featured interview

Zion I Da Mystery Of Shadowboxing ‘ShadowBoxing’ is Zion I’s seventh album already. After 12 years of releasing records, the tandem of Bay Area’s Zumbi and Amp Live doesn’t show a single sign of rust. Zumbi searches for the depths of human psyche, Amp pulls his 808’s in the most electronic, atmospheric positions. The press release predicted a gritty album, but still, instead of sounding bold and cold, ‘ShadowBoxing’ is an album that excellents in creativity, accessibility and passion. How they do it? No idea. By practicing Tai Chi perhaps?


The press release reads 'The album is grittier than past projects.' Only three years ago you focused on fun and party music. How would you explain the shift?

Zumbi: Just the ebb and flow of life, fam. The only constant is change so I'd be concerned about my life if it were the exact same as 3 years ago. My son is almost 2 years old now and I've had to make drastic adjustments in my lifestyle and attitudes as a result. He has caused me to re-evaluate my lifestyle, thoughts and actions. He is truly a blessing.

One gets more serious by the years?

Amp Live: We always try to have some type of message in what we release. That has been the consistency. I think every album has had a mixture of life, music, and a general subject matter.

Z: I guess it depends on the person and how they get down. I'm having a lot of fun, but in a different way than back in the days. I used to get faded, hit the club, and chase females. These days, I like to practice martial arts, be creative, and watch my son laugh and explore the world. I'm having a lot of fun, but it’s more fulfilling and less superficial in my opinion.

You get introspective on this album. What has driven you towards the darkness of one's psyche?

Z: Just needing to become a better man so that my son can have someone truly responsible and aware to look up to. For me, that's what it’s all about. I thought I was doing a good job before, but when I started seeing through his eyes, my perspective changed. It was necessary for me to clean my own proverbial house. I had to let go off wack things, to make room for more good.

Another 'life lesson' we've grasped from this album is 'don't stress, don't get caught up too much in the hustle'. Is that also something you did too much in the past?

Z: Not so much in the hustle, just caught up period, in whatever. That includes anything from weed, sex, drank, video games, being cool, getting money, anything that doesn't really contribute to true, lasting happiness. I know some people won't feel me on this, but I'm looking for the well, the spring of joy which springs eternal. All the rest is just transitory. I seek the everlasting.

A: I think it's a everyday struggle nowadays. Especially during these times of economic uncertainty. It's something to live by though, because at least you are breathing at the end of the day

Zumbi, on your Tumblr blog you wrote the following quote: 'Youths are passed through schools that don't teach, then force to search for jobs that don't exist, finally left stranded in the street to stare at the glamorous lives advertised around them'. How will you explain this to your son?

Z: God willing, my son will already see and understand this as he matures and evolves. It’s quite obvious that we are all placed on an uneven playing board where education is determined by wealth and access. Of course, there are exceptions, people so bright that are able to transcend the hurdles.

But this is not about them, this about the corrupt nature of the system that deems certain people as more important than others. At the same time, we are programmed that material items define our self worth. It's a self serving system that doesn't serve the people, it only serves itself. If I do a decent job, he'll be able to ascertain that for himself the same way I did.

What advice do you have for him to overcome, prevent or deal with a negative stereotyped self-image?

Z: That's a good question. It’s something that’s very difficult to do, depending on your background and what you've been through. But really, spiritual practices have helped me in my journey, and that's why I always write and talk about them. Meditation, prayer, helping others, working out, just striving to be a good person makes us feel better about who we are within. It's all about that for me. How do we feel inside? If you have everything in the world, but feel like shit on the inside, life still sucks. While on the other hand, you can have no material possessions, but feel divine within. This is what I would call enlightenment.


While writing 'Bounce', Zumbi, 'you had the image of a huge crowd going ham' in your mind. Please invite us in the mind of Zumbi, what other images did you have in front of you for the other tracks on the album?

Z: Everything on this album is written from an emotional perspective. ‘Life's Work’ was written while I was having an argument with my Queen. Yet, at the same time the music felt beautiful to me. I had the image of meeting her and falling in love for the first verse, and then having a catastrophic conflict for the second verse. The ups and downs of love that we all go through was the dominating image in my mind. On ‘Re-Load’, I was imagining myself in my early 20's just vibing super hard in the club, not a care in the world, just totally consumed by the moment and the music. Each song has an image like this associated with it.

The 'Livity' mixtape warmed us up for this release. It had some new and unreleased tracks. What conditions were set for songs to appear on 'ShadowBoxing'? What were the parameters?

A: We did want to warm people up with the 'Livity' mixtape and also with the 'Bomb First' mixtape. Usually mixtures are for that purpose, maybe not having actual songs from the album, but the same vibe. The songs that made 'ShadowBoxing' were just tighter conceptually and sonically.

Z: The only parameters were that the songs were dope and had ‘slap’. The cuts need to go hard in the trunk on some level.

You also released two albums with Living Legend The Grouch. How much different is working with him than on a strictly Zion I record?

