Zumbi ushers in a new era of Zion I

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(ZionI)

Oakland based rap group Zion I disbanded last year, with Amp Live leaving to pursue other ventures and Zumbi carrying on the namesake the two created in 1996. It’s been a bittersweet goodbye for fans of the group, who’ve listened to the duo lead the way on socially and politically conscious rap music since their debut Mind Over Matter in 2000. The years since then have seen Zumbi and Amp live record 0ver ten albums, including Heroes in The City of Dope and Heroes in The Healing of The Nation with The Grouch. Together, they’ve solidified their place in hip hop culture.

It’s comforting to note that Zion I is not really gone at all, but is seeing an evolution, one that has Baba Zumbi at the forefront of all creative decisions. It will be interesting to see how being the sole voice of Zion I challenges him. Although he’ll now be working alongside different producers in place of Amp, the lyricism in Zion I has always been Zumbi’s signature.

Zumbi’s release of The Sun, Moon and Stars in February this year, featured production by various producers and tackled themes like police brutality on songs like “Unity” and self image in the age of the internet on “Lost In Translation.”

He released The Rapture: Live from Oaklandia this summer. It’s a live album, backed by a band and was recorded in front of an audience, earlier this year. The album features classic and newer material, and is a reminder of the impressive catalog Zion I  created in their time together. We spoke with Zumbi on Episode 29 of Screen Girls on Air and he told us he’s been recording new material in Hawaii and at home for the past few months and is gearing up to release some more music.

 

Lil Debbie on womanly auras and being a hater

Lil Debbie is sure of herself in an industry that isn’t even fully sure how to market her. Female rappers are pushed into hyper-sexualization or androgyny, yet Debbie has shied away from being boxed into either end of the spectrum. If anyone can walk that tightrope as female rapper, it’s Lil Debbie; she is who she is. She’s in touch with her femininity and keeps that soft edge in what she does, while also making hard club anthems just as easily as her male peers.

In the music video for Me and U she sings sweetly about a relationship, and shows a tenderness that’s not usually exhibited in her catalogue. Lil Debbie can get ratchet with the best of them, but showing this more vulnerable side conveys her growth as an artist.

The first time that we saw her, with dark lips, wearing a feather earring in the Gucci Gucci video, she stood out right away. Lil Debbie’s style is synonymous with her music. She’s adorned in tattoos, gold hoops in her ears, eyes winged to the gods and a blunt in her hand. It’s a look that’s been repeated by others countless times since she first stepped out with the White Girl Mob.

Lil Debbie is definitely an influencer. She’s knows she’s been emulated countless times, but continues to stay true to her high fashion meets hood aesthetic. The style hashtag on Tumblr is filled with posts devoted to her clothes and gold capped teeth. She’s represents the ‘be yourself’ spiritedness of The Bay area and its melting pot culture of artists. She’s not acting ratchet, she’s part of the environment she’s grown up in, a place that has domineered music and dance trends in rap music for decades.

We saw her perform after our interview, and experienced some of the craziness that is a day in the life of Lil Debbie.

Yung Lean and the rise of the internet rapper

Yung Lean has come a long way from his beginnings in a Stockholm suburb. He’s toured North America extensively over the last year and a half, playing sold out shows across the continent. When you look at his counterparts, you realize that he doesn’t seem to have any. Yung Lean exists in a vacuum; he’s not competing with American rappers, or anything that the industry has been putting out in the last few years. He’s created an ultra-niche for himself, and his age, his ethnicity and the subject matter in his rhymes are all markers that uniquely identify him. He’s a synonym for mellow, with everything about him, from his style, to his music, to his calm demeanour indicating that he’s far removed from the lavishness that is often glorified in rap.

