I got to ask a few questions of Zumbi and The Grouch in an email interview.
MC: What is the history of Zion I and The Grouch? What brought these two acts together?
The Grouch: We were both doing underground hip hop in Oakland in the late 90's. We respected each others music. When they asked to me to be on their Mind Over Matter album it was all love. We felt a good connection with each other and the rest is history.
MC: Your last collaboration, Heroes in the City of Dope, came out in 2006. Why the long hiatus? How has Z&G changed/evolved, both in musical and philosophical terms, since then?
The Grouch: I can't really view it as a hiatus considering all the music we've each been involved in between ‘06 and now (The Grouch's Show You the World in 2008, Zion I's The Takeover in 2009 and AmpLive's Murder at the Discotech in 2010, Zumbi X the Are present: The Burnerz 2010 for example), not to mention countless features and numerous mixtapes/unofficial albums. Also, we all have our own families now. I think our music reflects the growth and maturity that were learning through our roles within those [projects/circumstances].
We don't want to stop there, though, and just call it your generic "grown folk music" so I think we're all pushin' for something innovative, fresh, fun and of course banging. We're still very hungry to create.
MC: I absolutely loved the latest album, Heroes in the Healing of the Nation (which I reviewed here). What do you think is the most pressing issue young people in America (and abroad, I suppose) face today?
The Grouch: Well Nation isn't really meant to be taken as USA per se. The world has got so many issues right now. I think we have to take it back to the basics - reel everything in and just begin again with loving, respecting and enjoying each other and the planet.
Zumbi: I think it’s hard to resist the temptation to self-destruct. Everything in the media is about instant gratification of the ego. There are hardly any reassuring messages about being able to shape reality and live the life we’ve always imagined. Instead, competition and materialism are reinforced to the point that we don’t even know why we want all the things that we crave so much.
MC: What inspired the strong political messages behind these songs? Has Z&G always been so politically-minded, or was it the socio-economic/political landscapes of the past five years that fueled these songs?
The Grouch: The climate of the world is intense right now. It's impossible for me to not take note of what's going on around us and speak on it. I wouldn't be real if I didn't at least try.
Zumbi: I have always been concerned with the spiritual/socio/political. However, I wax and wane according to what’s going on in my life. These days, life is so intense. With all the talk about prophecies being fulfilled with the 2012 thing, earthquakes, radiation, a flailing economy, etc…there’s almost too much to talk about! We had to do this record. It was the only option for my sanity’s sake.
MC: Can you elaborate on the story behind some of the new songs, such as “I Used To Be A Vegan,” “Frankenstein,” “Healing Of The Nation” and “Plead The Fifth”?
The Grouch: “I Used To Be A Vegan,” to me, represents the fact that we’re ever evolving. A lot of times there's no one right answer. I've been a vegetarian, a pescatarian, a vegan, a raw foodist, etc. While I was "being" some of those things I believed I would continue to eat that way for the rest of my life. I don't claim any of those titles now. Was I wrong for trying them out and thinking that was "the answer" for a certain portion of my life? No, I was learning, changing, being human. It's like that with a lot of things in life. You could substitute religion or music genre, political party, sports, etc. It's a fun song!
Zumbi: “I Used to be a Vegan” is discussing my experience with being extreme with my diet. I just up and went cold turkey one day and dropped meat and cheese. I learned a lot in the process. “Frankenstein” is discussing the darker side of society and our own responsibility for its existence. We all feed the monster, but then we complain about it too. If we stop feeding it, the monster will die. “Healing of the Nation” is a song about bringing people together, collectivizing to find solutions. In “Plead the Fifth,” I’m talking about the war between pharmaceutical companies and the human race. I feel that Western medicine neglects the our true health in order to ensure its own existence. They treat the symptoms, but the underlying root of disease is always present.
MC: In your opinion, what is the best way young people can “heal the nation”?
The Grouch: Develop your own inner hero. Decide who you want to be and be it. Everyone was born with the ability to make a positive impact on this planet. Figure out how to do that and inspire those around you to do the same.
Zumbi: Healing must start from within. I believe that the mind helps to direct the spirit and the body. If we quiet the mind, we allow room for the spirit to flourish. When we connect with our intuition, our natural guidance system takes hold, and then we can sit back and enjoy the grand adventure of life. I believe that we are coming up on collective ascension. It is time to tune in to our higher selves. Turn off the TV. Breathe calmly, slowly and deeply. We change as individuals, and add to the collective as we move.
MC: What new/emerging artists are you into right now?
Zumbi: I’m feeling Los Rakas, these Panamanian dudes from Oakland. Just flavor on top of flavor... cool peoples too. The Burnerz is a project I did with my homey, the Are, out of Houston. It’s a great album. My brother CX from Brooklyn is pure illness. BangData up out of the Bay is creating genre-bending sounds. There’s so much good music out right now... it’s hard to keep up!
Zion I and The Grouch brought young people of Eugene, OR together last night at a show at the historic McDonald Theatre. The concert hall pulsated with heavy 808s and reggae/rock/dubstep overtones. Z&G performed tracks from both 2006's Heroes in the City of Dope as well as the new album, Heroes in the Healing of the Nation. Audience members eagerly clapped, danced, and sang along to songs such as "Victorious People" and "Rockit Man," the group's latest single. Lighters, cell phones and hands were raised to the ceiling in celebration of the band's call to unity, freedom and self-appreciation.
On a personal note, I find the motivational messages of Z&G's music to be particularly valuable during this time of political and economical strife, when politicians advance their personal agendas instead of serving their constituents and the rights of a corporation are favored over the rights of an individual. If the government does not address our needs, at least we can take solace in knowing that we, the people, can come together - through music, cultural understanding and open-mindedness - and create whatever change we desire in our lives.
Zion I and The Grouch are currently on the "Healing of the Nation" tour; they will be in Portland, OR tonight, Seattle, WA on Saturday and Missoula, MT on Sunday. All proceeds from tickets purchased from ZioniandtheGrouch.com will be donated to local community organizations, according to a press release from the band.
“Since being usurped by major labels, commercial hip-hop has leaned toward excess,” Zumbi said in the press release. “For me, the materialistic ideals of the artists basically mimics the ethos of our balls-to-the walls capitalist society. … We want to inspire people to consider these issues and blaze their own pathway. It’s all about encouraging folks to lead, not follow.”
“When we give freely of our hearts, the universe returns the energy back to us tenfold,” Zumbi added. “The idea is to share whatever [is] extra so that the whole benefits instead of just the individual.”