Talking Progression In Music & Family with Zion I

Zumbi (MC) and Amp Live (producer) of Zion I sat with me before their show recently. As a fan of their music, it was an honor. These fellas are originally from Oakland, California with their first Ep dropping in 97. From the 90′s boom bap era to the current movement in hip hop, Zion I has kept their lyrical social awareness in all of their releases and continue to drop heaters. Here’s what they had to say about everything from their original influences, to being fathers, and their direction in hip hop now.

RIZE Entertainment: Amp, I read that you have been musically inclined since you were young. You started with the drums and piano at a young age and then in high school started making beats. Was there someone in particular who influenced you or helped you start out?

Amp: No, I just grew up with a musical family. My father played the piano and my mom was hella creative so it just meshed. My cousins were making music though, actually. I forgot about that. They were making music in Oklahoma so I would go there and visit them. I would just see what they were doing and my father bought a sampler and I just started messing with it. This was in the 80s. That’s when it started.

RIZE: Zumbi, how did you start rapping? I read that your first rap was in a social studies class?

Z: I don’t know. I was just always into music. Nobody in my family really made music or played music necessarily. But everybody listened to a lot of jazz, a lot of soul music. My mom always would sing, my grandfather always sang, so music was just part of the family, so when I was young I naturally gravitated towards it. I would always record all these like top 40 songs I liked on cassette and I would always listen to the songs and memorize all these songs. I just did that for years and years and years pretty much until I met Deuce and he was rapping. He had all this equipment. He had turn tables and all this shit at the house. Dr. Rythme, all the shit. I started buying instrumentals and writing raps. I always liked to write, and I always liked to memorize songs so that kinda ties together.

RE: So, why did you gravitate towards hip-hop?

Amp: When we were coming up, hip-hop was coming up. It was like the music of the youth, and something a lot of kids were into so naturally we gravitated towards it. It was definitely rebellious music in the 80s and it just grew. We sorta grew with it. It was part of our teenage culture.

Z: My brother got me into it. He would buy vinyl and he would buy stuff like Run DMC and Suga Hill Gang. All the old school shit. He would play that and he would be at the crib pop locking and dancing and I’d be watching him trying to copy so that was kind of my intro.

I’d go hang out with him at the roller skate rink and they would be playing like Jam One, Nucleuos, and The Message. We would be rollerskating and all these fools would be like popping their hats and I was like, “Oh this is the coolest thing ever.” I was young too, and he was my older brother and I was hanging out with him and he just looked so big to me. “Oh my god. I’m so cool. I’m hanging out with these older kids and their listening to this music.” That’s just how I just fell in love with it.

RIZE: It’s always fun having you guys here. So, how did you guys link up with artists like Minnesota and Pretty Lights?

Z: Pretty Lights – I think he used to tour Colorado a lot, and he used to be in a hip-hop group and they used to open for us back in the day. This is what he told me. I don’t really remember, but I guess he was a fan of our music so now that he is hella big he basically has guys that he respects and likes open up for him. He’ll have us or he’ll have like Grouch and Eligh because he will use different hip-hop groups that he respects and I think that’s dope. Minnesota – we met him through our management pretty much. I didn’t know him. Did you know him?

A: No I didn’t know him. I heard of him though through Bassnector and stuff.

Z: Yeah, so he sent us some music and it sounded good so we were like, “Yeah, that’s dope. He’s fresh.” He’s a cool guy.

RIZE: You both have children now, and I read that you said that your son kind of changed this album sound for you and it influenced what you were doing. So how would you say the sound has changed?

Z: Well I don’t know about the sound. I would say my energy, my being as a person has changed because I just look at myself in a more critical light. Before him I was like, “I’m doing good, I’m doing what I love to do,” but then when he came I had to reevaluate the way I looked at everything.

Some of this stuff like staying up hella late smoking weed and wasting time I don’t do as much anymore. I see how precious time is with him. From the time he was born, just a little blubbery baby, like a piece of clay. He can’t even do anything and now he’s running around trying to talk. The time goes so fast. I don’t want to waste time when I have a life in my hands, you know what I’m saying? I’m just more aware now I think, of my life and the way I spend my energy. I don’t want to waste time when I have this being to take care of. Before it didn’t matter I was just doing whatever.

RIZE: What made you progress from a more sample based 90’s sound to a more electric dance vibe.

A: It’s just the sound of right now, but we still do that you know. It just might be more spread out through different projects and stuff. That sound is still there. Right now it’s just a mass of culture. People are into everything and our album sort of represents that.

Luna Reyna

Luna Reyna (she/ella) is the founder of RIZE Entertainment. She is deeply invested in shifting power structures and centering and amplifying the work and voices of systematically excluded within the arts industries.