In the conclusion of TWV's chat with Zion I and The Grouch, the collective opens up about the future of West Coast Hip-Hop, politics in the age of Obama and why the evolution of music is like skateboarding.

The Well Versed: I think if you make good music and you’re a talented individual and uncompromising in your message, people gravitate towards that regardless of whatever you’re talking about. I think Zion I is a great example of that. What I’ve also noticed is that West Coast music in general is getting a lot of light right now. Whether it’s older cats coming back with new projects like Mack 10 & Glasses Malone or [newer acts like] a Fashawn or a Dom Kennedy or an Odd Future. Not to say that the West fell off, but it seems like there is more attention now. Does it feel that way in The Bay or are you at a point now where you don’t pay that much attention to the trends and who is on the cover of what magazine?

Zumbi: I definitely pay attention, man. I’m a fan of this culture as well and I feel as an artist it’s important to be a fan, stay humble and learn from your peers. Especially the youngsters. They’re doing a lot of dope things as far as not trying to follow the cookie cutter format for Hip-Hop. That’s very inspiring from an OG perspective. The West Coast is interesting to me because I feel like the West Coast cats are really utilizing the blogs and it’s very connected to establishing the fan base and staying one on one with the fans. Cats aren’t really trying to necessarily do the label thing. It’s more like, “OK, I’ve got some dope music. Check it out. I’ve got my blog. If you want to hear my music, come to my blog.”

Out here, people are coming to the shows, they’re buying merchandise, they’re buying a CD. It’s just like a very organic process so maybe that has something to do with why the West Coast is where it is right now. It’s definitely inspiring to me.

TWV: Has it always been that way out West, would you say?

Zumbi: I wouldn’t say always, but there’s definitely always been a sense of community music-wise. We were in Atlanta and that’s one of the reasons we moved out here was because my family was out here. I remember when we left Atlanta and we came here and we did an independent show and I started passing out our cassette tapes, our EP cassette. I started passing them out and within a couple of months there was just this buzz about, “What is Zion I? Who is Zion I?” People were running up on me like, “Yo, you got another EP? You got another tape?” I was like, “Damn,” because we were doing the same thing in Atlanta for months and months. I’d go to the shows and pass out the tapes and then I’d see the tape on the ground, never really got any feedback. It was tough. But once we got out here, it was like the feedback mechanism was already in place. The people were already like, “Yo, what’s up, man? We’d like you to do a show.”

TWV: You’ve been active politically throughout your career, in a sense. From your support of Prop 21 to bringing attention to black owned businesses in the Bay Area. California is in a rough time right now. Budget crisis. The economic situation happening across the country is absolutely highlighted by everything that’s happened to California over the past five years. California has always been a progressive state. Whatever happens in California tends to spread throughout the rest of the country soon after. How are you feeling about the political landscape out there but also the state of America? You talked about how you have friends having breakdowns and people going through a rough time, but if you turn on the TV [to any channel other than the cable news networks’] you don’t hear that as often. It’s an odd paradigm we’re in.

Zumbi: That’s why I really don’t watch TV that much. I don’t have cable at my house. This whole tour -- I watch the game, I watch some videos, I watch movies. I don’t just sit there and watch TV because it’s so unrealistic. It’s so paper-Mache for me right now, just in life. I really just try to tune into my inner voice, what my intuition is telling me and my own insights instead of being overwhelmed with all these other ideas of what’s important. Politically, economically, yeah, California is definitely going through it. The real estate thing is crazy. People can’t find jobs.

During the game yesterday, they had a quick news flash and people were going to the train out here -- it’s called the BART -- and they’re putting up these signs like, “WeAllNeedJobs.com.” And they’re sitting at the BART putting up these things but they’re all white! They’re all white dudes and I was tripping because I’ve never seen that in my life. It was like white people -- white men, white women at the BART station talking about, “I need jobs.” That’s a new one. I’ve seen a lot of Mexicans, a lot of black cats out here trying to get jobs like just sitting on the block or whatever. I’ve never seen white folks have to do that so it just kind of tripped me out with where things are. These are like middle-aged people. These aren’t like college graduates. These are forty, fifty years old people you see and normally [assume] they’re probably doing decent but they’re out there struggling. It’s weird to me.

TWV: I tend to think cynicism is a good thing. I don’t think we ask enough questions, broadly speaking. I was looking at Yahoo! yesterday and on the front page of Yahoo! News there was an article on black unemployment rates are closer to 18-19 percent, where the national unemployment rate is around 8 percent. It’s an interesting paradigm to have at the same time we have the first black President. We can only hope for the best in the future and maintain our focus.

Zumbi: Obama won the presidency and I remember immediately after that, there was an interview where people were asked, “Oh since now Obama is President, you guys don’t have any problems now, right?” And I’m like, “What, Obama got everybody out the ghetto, too?” It’s just like, “Oh you killed Bin Laden, so we got jobs now? What, taxes are cut in half?” What does that really do for the everyday person’s life? The world is safer? Your security at the airport has to go up when you kill him? I don’t get it. All these little things.

TWV: One of the things we’re also seeing across the nation is “reverse white flight.” All the white people left the cities for the suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s and are running back to the cities now. Rents are going crazy. You have $200 thousand dollar starting prices for condos and co-ops. You see it all over the place in New York City. A lot of the historic neighborhoods where artists of all types thrived, they don’t live Manhattan in numbers anymore. Whats it like in the Bay Area? I’m unaware, but I feel like San Francisco might be a similar to Manhattan.


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