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Interview With Zion I & The Grouch

On their own, Zion I & The Grouch have created critically acclaimed discographies filled with classic albums like Zumbi & Amp Live’s debut Mind Over Matter and The Grouch’s Fuck The Dumb. After first recording a full LP together in 2006, the trio joined forces yet again for their latest album Heroes In The Healing Of The Nation in March. I got the chance to catch up with Zumbi, Amp & Grouch as they provide some insight into their new record. The group speaks on how Healing Of The Nation differs from The City Of Dope, why Brother Ali was the perfect fit for the intro, what it was like working with Roy Ayers, last year’s Zion I projects, the future of the Living Legends and much more. Hit the jump for our full interview with Zion & The Grouch. 

Justin: It’s been five years since you released Heroes In The City Of Dope. How does the new LP differ from your first collaboration?

Amp: Heroes in the Healing of a Nation is more direct with the message and sound we are putting across.

Zumbi: This album is a bit more focused than the last one. On City of Dope, we simply came together and started recording music immediately. With Healing of the Nation, we really focused in on a message that we felt would speak to the times in which we are living. There is so much change currently happening on the plane — from the economic state, to natural resources, war and the Earth itself — we are all experiencing a sublime shift. We created this album to be the uplifting soundtrack, to aid in reflection when it gets difficult.

Grouch: I think the albums are similar. This new one is like an updated version of the old with pertinent ground being covered in relation to the times we’re in now. I think there’s a broader range of soundscapes explored on this one.

Justin: I want to go back to the first time you worked together on the classic “Silly Puddy” from Mind Over Matter. How did you originally link up and what prompted you to collaborate for a full LP in 2006?

Zumbi: Initially, I was simply a fan of the Grouch. We had done several shows together and I knew he was a chill dude. I appreciated the sincere tone of his style and thought it would be a good feature on our album. When Amp gave me the beat for Silly Puddy, I wrote to it and we decided that would be the song that we’d have Grouch hop on. We decided to do a full project mostly by request of the fans. They would always ask us, “Where’s Grouch?,” and scream “Silly Puddy!” It felt like a natural progression to give the fans what they wanted. In this case, I am glad that we listened and paid attention.

Grouch: We were both doing music in the Bay successfully enough to notice each other. They reached out to me to drop something for their Mind Over Matter album. I already was down with their sound but when I heard the “Silly Puddy” beat I was excited. After the song was released, each camp got an amazing response from it. People liked the collaboration and so did we. An album together was an easy conclusion.

Justin: You had Brother Ali kick off the album in Big Rube-like fashion on “The Invitation.” What inspired you to do an intro like this and why was Ali the man for the job?

Zumbi: Ali is a cat that both Zion I & the Grouch have a good relationship with. He has that preacher-like tone which seemed to fit the desired mood of the album. He summed up the mission of the album with effortless grace.

Amp: As soon as we decided to do the second album, I wanted Brother Ali on the Intro. I think his voice and what he has to say is tight. This album’s message is one that both groups agree on. It seems only right for him to be on the album some how.

Grouch: I had just toured with Ali, his voice and style was fresh in my mind. Amp sent the intro beat and we could already hear Ali on it. We thought the subject matter for this album was appropriate for that style of intro.

Justin: An uplifting, positive message is the common theme through Heroes In The Healing Of The Nation. What do you hope the fans take away from this LP?

Grouch: Something that can inspire them to keep a positive outlook on things, even when they or people they love are going through hard times. Hopefully there are ideas they can share with others that spark thought and awareness within their lives and families.

Zumbi: This is a feel good album straight up. We decided to go hardcore positive, as opposed to attempting to camouflage the messaging. I think it works because there is already so much nonsense in the media as it is, it makes what we have to say stand out more. I enjoy having my own unique perspective on hip hop and life in general, and this album is a testament to that.

Amp: We want fans to know that they don’t have to give in to the negativity that is so dominant right now in society. You can still do something uplifting for someone. Everyone can be a hero in their own right.

Justin: Was “Be A Father To Your Child” inspired at all by Edo G’s single of the same name? What was it like having Roy Ayers involved as well?

Grouch: Well it’s a remake of Edo’s song. Our take on it at least, definitely inspired by. Having Roy Ayers involved was an honor and a blessing for sure!

Zumbi: Indeed, it is a remake of Ed OG’s classic. We all have seeds, and feel that it is an important message to hammer home, as we all strive to be good fathers. There are so many jams about sex, but very few about caring for the children that are created through it. Working with Roy Ayers was surprising and inspirational for me. I grew up listening to his tunes, as he is a direct ancestor of hip hop. It was an honor to be able to work with such a legend.

