Zion I have long been a staple of the Bay Area hip hop scene. Ever since the release of 2000’s critically acclaimed debut Mind Over Matter, the duo’s adventurous sound has the Bay Area hip hop tradition of exploring new musical territory.Recently, the Oakland duo linked up with long-time friend J. Period to release Bomb First, an old-school style mixtape featuring new Zion I material in addition to tracks from artists the group currently cites as inspiration. Yet again, in an age where mixtapes typically feature original studio tracks, Amp Live and Zumbi took the left field approach in typical Bay fashion.
With the duo both recently becoming fathers, their latest album ShadowBoxing marks a transition for the two as they transition into becoming parents, a change Zumbi admits was initially tough. I spoke with Zumbi by phone to find out a bit more about the inspiration behind Zion I’s latest album and gain some insight on how much or how little things have have changed.
Can you speak on the title of Zion I’s upcoming release, ShadowBoxing, which you’ve been quoted as saying is about “seeking awareness in the darkness of one’s own psyche”?
Well, mainly I had a son. He’s almost two years old. The first nine months to a year of him being in existence was a big transitional time for me. I heard all the stories but it just didn’t register for me for awhile. Around the ninth month, [I just came] to the full realization that he’s my son and I have to be a good model for him to be successful in his life. It made me really look at a lot of the negative things I was doing in my life.
I feel like in general, I’m a pretty positive person on the outside, but I feel like on the inside, I still wrestle. I had to let go of a lot of the nonsense. It was just trapping me. I just had to really look at myself, and it was definitely a challenging period, but I guess the music was the perfect way to channel a lot of those things I was dealing with and thinking about.
I know [Amp Live] is dealing with a lot of similar stuff because we’re new fathers. He has two kids now. It’s just a transition, coming into full adulthood, and I thought it was appropriate. I’ve also been doing tai chi in the last year pretty hardcore, and it’s really given me a good foundation for making a lot of these changes that I talk about on the record. Shadow boxing is the original name for tai chi, so I thought it all linked up together pretty well.
This album carries a bit of an EDM influence. It’s particularly apparent on “Trapped Out” and “Re-Load.” Zion I has always been willing to branch outside typical hip-hop confines, so what was it about that sound that made it a through-line for this album?
It’s interesting because [when we were] making this record, we didn’t really set out to say “Alright, we’re gonna do something that sounds more like dance music.” That’s actually something we usually do with our albums. With this record, I was like “Amp, let’s do some slap”—that’s what I call bass, heavy 808’s and kicks. He started sending me these tracks, and I was like “Yeah, exactly!” That’s the dope thing about working with him too. I know he’s gonna do something fresh, so I don’t really have to trip. We just kind of started making records and I think [the sound is] kind of just what [the producers] were feeling.
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