Freedom is the Last Frontier

An Interview with Zion of Zion I
by JR of the SF Bayview

For Black Future Month, we chopped up game with Zion from the Bay Area-based Hip Hop group Zion I. I have been involved in doing community work in the Bay for a while now, and as far back as I remember, Zion was out there doing what he could to enlighten our people on everything from Prop 21 to bringing attention to Black businesses by shooting a video at the Black-owned Black Dot Cafť, which used to be on 23rd and E14 on the strip, to performing at the Voices of Resistance Ethnic Studies Conference for high schoolers, to performing alongside Blackalicious at a fundraiser for Youthspeaks, a Frisco based non-profit of poets that are involved in community work.

Zion keeps the revolutionary fire spirit lit in the minds of the people. Beyond the music, I have a lot of respect for the Brotha because he walks how he talks, unlike a lot of people out in the Bay who rap about one thing and go about their daily lives doing the total opposite.

Even in the music, Zion I is taking the Bay Area to the next level, because it ainít nobody that has touched Hip Hop that Iíve heard of who even sounds like them. Zion I is pushing this music that we call Hip Hop to new frontiers with a whole different sound. Their shit is dope and different. What more can you ask for in a world where Clear Channel only plays the same five same-sounding Neptune-produced, degrading rap songs all over the country in three month rotations?

For all of you out-of-towners reading this, Black people in the Bay are not just killers as the corporate media would like for you to think. Artists here are about innovation just like when En Vogue and Tony, Toni, Tone hit the scene with their singing, and Hip Hop artists like Hieroglyphics, Digital Underground, the Luniz, Mystic and Goapele changed up what people thought of when they thought of Bay music.

For all of yaíll that donít know, you need to peep the new Zion I album ďDeepwater Slang Version 2.0.Ē This may very well be the group that puts the Bay back into that national prominence in the Hip Hop game that we were enjoying out here in the early Ď90s. Yaíll check out what the good Brotha Zion has to say Ö

JR: Where are yaíll originally from? I always see yaíll in the Bay. Whatís the story on that?

Zion: I was born in Philly, but I moved all around, and before I went to college I lived in the Bay. I went to De La Salle in Concord. I went to Atlanta in Ď91, met my potna Amp, we lived in the same dorm at Morehouse. He was from San Antonio, Texas. So in Atlanta we hooked up and was working on our music out there, man.

I came back out here after we graduated. We had been out there for like a year after we graduated. I was like, man, I got to do this music, and it just wasnít moving for us out there.

So we came back to the Bay, and it started poppiní as soon as we came out. I told (Amp), yo man come out here. I rep the Bay though, cuz this is where I have been for so long, thatís what I know. I donít really know Philadelphia, cuz I only lived there for about five or six years of my life. I was young.

JR: How important is the movement and positivity to your music?

Zion: Itís one of the main motivations for the music. I mean, we could make something thatís saying ďfuck this hoeĒ and ďI am going to make my muthaphuckin scrill,Ē we could do that, but that ainít really how Brothas feel.

The point is that one of the main reasons why we do music is because we feel like we have something to say thatís relevant to the community, you know what Iím saying, and we care about how our folkz is living. As well as that, we also down with God, and being down with God, we just trying to be better people. And being a better person is helping your Brotha or your Sista get up, you know what Iím saying. Itís just part of how we move with our music.

And the Movement, man, itís like the closer this world gets to being just out of control, the more you can just see the idiosyncrasies and the hypocritical nature of the government and how they just been pimping us, and ainít nothing changed since slavery. Really, itís just a mental attitude now. Instead of it being physical shackles, itís a mental chain.

But we chain ourselves because we ainít been able to break that yoke yet, in our minds, you know what Iím saying? And as we move forward with that, itís like you see how the Movement is relevant to changing our state, because when I have seeds, I donít want them coming up how I came up. I want them to be a step ahead of where I am at, at least.

And I want their children to feel complete freedom at some point, cuz we feel free but weíre not cuz we are programmed to not be free. We can be and in actuality we are free, but we not because we donít know that we are for real. We donít really know our divine state yet. We can talk about it, but we donít really live it yet.

JR: What would freedom be?

Zion: Freedom for me would be if I could ever look at the world and see that there is not a million Brothas in jail, and itís not like 35-40 percent of us on the frontlines of war. Little stuff like that means we ainít free, blood, cuz we doing the dirty work, you what Iím saying?

And weíre still at the bottom, holding up the structure, holding up the pyramid, you know what I mean? This land was built on our blood. So if I could go to a Black neighborhood and my people got nice houses and cribs and people, thatís cool, and it ainít no crime. And I could go to a white neighborhood and I can see them living poor or broke.

I could go to a Black neighborhood and see crime, and I could go to a white neighborhood and see crime. But when I go to nice neighborhoods, theyíre always white, you know what I mean. I never really been to no cool Black neighborhoods, except in LA, the Oakland hills a little bit and in Atlanta. But everywhere else that I go, people and Brothas be struggling, and I could dip to Beverly Hills and itís all white. When that changes and thatís different, thereíll be a certain degree of freedom, at least on this material level.

JR: What would spiritual freedom be like?

Zion: Iím still trying get to know that one, you know, thatís real. I can only imagine. I guess that would just be knowing who you are, whoever you are, whether you are Asian, Latino, African or whatever. Just knowing your divine connection to your higher self and knowing that you got all of the four elements and that you donít have to be any one way, you just gotta be who you are. You donít have to do nothing else, but do that.

JR: So whatís going on with the music? I know you got a new album out. Can you tell us about it?

Zion: The name of the album is ďDeepwater Slang Version 2.0.Ē Itís basically like a baptism type of vibe with the water going on and us trying to cleanse free and let loose things that we experience, challenges, personal and otherwise, but letting that music be the water that cleans us out and washes us off, rinses, and go forward the next day with a clean slate ready to move, staying in the moment. Thatís kind of what the album is about.

JR: Tell me a little about your potna since heís not here. Whatís Amp about?

Zion: Amp is about the unspoken (but) heard, man. He doesnít want to say much with his mouth as much, because he lets his music move the peoples to where he feels they should be. Heís more of a cat of action. He doesnít like to talk a lot of mess, you know what Iím saying. He likes to get business done and handle it, and thatís that. And we keep doing business, you know what Iím saying, we keep making it happen.

JR: What does his sound sound like?

Zion: I would say that his sound is real melodic based. And like on this new album, he ventured out and did a lot of live instrumentation on the album, mixed with the hard production, so itís still bumpiní. But then you got these ethereal tones and smooth graceful tones and melodies coming over the top of it. It just sounds different.

JR: And last question: if you had some youngstas right here that looked up to Zion I, what would you tell them?

Zion: I would tell them, man, to just sit in some silence. Take some time for yourself every day, and let your inner voice tell you whatís up. Be honest with yourself. And be who you are. Donít be ashamed to be who you are, you know what Iím saying, cuz you are that way for a reason.

You are who you are for a reason. And itís like whatever you are gonna do - be an MC, be a producer, you gonna be a graf writer, gonna be a b-boy, doctor, lawyer, wherever you see yourself in your dreams - go for that shit and donít never let nobody take that from you, you know what Iím saying?

Imagine that in your head. Creatively visualize how you want to be every day. Take a couple of minutes to do that every day, to visualize yourself, how you want to be. Not like the negative things, cuz you might visualize something that you might not want to really be, but you think you do. But you are going to create that. Then you are going to see that you donít need that, and then you are going to keep evolving and metamorphing. So thatís what Iíll say, man: know yourself and love yourself.

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