Zion I: The resurgence

by Keenan Ketzner

storied artist almost always has a storied past, and that much is true of Zion I.

Zion I, for those who are unfamiliar, was a hip-hop duo that put out a number of critically acclaimed albums in its time. 2000’s Mind Over Matter and 2005’s True & Livin’ still get love with their eclectic and hard-hitting beats and conscious lyrics, and might as well be considered alt hip-hop modern classics. They put out numerous LPs, EPs, singles and collaborations in their time, but over the years the dynamic of the group started to change.

Things started to get big for both members that made up Zion I – Baba Zumbi (the MC) and Amp Live (the producer) – and both started finding less time to work together in the organic way that originally made the project work. As their skills continued to grow equally but apart, they found themselves going in separate directions.

Amp Live’s interest in experimenting with epic forms of hip-hop lead him to diverge into many other side-projects, all of which are dense and amazing, but also took him to so many places that he couldn’t stay central to the Zion I group any longer.

“We weren’t really holding onto it because of that fluidity of creativity, that artistic spark that was once there. That got real dull, and it got to the point where he wanted to focus on his solo stuff, and I was like, ‘you do your thing and I’ll hold this down.’ It’s all good… Amp Live left the crew earlier this year…  Now that Amp’s not in the group anymore, I’m just back to being Zion I.”

So on lives Zion I, who continues using the moniker in his new direction to restore the original passion and spirit of the group, working with multiple new collaborators that provide him all kinds of beats from trap to R&B, making the work exciting again. Which, to Zion I, is what the group was originally about anyway.

“We definitely weren’t considering marketing or branding or anything like that, was just two young guys trying to make some fresh art… Kinda like with these new people on new tracks, [we’re] just making music, having fun.”

Now that the passion is restored, Zion hopes to bring out another album next year, leading up to a series of music videos for his singles to be released starting October. He said it will have a more traditional hip-hop sound and less of the techno/electronic driven direction the group had been taking since the mid 2000s.

“I feel like the sound is better, it feels like I’m excited about music again. And I was getting dulled out to it for a while, I’m not gonna lie, it felt like work. Who wants to go see someone rapping, and that’s their day job? I want to do it because I want to, I love to, and I enjoy it. I’m trying to set that role model for my kid.”

With a tour to follow the release of the new album, The Rapture: Live from Oaklandia, the future looks quite bright for Zion I. There us talk of even more collaborations, various side-projects, and possibly a graphic novel that Zion’s been writing. He is excited, thus we are excited.

LIVE SHOW: See Zion I at The Wild Buffalo on Thursday, Oct. 15, with Grayskul, The Bad Tenants, and Mostafa. Tickets are $12. For more info, see www.zionicrew.com. 

Published in the October 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine