elected by the electoral college, like every other president. He is the face of the global task force which is the American military. I had hoped that this wouldn't be true when I voted for him, but the reality has set in. There is only so much radical action that one can expect from the president. The true change will happen only when the people mobilize and take decisive action.

Have you both encountered police brutality yourself?

A: I haven't personally but I've seen enough to know it's a problem.

Z: I have witnessed innocent people being beaten, manhandled, and imprisoned countless times. Zion I was once locked in cop cars while on tour, and our car searched, because we were suspected drug dealers. I actually have the whole incident on film, and will be posting it to my Youtube account soon. Being black in America, it is a sad truth that we become desensitized to how we are treated by the police. Another memorable time was at the B-Boy Summit 2000 in LA, when we were having a peaceful gathering at Venice Beach. Heads were dancing and writing on the wall, when a helicopter came out of nowhere and demanded that the gathering stop. Nobody took it seriously, until battalions of police ransacked the area, shooting guns full of rock salt, and arresting whoever didn't leave quickly enough. It was a chill vibe until they ruined it. It's as if they have to shut it down if there are too many people of colour in one area.

The producer makes the music, not the lyrics, so The Are, how do you feel about the case and how's the situation in Houston?

A: Houston's cool but I do a lot of travelling between NY and LA. Houston is a good place for me to zone out and get a lot of preproduction done.

Zumbi, is it hard to write about a sensitive subject like that, do you try to keep emotions in balance?

Z: It is difficult to write about, because there is so much to say, and the emotions are running so high. I wrote these songs after coming home from rallies, which turned into riots, or when I had just come home from taking footage of a riot. There is distinct desire to capture the feelings, but sometimes it can't be put into words. I just had to write it down and record it as best as I could, and hope that the feeling of frustration was translated properly.

Is there any other rap artist who made a song about the accident? As a matter of fact it seems like it's been a while, remembering the cases of Amadou Diallo, Rodney King... Rap has lost a lot of its social criticism.agree?

A: I agree and I think it's something artist should all touch on every so often but it's gotta be done right to create the proper awareness.

Z: Here in Oakland at least, there were many songs written about Oscar Grant and his murder by the Bart Police officer. Hip-hop has not lost its social critique. It's just buried underneath all of the escapism that is so popular in commercial music. Many of us on the street level are very aware of the battle that is raging on, but big companies don't market this idea because they do not sponsor revolutionary or conscious ideals. They are simply concerned with rampant materialism, because it supports the notion of 'sell, sell, sell', which helps drive up their profits. The conscience of hip-hop is only found in indie artist, the underground, and the rare commercial artist who is unafraid to speak out.

The assaulting police officer was only sentenced with 'Involuntary manslaughter', how big was the frustration after the arrest?

Z: The frustration was palpable, as was evidenced in the resulting civil disobedience which took place across our city. People felt that the judgement still protected the 'system' and its protectors, the police. With that said, this was also the first time that a police officer had been convicted of murder, ever! So, in a way, it was a small victory. But, at the same time, it shows how unbalanced the system is.

A: This is the case time and time again so no matter the frustration, it's becoming the norm and that's gotta change!

The Are, what are some of your favourite Zion I productions?

A: I like mostly everything they've done. I met Zumbi and AMP in Europe. We toured together around 2001. They're music has always been refreshing. They are so well rounded with their sound. AMP had a midi controller and MPC on stage way back then. Their live show was crazy.

Zumbi, what are some of your favourite releases from The Are?

Z: I like 'Manipulated Marauders', because that is one of my all-time classic Tribe albums, and The Are killed it!

'Dem Damb Jacksons' is another one of The Are's celebrated mixes. Have you downloaded it?

Z: Yessir!

What album or artist would you like to see being 'manipulated' by The Are?

Z: I'd like to hear the Are manipulate 'ATLiens' by Outkast !

The Are, you're from Houston, how much are/were you inspired by local labels/artists?

A: I was inspired by lot of early Rap-A-Lot artist like Geto Boys, Odd Squad and Big Mello and others. There weren't a whole lot of labels here early on, but producers that I looked up to were N.O. Joe, Crazy C and a slew of underground producers I hung out with. I spent a lot of early years in NY as well so NY was definitely a huge influence. I grew up listening to mostly the Juice crew. Marley Marl was my main influence. From there it was Premo and Pete Rock and later Dilla.