A: It's very different. Everyone has different personalities and different ways to work. Eligh writes really fast and is extremely tedious about his flow and lyrics. So when he lays down the verse, it's been crafted to the tee. Grouch is very on top of things sonically and takes his time with writing so it's usually perfect for him by the time he lays down the verse, not too many changes after. Zumbi is a combination of both…sometimes the songs are tight raw and uncut, then sometimes we listen to them over and over and think of slight changes.

Z: When I'm working with Grouch, all the ideas are shared. Sometimes the music is not as personal for me, because I purposefully want to match concepts with the crew. When I'm doing Zion I, I really just zone out and turn into a studio monk. It's just me in my basement catching a vibe and going with it. Both situations are dope, and I grow from the constant movement back and forth.

Would these collaborations affect the music of Zion I?

Z: I believe that everything we do is built on what we have done. I'm in a constant state of learning how to be a better artist, writer, and performer. It never stops. The Grouch is very strong in his message and wordplay and I always admire how he can state deep ideas very clearly and simply.

A: But these collaborations don't really quite affect Zion I's music. It's pretty similar in vibe.

You've just made your ninth full studio album together -if you count along the ones with The Grouch. You're also touring together most of the year, what's your secret?

A: Definitely give space and keep pushing. You don't have a choice when you do this for a living.


In our previous interview Zumbi said 'true power is within the people, I don't focus energy on the government'. Will you vote?

Z: I will vote, yes.

You were a bit disappointed in Obama, no?

Z: Yes. Yet, I realize he is one man working in a wicked system.

A: I have disappointments in some of Obama's decisions, but I also was pretty real about him being elected and what was expected. There is only so much change you can do as president. It's like joining the police force or any other part of this judicial system and trying to radically change it. The system was corrupt from the beginning to really change it. You need armageddon and a new system. The president doesn't do that, the people do. It's good to see a black person in a different position besides playing sports, in jail, or entertaining...so yes please vote! And keep Obama in!

Z: At the end of it all, I just pray that we as humans can get over the hump and begin learning to care about ourselves as a collective instead of as individuals.

It sometimes seems like we need to destroy, and then build it up again, but for our sake I hope it doesn't come to that. If big business didn't dominate the government, than the people might have a chance. As long as dollar signs dictate policy, we're in the same pot of hot ass water.

When I pay too much attention to politics it just makes me angered and sad, so I focus on things that make me happy like art, music and good people.

How was festival Summer? 'Rock The Bells' looked awesome.

A: It was fun!

Z: I had ‘hella’ fun seeing all the groups from across the ‘Diaspora of Hip-Hop’. I also got to see a gang of old school heads that I hadn't seen for awhile. It was really a great event. It also was fresh to see so many fans vibing to authentic rap music. Sometimes it feels like people are just burned out from good beats and lyricism, but seeing all those heads mouthing the words and going in is an affirmation that we're still alive and well.

The Okayplayer review of 'Heroes In The Healing Of A Nation' evoked lots of discussion and comments, how much are you following up feedback about your releases on the net?

Z: I read some stuff, but I don't go too crazy trying to see what everyone is thinking. But, if it comes across my radar I will check it out. The review on Okayplayer was a trip because the author just seemed negligent in his commentary. Some of the things he said were just plain wrong according to fact, not opinion. I know that some people are going to love and some are going to hate, that's just the nature of planet Earth.

A: I personally rarely look at our write-ups because it's always crazy. Everyone is a critic and some people are sheep. So it's like 'What do you expect?'. I would rather talk about my music face to face to people that I respect. In terms of fans...they let you know really fast if they like what you are doing. If your album sells and the shows are full: that is your answer.

Except for Devin The Dude, what current rap acts can inspire you?

Z: Except for Devin the Dude? (laughs) I'm inspired by countless cats. Amongst them: Kendrick Lamar, AbSoul, Flying Lotus, MF Doom, Blu, the Roots, Mos Def, Andre 3000, Asap Rocky, Los Rakas, A-1, Santigold, and the list goes on...

A: I just really have to know…why can't Devin the Dude be inspiring to us?


There are different meanings of ‘shadowboxing’. What does the title mean?

Z: ‘ShadowBoxing’ is actually the original name of Tai Chi. I practice Chen Style, which is the seminal version of the martial style.

In boxing, shadowboxing is known as an exercise to warm up the muscles, what big project is next for you?

Z: Right now I'm helping produce video’s for the album which is exciting for me. I'm also working on a ‘Book of Rhyme Pages’ cataloguing the lyrics of Zion I. Expect more music from us next year, as we are back on our grind in a major way!


Z: To all the family...Ineffable Music Group, Ballin PR, Empire Distribution, J Period, Deuce Eclipse (BangData), D.U.S.T., Martian Luther, BassNectar, Goapele, Codany Holiday, Hieroglyphics, Latyryx, Blackilicious, A-1, Oakland, the Yay, California, the whole damn world…I love you all! Now order that album!

Peace & love muthafunkaz!


POSTED 10|12|2012
conducted by cpf

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