By Bob Waegner
Word on the street is that there’s a Chinese curse that goes “May you live in interesting times.” While there’s no evidence that Chinese culture ever birthed this brilliantly passive-aggressive remark, its truth is indisputable. Living in this very interesting age often does feel like a curse. Zumbi, the MC of the long-lived hip-hop duo Zion I, gave some time to the Synthesis to discuss his and producer Amp Live’s seventh album, Atomic Clock, and the times we’re living in.
Talking about the title of your new album, Atomic Clock, you wrote on your website “Time is speeding up. Everything is exponential now.” Would you like to expand on that?
I just feel like we’re living in an interesting time right now. I just feel like the world is reaching this precipice. We live in a carbon based economy but we know there’s not an infinite amount of oil. There’s just a lot of stuff going on everywhere. People are finally realizing that we have to do something [for] the environment. I mean, we’ve known these things forever and we’re finally just taking these steps. For me, I just feel like humanity [needs to] adopt a more collective perspective.
If you see ants, they all work together no matter what. They all work to protect the queen, the queen gives birth to all the ants, it’s a community. There’s no selfishness, there’s no ego. With humanity, we defy that. We’re all about ourselves. We’ve been taught selfishness and ownership; ‘I own the land, I own the water’ and I feel like these things have to fall to the side for us to progress and I feel like we’re getting to that point.
With this record, I feel like most of the songs are directed at the idea of hopefully inspiring people to be more collectively aware of other human beings.
So the record is [written] around these themes; hopefully inspiring people to think about things in a larger frame of reference.
Zion-I is from Oakland. What’s your reaction to the Oscar Grant case and recent sentencing of Johannes Mehserle?
It’s heartbreaking, man. I remember watching that footage for the first time and it brought tears to my eyes immediately. I forwarded it, I put it on my blog, I sent an email out to my friends. It’s a travesty of justice. We live in California. We live in the Bay Area. [It’s] supposed to be one of the most progressive, socially aware places in the country. To see this happen there is just like a kick in the gut. This man lost his life. He was shot execution style. You see [how] the system protects it’s own. This guy ends up getting less time than Michael Vick. Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg and got more time than Johannes Mehserle, who killed a man. It’s a reminder of how twisted the system is.
How important do you think political activism is in music? Is there anything you listened to as a kid or even now that speaks to you?
Yeah, most of the music I listened to growing up had something of that [spirit]. KRS-One, Public Enemy, Bob Marley, even John Coltrane with no lyrics, I could just feel the intention of where his music was coming from. U2, their early stuff was very political. I used to like that a lot.
Music is an art form which I feel can help people heal. Music is a vibration. Basically you’re tuning in people’s emotions. It’s like a direct link to how people feel and when you put in good energy…it can help people just be aware or feel better about the moment. One of the best compliments we get about our music is when people tell me, “I was going through a real hard time and this record or this song really helped me get through. Thank you for creating that.” So I know our music is assisting people. I’m not saying our music is getting them a job or saving their lives, but it’s making them smile and helping in some way even if it’s so small. That’s the blessing of what we do now.
Snatch two free songs off Atomic Clock at zionicrew.com/download.
Tags: Zion I