Justin: “I Used To Be Vegan” is one of the most unique topics for a song I’ve heard in in a while. How did this song concept come about?

Amp: I originally made that beat for an album I was going to do with Too Short. It never happened, so I played it for Zumbi and Grouch in the studio along with two other tracks. When I came back that’s what they wrote about. Tight!

Grouch: Heard the beat & it was slumpin! Wanted to come with a topic that one wouldn’t necessarily think of for that beat. We started talking about food & diets and ended up there. We knew people would feel the concept cause it’s fun & not too serious. We needed that for the album.

Zumbi: We thought it was funny that we both tried being vegan but had moved on to diets that were still moving towards being healthy, but defied any categorical description. We decided to write about our experiences and poke fun at ourselves.

Justin: Amp – In the last couple of years, you’ve experimented with a lot of unique sounds on Zion I albums, solo projects & remixes. Do you feel like it’s important for a producer to keep challenging themselves and not be stagnant?

Amp: I think if it’s in your blood to do so, then you should. Some producers aren’t like that and their fans like that aspect of their production. You just have to stick to your roots. I listen to all types of music as a fan. So as a producer, it’s just incorporated into my tracks.

Justin: Both Zion I & The Grouch records have featured a wide variety of sounds and styles. How do you make distinct songs like “Healing Of The Nation”, “Leader” and “Plead The Fith” mesh together and be cohesive?

Zumbi: I feel like the lyrics are the glue when it comes to divergent styles on this album. Although the sound may shift and morph, the lyrical content is very consistent. It would be wild if we were switching up our philosophies according to the beats. Since the messages are solid, it works.

Justin: Zumbi – You’ve been very busy as of late with last year’s Zion I album, The Burnerz project and now the latest Zion I & The Grouch record. How important is it for you to stay active in today’s music climate?

Zumbi: As an OG at this point, I feel like it is a must to constantly create art. Back in the day, we would sit up and create an album every 2 or 3 years, and that was just fine. In today’s climate, everything moves so quickly, so it’s more about constant movement instead of a project to project mentality. Trust me when I say, I still have a lot to learn about continuous output. But, I feel good that I have gotten out of my old habits. Being an artist is a full time job now!

Justin: Speaking of The Burnerz project, how did working with The ARE differ from Amp?

Zumbi: It was refreshing to work with The ARE because he is a very straight-forward cat. Either he feels it, or he doesn’t. The Burnerz album was designed to be raw and no frills, and that was basically the same way it was working with him. He would send me stacks of beats, I’d record to them and send them back. He’d either reply “Dope!” or “not feeling the verse/hook.” Then, I’d either go back and re-flip it, or keep it moving. With Amp, we’ve been working together so long, sometimes we fall into predictable patterns. There is a lot more thought that goes into Zion I. It’s more artsy and experimental in both the process and the outcome. At this point, I like to think less and do more however.

Justin: Grouch, what’s the status of the Living Legends crew these days? The Gathering EP dropped back in 2008, are we going to see another full length from collective in the near future?

Grouch: Not sure. We hear people calling for it. We’ll see what 2012 brings.

Justin: So, is Heroes In The Healing Of Nation the final chapter for the Zion I/Grouch combination or do you anticipate making a third album together?

Zumbi: I figure that we’ll probably let this album simmer, and then get back in the lab again when the time is right.

Grouch: Not the final chapter.

Justin: Looking back on your respective discographies, what’s the one album you’re most proud of and why?

Zumbi: Mind Over Matter. When we made this album, we didn’t care about what anybody else was doing musically. We had something to say and we were intent on allowing the world to see our inner-most desires. I strive to get back to that level of purity in making music. It was a time full of much struggle, but it was beautiful in that it forced us to be true artists totally unconcerned with “the business.”

Grouch: My favorite of mine is Show You The World. I think it’s my best representation of who I am and what I’m about in one album. My daughter on the cover & intro makes a forever statement that I’m proud of.

Justin: Any shout outs or last words?

Grouch: Thanks to all the people who support us. So many do and don’t have to. It amazes me and I give thanks for that!

Zumbi: Rest in Power to Gil-Scott Heron!

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About Justin

Editor-In-Chief - Justin Ivey is the Editor-In-Chief at KevinNottingham.com and has been with the site since 2009, when he began working as a summer intern. Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Justin is a graduate of Louisiana State University. He has previously written for such outlets as Complex, DJBooth.net, SoulCulture and The Well Versed and is currently a contributor at TheBoombox.com, Knockout Nation and DIG Baton Rouge.
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