You were hanging out with Premo back in the days?

A: Premier is probably the reason I started producing. I met him in Houston right after he had finished 'No More Mr Nice Guy'. He was at a Christmas party at my aunt's house and we talked about the music and he told me he had recently moved to NY. I was already collecting records and a huge hip-hop head. We stayed in touch after that and in 1990 I moved to NY and we hung out a few times.

Could you share an anecdote or two?

A: I met him one night at a studio in Manhattan. He was doing a remix for Wendy & Lisa from Prince's group and I just hung around and watched Premo do his thing. Eventually Guru came through and laid his verse and it was finished. Premier drove me back to my apartment and that very night I told myself 'That's what I want to do, I want to produce records'. From there on, I got a drum machine, sampler and a Tascam 4 track and here we are now 20 years later.

Zumbi uses 808 after his name, for instance for his website. Are you a fan of the TR 808?

A: I wouldn't say I was a fan of the 808 but it's definitely a part of the hip-hop history. I might use it from time to time but not too much.

Are you influenced by any Houston rappers, Zumbi?

Z: Indeed, I grew up on the Geto Boys, and in the modern era I am a big fan of Devin the Dude. I really enjoy the carefree attitude he takes with his music, mixed with his soulful skill.

Is 'hyphy' still hot?

Z: No. The Bay Area murdered hyphy as soon as it got popular. I think my area is scared of success, because why would you destroy it as soon as it got attention? It's funny, because there is this movement out of LA called the Jerk, which obviously mimics everything hyphy. But, the radio in the Bay won't play hyphy music anymore, but they'll play the Jerk music all day. It's very hypocritical and contradictory.

There are quite a lot of 'catchy' choruses in the album's songs, have you learnt to create singing parts that sound easy to the ear?

Z: Thanks. I did all of the recording by myself at the house, and the Are just let me know if he was feeling each song or not. I simply enjoy singing and the Are's productions are soulful, yet minimalist. It was just a natural thing.

T: I think the singing parts just come from expanding your sound. It's good to break the monotony buy having some songs be more melodic with the hooks. I let Zumbi do what he felt on this album. I made suggestion but I wanted Zumbi to be himself on this record and let the record be raw. It was 'whatever comes out' time process and if it didn't work, we pushed it aside and moved on.

The same classic intro that was used on Ghostface's debut album was used as the intro of your theme song (What you doing on our turf, punk?).we never thought that anyone would use it again as an intro.who's idea was it?

T: That was Zumbi's input.

Z: I love that movie! It's called 'The Education of Sonny Carson'. It's the story of a gangbanger in the 70's in the Bronx, who eventually cleans up his act and does good things later in life. It just has that authentic feeling, and I feel like it's still a rare flick.

How do you both see the future of The Burnerz, will you remain a group or just a one-time project?

Z: I think that we'll keep rocking as the Burnerz. This project was a pleasure to create. It's more for the culture and the fans, to remember what hip-hop music is really about.

A: This is a side project for me and Zumbi but we will always work together in some way or another. Another Burnerz record will depend on how well it's received by the people.

Zumbi, is Joaquin Phoenix really a rapper?

Good question.I have to go and see this movie to really find out. I haven't heard any songs. It's really about if he's passionate about making music, and if he's honouring the culture by practicing and learning what it takes to be an MC. He's a dope actor, so I'm sure the creativity is there. (ed. after this interview it turned out Joaquin Phoenix's ambitions as a rapper, exclaimed in the movie 'I'm Still Here', were fake)

The Are, you have one of the most un-google-able artist names in the rap game, how (un)convenient is that?

A: I know. I've been saying the same thing for a while now. How can I fix that without changing my name?

Zumbi, how's the new Zion I album coming along, what can we expect from it? Is there a new Heroes In The City Of Dope album comin out?

Yes. The new Zion I album is called 'Atomic Clock' and drops Nov. 9th. The new Z&G album will be released March 2011!!

What's next for you, The Are?

A: Right now I'm in LA a lot working on Keyshia Cole's new album and producing for a few new artist as well. I have about 4 projects of my own finished. I'm trying to decide what to do with them. I've giving away so much music over the years that I kinda wanna give them official releases. We'll see.


POSTED 09|20|2010
conducted by cpf

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