Friday, May 12, 2006

"The Beat" Q&A Interview: MC Zion of Zion I

Seems like for the past two years, Zion I has been carrying the Bay Area's underground indy hip-hop scene on its back. As veterans of the Bay Area's hip-hop scene, they have managed to remain relevant and fresh four albums into their careers, a coup in the hip-hop universe.

Back in 1998, when they released their critically praised debut "Mind Over Matter," the group was lauded for their east coast-styled beats, MC Zion's nasal-toned delivery and high impact lyrics, and DJ/producer Amp Live's experimental beats (mixing drum n bass with old school boom bap). The group has maintained that quality control through their recent album release, 2005's "True & Livin." They have also established themselves as road warriors, performing between 150 to 200 shows a year.

MC Zion, the group's frontman, recently took time to talk to "The Beat" before the final stop on their recent tour (show review can be viewed below). He talked about hyphy, touring non-stop, and the group's upcoming projects with Bay Area underground and turf rappers.

Thanks for taking time to talk to "The Beat."
It's all good man.

You just finished a long tour? How many dates?
All together like 28 shows.

You guys tour a lot?
For the last couple of years we've just been out there.

It seems like a lot of mainstream rap artists, specifically street and gangsta rappers, don't tour as much as the indy cats. Can you speak in general about the benefit of being such a road warrior as an indie hip-hop artist?
It really, for us, has always been one of our best ways to market ourselves and our music to our fans. They have a close attanchment than if they see a video or hear you on the radio. It's been one of the main ways to get a fan base or to expand our fan base. We stuck by it and pounded it out and kep going on tours and trying to make our show better.

You guys have one of the livest shows I've seen. Is that due to the constant touring?
It's also like, it's definitely a conscious effort to try to make it hype and keep it live. The years of doing it doens' hut, it adds to it.

A lot of it is that we spend a lot of time practicing. Some shit is not hype, other stuff isn't, and you find a way to clip the stuff that's isn't and get witht the stuff that is...

(the phone cuts off; after several attempts at redial, we finally hook up again...)

What was the best show on the recent tour?
The best show? There were a lot of good ones. I thought Vancouver (British Columbia) was dope.

What stood out with that show?
I just didn't expect it. I didn't expect it to be hot, and I didn't expect people to show up. And when they showed up,they showed up in droves, they knew all the words to the songs.

That one, Madison, Wisconsin was dope. The show in Boston was dope. The show in Seattle was dope... It was a dope tour for us. I have no complaints whatsoever.

You guys are from the Bay, and I'm sure you've noticed the whole hyphy thing is kinda blowing up now in the mainstream, what's your impression?
I like it, some of them cats do that music for my peoples. I think it's great for The Bay to lay claim to something new and fresh. For a long time, we've been slept on. And not just the G-shit, even indy cats.

I think it's good the youngsters have created something dope and different and new. And it's good to see a vet like E-40 has championed it. Hopefully it will make a young cat come up and make a name for themselves and make it a tradition. It's fun to dance to in the club. It's a good time regardlesss.

You did a remix of your song "The Bay," that had street/turf rappers like Balance, San Quinn and Turf Talk. Is there room for more intermingling between the bay's hyphy/turf rappers and its indy rappers?
I definitely think so. I don't think everyone can do it, but to me it's all hip-hop and its your perspective on what's going on around you. I feel like generally speaking, good hip-hop comes from a unique place, your unique vision on life in general.

We're definitely planning to make a whole mixtape dedicated to that idea, mixing turf cats with indie cats. After we finish this album with the Grouch and Zion I, we'll do that hopefully for the summer.

We're trying to push the boundary for what people will expect It's all music to us. I'm an old school hip hop cat. When we first got on to hip hop, it was Totally different. You had A Tribe Called Quest doing songs with Mobb Deep, and it's a different perspective but it totally work. That's the view we're on right now.

Which musicians, hip-hop or otherwise, influenced you coming up?
Early on, cats like Earth, Wind & Fire, The Gap Band, Rick James, just funk based stuff. When hip-hop came around, I got into jazz, stuff like Coltrane, Rakim, Bob Marley, Nas, Outkast ,A Tribe Called Queat, Run-DMC. Just a lot of the golden age stuff.

Any new projects we should be looking out for?
The Zion I/Grouch album.

That sounds cool.
Yeah, it sounds pretty cool, the album itself. It's a good look right now, wer'e a little more than halfway finished. We should be out by September or so. After that we're working on the Zion I album for next year. Our distribution company closed down, otherwise we'd have stuff out now.

We have this album called The Alpha, it's a bunch of songs from the old school days, pre-Mind Over Matter. I don't know when that will come out, we'll see... Amp Live has a new mix CD, it's a bunch of mash ups. I have a solo joint, Baba Zumbi, The Science of Breath part two, that's like my own mixtape, alter ego type of thing.

What's up with Duece Eclipse?
He just dropped his album, Radio Plantation, he's got an album out right now, check it out.

Anything else you wanna throw out there?
Check out the weebsite, We hav a new video online on blastro, it's just basic stuff. Check it out.

Thanks again for taking the time to talk to us in Monterey County.
For sho, man.

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