Zion I & The Grouch, Blu, The Jacka , and Shotgun Wedding Quintet are playing at the Fillmore in San Francisco on March 19th in what will surely be a mind-elevating experience. Zion I and the Grouch will be releasing their newest album three days later, on March 22nd. Pre-order here.
After a 5 year hiatus Zion I and the Grouch (Z&G for short) are back, and better than ever with the upcoming album Heroes in the Healing of the Nation. I got a sneak peak. This is what I thought of it:
I enjoy the production on this album as much as Kanye’s latest album. Each track off this CD is masterfully mixed– complex but not so much that it bogs down Zumbi or Grouch’s flow-space. Baba Zumbi’s poetic lyricism is filled with content– you can either be mesmerized by his flow or enthralled by his ability to weave stories and political statements together within the constraints of the verse. The Grouch, with his slower and cool delivery, gives time to reflect on his messages between syllables– so good. Some of the collaborating artists include– Casual (of Hieroglyphics), Roy Ayers (legendary vibes player), and up and coming Fashawn (Fresno-based)– and they all add something special to the album (especially Ayers).
One of the defining aspects of this album is the outstanding production and breadth displayed by AmpLive in the creation of the album. If you’re looking for an album that all blends together, look somewhere else. Each track off of this album is unique and distinct. AmpLive’s world of “hip hop” is composed of jazz, rock, and even some Middle Eastern riffs– and always accompanied by a powerful drum line or bass. The songs, unlike a typical hip-hop song, have much more variation. This makes the album a breeze to listen to on repeat, because no sound is alike. Your temporal lobe will dig it.
The other defining feature of this album is its positive social messages. They range from being a father to ones child (my mom loved this one), encouraging leadership, and bringing out the hero in each us. These messages manifest musically in jazzy upbeat vibes, a chill reggae beat, and uplifting voices (choir and individual voices), and most clearly in the lyrics of the songs, which are available here.
You are one of the most socially conscious rappers out there today. In this album, I don’t think you even uttered a swear word or derogatory term. And of course, this is the most positive hip hop album I’ve ever listened to in terms of its messages. Tell me about your decision to head in this direction, and how you think this album will be received by your fans.
Zumbi: Right on. It’s funny because I view myself as an MC, conscious or not, I just try to come fresh and provocative on the regular. We chose this direction for the album because the world is coming to a tipping point soon. There are revolutions popping up across the planet right now, people are struggling with issues of sustainability, and the economic system has been faltering for almost a decade now. It is our intention to put out music that helps to move us forward into a higher state of awareness. We are simply stewards of a changing society and people. The music is our offering to be a catalyst in this evolutionary step.
What message off this album resonates with you most?
The Grouch: I really can’t just choose one. My favorite songs right now are Test Of Time with Marty James and Victorious People with Freeway. Be A Father of course is a song concept that I’m all about. To be a good parent is the hardest and most rewarding job in the world. I didn’t have a father figure to teach me how to do it correctly. I vow to never be that guy who doesn’t have a great relationship with his kids.
How involved were Zumbi and the Grouch with the making of the music? Was there a brainstorm before beginning the album about the sounds that all of you wanted included, or was it up to you?
AmpLive- I want to give your readers a sense of the collaboration that went into the creation of this album. They were very influential in the music and had opinions i respected. This group is more of a circular type of concept. We did brainstorm about the album, but the sound kinda took a life of its own. I told them i wanted this album to be thematic, like “The Watchmen” movie..and rough kind of. So I tried to have that vibe to most of the music.
How was it getting back in the studio with Zumbi and AmpLive?
The Grouch: It was time, I like the idea flow when we all get together. Sometimes we go in the studio and just brainstorm and get caught up in deep conversation and that part is just as fun as recording the actual music.
How was it getting back in the studio with the Grouch?
Zumbi: It’s always a pleasure getting in the studio with Grouch because he wants his music to do more than just sound cool. There is a sincere desire to assist people through our music, so it’s always inspiring to connect on that level artistically.
You and Zumbi clearly had fun with this album– using wit and humor to enhance the lyricism of the album. What place do you see wit and humor playing into the dynamics of this album?
The Grouch: I think it’s important to bring a couple humorous moments to any album. No matter how serious things are it’s always good to laugh and smile. Hopefully some of the music has that effect on people. Wit is a requirement for any good rap.
What is your process for making music? Where does it start and end? The final beats are obviously extremely dynamic and complex– how does it get to that level?
AmpLive- Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it takes awhile and things are re-done. It starts with a feeling or emotion. A lot of times i will have ideas in my head for a few months and work them out, then get to them when I have a chance. It ends with a finished feeling in myself, like, “that’s it.” It just takes patience and knowing yourself.
Life experiences clearly played a role in the creation of this album: the Bay, your recent parenthood, relationships. What has been your experience sharing parts of your personal life and personality with your audience and fans through your music?
Zumbi: It has been a great blessing. My music is like a journal. Everything that I feel, think, or experience comes out in my art. It’s interesting because people relate to the struggles on a personal level, so when I see them after a show they are connected to the music in an emotional way. I am thankful when folks tell me that the music has helped them through a difficult period. It lets me know that I am doing the right service for humanity. It’s all about the universality of this existence, as an artist, I just share my little piece with honesty and clarity.
More About Zion I (short documentary by Jesse Rosenberg):