With shows tonight and tomorrow in Seattle and Portland, respectively, the Oakland hip-hop duo known as Zion I were nice enough to answer some questions from We Out Here Magazine.

The duo – which consists of Zumbi & Amp – do a great job of making sure their stops hit the NW. I’ve had the opportunity to see them do work at least a few times, and every time has been a pleasure. The current tour will promote their latest work The Masters of Ceremony EP, which just dropped January 14th. You can check it out below.

Big shouts to Zion I and the guys at Mike Thrasher Presents and Ineffable Music for linking me with a chance to chat with a couple of West Coast legends. Their tour will be making stops in Seattle, Portland, Corvallis, Eugene, and Boise so be sure to check out their Facebook page for details in a city near you.

Enough from me, let’s talk to Zion I…

ZionI1

Mac: The first time I saw guys you live – I believe – was in 2009 at the Berbati show that got shut down. I want to say it was part of The TakeOver Tour. Since then I’ve caught you at least a few times in PDX. How do you feel about the city?

AMP: Portland is the bomb… Voodoo doughnuts all day!

Zumbi: Portland has always shown us a lot of love. I really enjoy the energy because there is a tangible excitement and sincerity to the music scene.It’s not all puffed up and overdone, but has a more raw and real feel that I appreciate.

Your hometown of Oakland is well known for the hyphy movement and “Bay Rap”. How did you guys find success in a more socially conscious lane?

AMP: The Bay has a wide variety of music… That’s what makes it so special. You got groups like E40, Too Short, Sage the Gemini, Bassnectar, to groups like Souls of Mischief, Lyrics Born, and us. So there is an audience for everyone. We kind of bounce from scene to scene because the sound adapts… So keeping same message is easier.

Zumbi: Oakland is known for a lot of things, and one of them is actually social consciousness. It obviously goes farther back than the Hyphy movement, but it’s still a relevant part of the foundation of what the city is about. One thing I love about the Town is that people stand up for what they believe in. Whenever there is social injustice on large platform, people get together to express their concerns, anger, and frustrations. It creates a venue for an expressiveness and willingness to talk about difficult issues in a public forum. I think all of these things have helped to inform our perspective. I also believe that with all the talk about “the streets”, the music that we make is a much needed alternative.

I heard an interesting statement recently and it made me think of the time I saw Zumbi black out during a set and just start freeing. Do you feel that to really be an MC, one needs to possess the ability to spit off the head?

Zumbi: Right on man, thanks! I think that freestyling is an invaluable skill as an MC. I relate it to jazz improvisation, and really connecting with the moment. It’s not more or less important than written rhymes, but I feel that it puts me on the edge creatively, and live, I feel that the crowd can feel it and they bear witness to the spontaneous creation as well. In fact, in most cases, they are aiding in the creation of the rhymes by their very presence, so it’s a collaborative creation that cannot really be achieved any other way. I would encourage up-and-coming cats to hone the skill, because you never know when you’re going to need it. The music might cut off, or the system might blow out, or you might just forget your rhymes. Freestyling allows you options to gracefully navigate potentially treacherous waters.

TopeCrowdSurfHeat check. Your show in Portland also features NW standouts Tope and Sol. Have you had a chance to hear any of their music? Thoughts?

AMP: Yes, they are dope artists and it is a special tour to be out with them. Good packaging.

Zumbi: I’m not familiar with Tope, but I’ve known Sol for a while and he’s really a fresh talent to me. I enjoy his perspectives in his rhymes, and I feel that he has a very nice balance lyrically. I feel that he reps the NW in a dope way.

Can you talk a little about your new album, The Masters of Ceremony?

Zumbi: The Masters of Ceremony is the first EP in a series of 3 to be released this year. Its style is more minimal than the last album, because I wanted to switch up the feeling of the production. I just wanted to return to a more simple and raw aesthetic to communicate the way I feel. It features 2 beats from AmpLive, 2 from MkSmth, and 1 from Kno of Cunninlynguists. It’s been fun performing these new songs live, and I can’t wait to drop them for PDX!

One more question, as artists who frequently tour in the Northwest, what city has had the best turnup? Seattle? PDX? Eugene? Boise? Be honest.

AMP: That’s like asking who the best rapper is… Seattle, PDX, and Eugene have all been great for us.

Zumbi: Haha… I’mma be honest cuzzin. I would say that consistency wise, it would have to be between PDX and Eugene. I think it’s the wild college and all-age kids in Eugene that make it dope, that youthful vivacity. In PDX there just seems to be a real appreciation for the energy we bring to the stage. Folks seem to know our music more in Portland, and that’s always a plus for the turnup!

Again, HUGE thanks to you guys for taking the time to chat with us. Best of luck on your tour! Portlanders, you have a reputation to live up to!