Published on April 9th, 2018 | by David Morales0
Zion I and DJ Fresh in ‘The Tonite Show with Zion I’
The Hype magazine welcomes back the socially conscious East Bay rapper Zumbi, also known as Zion I, who recently dropped a 10-track LP with producer DJ Fresh. It was recorded while on tour together in 2016 and provides multidimensional backdrops with a variety of Hip-hop elements. “The Tonite Show” features artists like Living Legends rapper Eligh, One Be Lo, Kev Choice, Illuminati Congo and DJ Remedy. The new LP has a range of stylistic influences and mid-tempo grooves that harvest a collection of captivating tracks.
It’s a mixture of all kinds of stuff getting thrown in. It was like we had our own Gumbo — Zumbi.
But what can be said about the subject matter? Taking the time to talk with The Hype magazine, Zumbi discussed the political context of the project, touching on topics such as racism, gun violence, and the desensitizing effects of mass media while noting his values. An interesting concept Zumbi lays out is how exposure to media violence and can undermine feelings of concern or empathy that viewers might have toward victims of actual violence. “For me, it was like a promotional idea. They just kept running that shit back over and over to where it’s like mind numbing. We are being desensitized to it, and it became normalized because it keeps happening,” Zumbi told The Hype magazine. Nothing illustrates this more than the track “Killa” which was written in response to African American men being shot by police.
Zumbi and DJ Fresh released their first video for the track “Work,” which is a song about dedication and commitment. Zumbi went on to explain how DJ Fresh motivated him while on tour. “His work ethic was so dope that it inspired me. So, I thought that song was perfect to embody what this project was about,” Zumbi expressed. “The Tonite Show with Zion I” is definitely dope and worth adding to your play list.
Can you give a little bit of an overview about your latest project “The Tonite Show”?
Basically, DJ Fresh and I were on tour during the summer of 2016. After a couple of shows he was just like — Yo man, we are out here together, we have never done music together, let’s make an album! I was like alright! DJ Fresh was like — listen man, I’m going to make beats and I’m going to keep giving them to you. Just keep recording and writing. So, I was like, alright. I took it as a challenge to just stay productive while on the road, because, you know, you can spend a lot of time in the car just sitting there or just randomly in a hotel room, not doing too much of anything. So, I was like, let’s do it.
Plus, my wife was pregnant with our third child. So, I knew when I got home, I wouldn’t be able to do that much for at least a couple of months. So basically, we just started working on the road and I did a lot of writing in the car. DJ Fresh would give me beats and I’d be like — Yo, I like that one – and he would be like cool, just write something to it. What I liked about it was that DJ Fresh encouraged me not to think too much and just write whatever came to my head. I went with my gut feelings instead of trying to craft these super conceptual songs. I recorded a lot of it with a little mic I had which allowed to record on the road.
What can you tell me about your new single “Work”?
Basically, the hook was there and there was no basis. As soon as I heard it, I was like — man, this is super go. It’s such easy concept of work and I’ll feel like DJ Fresh really embodies that because on that tour he was making at least seven, eight beats a day. He would play me all these beats and I was like – damn, his work ethic is crazy! I’ve been making music for a long time and I think in the beginning when you start working and making music you’re just super juiced and you’re gassed. But as you do it for a while, you kind of start to be like — oh, I know what I’m doing — you know, you can almost take it for granted a little bit. I liked the energy that he was bringing. His work ethic was so dope that it inspired me. So, I thought that song was perfect to embody what this project was about.
How would you describe the nature of the material of this particular collection?
It’s really multidimensional. It’s the classic boom-bap type style beats like the song “Killa” and “Vision Quest.” Then you have more Bay area sounding stuff like “CBDA.” I think “Work” and “Reap” sounds almost more like down south. It’s interesting because what’s cool about it is DJ Fresh was making some of these beats while we are traveling throughout the country literally while we were on tour. We were in the West Coast. We were in the mountains. We were on the East Coast and in the deep South.
So, as we traveled, he was making music kind of like his vibe. I remember “Reap,” he made that while we are in South Carolina. He made “Still Jammin’” when we were in Texas. So, we were kind of soaking up the energy to where we were going. I thought that was really dope, because it shows that Hip-hop is a Gumbo. It’s a mixture of all kinds of stuff getting thrown in. Especially in this day in age. It was like we had our own Gumbo. But then it’s like we’re also sampling. I think that’s just kind of what the heck it is, it’s a sampling of a modern era where Hip-hop is through our own.
With all the new kinds of musical styles being developed, what are some new kinds of music you are keen on exploring at the moment?
Right now, I’m going on tour with the group called Lespecial. They are interesting! They follow a similar trajectory, like they will play J Dilla. They will play some Falcons style Hip-hop and then they will play Primus and Nine Inch Nails. It’s like all over the place. It goes from this groovy thing to super hard and then back to groovy. We are working on some stuff together and we are trying to find this pocket of hard groove type music, kind of like dance. I’m not really sure what it’s going to sound like yet but I’m really curios because we all have this kind of oddball perspective and I think when it all comes together its going to be real dope!
What is your favorite track on “The Tonite Show” series?
I would say “Killa” is my favorite because it was written during the summer of 2016 when a lot of African American men were being shot by the police and it was being broadcast on TV. For me, it was like a promotional idea. That is the way it came across to me on the news. They kept running that shit back and forth over and over like somebody who’s promoting and marketing a tape. That’s the way it came across to me on the news. Like they just kept running that shit back over and over to where it’s like mind numbing. We are being desensitized and it became normalized because it keeps happening.
So, I wrote “Killa” in response. In Western society and in America there is this lens of violence. For example, when you learn about history in school its basically all about the history of our wars and I’m questioning this mentality. We are prone to accepting it! Just like we accept the NRA as this powerful marketing ploy. So, basically “Killa” is really questioning our society and where we are and looking at the oppression of my people. We got to change it!