With the prevalence of Lil B and tracks like LoveRance’s “Up!” gaining national attention, what’s your current take on the state of hip-hop in the Bay Area compared to where it’s been?

It’s interesting because you have a lot of guys who have this big, pop sound. HBK Gang, LoveRance, Iamsu!, Erk tha Jerk and even Traxamillion, they have this Bay thing but it sounds like you can’t tell where it’s from. It doesn’t sound like Atlanta. It doesn’t sound like Chicago. It sounds like the Bay but with all these different influences from the South and even rapping a little bit like the East Coast. It’s just interesting to me.

I think the Bay Area is in a good place right now. There’s a lot of young guys who are dope spitters who are coming up. I’m eager to see that because I feel like for a long time the Bay Area was pigeonholed as either really super backpack or gangsta music. I think the new crop of cats are a hybrid of both. They’re not really super street although they kind of deal with it a little bit, and they’re not really nerdy, hip-hop purists either. They’re kind of walking in between the lane, and I think that’s really what it’s about—being yourself and doing what you feel.

On one album cut “We Don’t,” you once again link up with Grouch and Eligh. What is it about that partnership that’s continually yielded good results for all parties concerned?

Sometimes you just trip up and find something good on the street. You just walk off and you look down and there’s $10 bucks on the ground, and you pick it up and you say “Damn, thank you.” You don’t know where it came from or why, but it’s just a good thing. That’s pretty much how our relationship with those guys is.

We met Grouch when we made “Silly Puddy” on Mind Over Matter, and that was kind of random. I heard Living Legends, I heard Hiero, everybody, and I [liked Grouch] because he just sounded honest. Then “Silly Puddy” came out, and it’s still one of our most well-known songs 12 years later. People are still screaming for that in the middle of the set. It’s crazy to me. It’s like that song inspired all the rest of this, from the Zion I and Grouch albums to even collaborating further with Eligh.

What’s cool about them is they’re human beings who are striving for more in their lives. We sit down and have good conversations about life. We’re always talking about real issues in our lives, the struggles we’ve been through, and we try to encourage other people to get over their own hump or get through whatever challenge they’re being faced with. I think that’s kind of the glue of why we work together so well.

Zion I performs October 5 at Mezzanine and October 13 at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz as part of their ShadowBoxing tour. The duo’s mixtape, Bomb First, is available at jperiod.com/zioni.

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