Yung Lean, born Jonatan Leandoer Håstad, is one of the most successful examples of an internet rapper. In the last decade, the ability for artists to make money from their music online has quantified significantly. In the past, the internet (well, Myspace) was a place to drum up buzz, to get people behind your music in the hopes of catching the ear of an A&R. That’s become less important as platforms such as Bandcamp and YouTube allow for music to be sold independently. This has, to an extent, led to an over saturation of the market, with everyone and their mother peddling their Soundcloud link on Twitter. But, if you’re able to crack social media, and YouTube, and put out decent music, it’s more possible than ever to make it financially, without ever having a song hit radio airwaves.

For Yung Lean, his success may seem instantaneous. He’s been “famous” since he was in his early teens (he’s eighteen now) but the road to crossover to North America must have been grueling. He’s making the most of his time by touring in support of his album Unknown Memory, which he dropped in September. He’s got his collective, Sad Boys, which consists of longtime friends Yung Sherman and Yung Gud. They’re unofficially joined by the thousands of young, err yung fans that are collectors of Yung Lean and his lifestyle.

For Sad Boys, there’s nothing foreign about performing in front of thousands of fans. They were at ease the entire time they were on stage, comfortably moving along to the music, which was echoed back by the visibly buzzed up crowd. We could go into the drug culture that Yung Lean’s music promotes, one that quite a few of his young supporters partake in, but that wouldn’t be fair to him, as he’s hardly the first or last to perpetuate that sort of lifestyle. Whether helped along by chemicals or not, Yung Lean’s army of sad boys and girls were thoroughly entertained.

An empire of emotions: Yung Lean brings the Sad life to stage

One of Yung Lean’s most mined, formative years in life was 2002. He was six years old.

You’d be forgiven for initially pegging him as much older, like when you hear Ginseng Strip 2002, a song in which he raps about Slytherin and seeking morphine in the same breath. His subject matter is brazen, for anybody, much less an eighteen year old rapper from Södermalm, Sweden. Yet here he is, a breakout internet artist, a veritable synonym for youth and youth mode culture.

He’s a reverse Peter Pan of sorts, the kid who wanted to grow up fast. A testament to the power of social media and video platforms, where his legions of fans scan his every move and are quick to replicate; he’s demi-god of sad style. He’s become a lifestyle unto himself; the music, the bucket hats and slouchy oversized tees, – all subtle nods to the ’90s. Beyond the fashion, what’s appealing about Yung Lean is his carefree attitude in his music. He doesn’t adhere to any sort of outlines of how rap music should sound. His subject matter is outlandish as he raps about the usual accoutrements of rap music (money, girls, money) with an outlandish candour, which seems even stranger when you remember he’s Swedish.

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Breaking out stateside is difficult, very few have been able to manage, and Yung Lean has been one of the most successful to do so. He embodies all of the fierce emotions that come with adolescence, from all the first times and new experience that youth brings. He’s free form with his lyrics, going from serious to comical back to serious in seconds. All of his verses are laid with a boyish charm, as he sings about having getting his dick stuck inside a lampshell.

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More than blood ties: Neph and Prevail

It’s always intriguing whenever we meet artists working and creating alongside their family. In any type of familial relationship, there’s inevitable power dynamics; it’s built in with good reason, as family is how we learn to structure relationships for the rest of our lives. The familiarity between kin can either greatly enhance or hinder creativity. Complacency can become easy when you know your partner has a real vested interest in you.

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For Prevail and Neph, it’s been a seamless transition from family to collaborators. The uncle/nephew duo have been making music separately long before they stepped into the studio together. Prevail has a storied history in both Vancouver and Canadian rap. The self identified BC rapper has been creating with Swollen Members as well as pursuing  solo ventures. Neph has had a lifetime to watch Prevail turn from amateur to expert, touring the world with Swollen Members. Prevail’s journey inspired Neph to pursue his own interests in art and music, but it was a while before Neph shared his recordings with Prevail,  letting him know that hip hop really does run in their bloodline.

The result is Alpha Omega, their debut album together, slated for release this February. To hear their rationale for the title is poetic – Prevail being the Alpha and passing down wisdom to Neph, the Omega. It’s an unspoken equilibrium they seem to have reached; Neph, the vivacious newbie in hip hop is gently lead by Prevail, whose calm demeanour and skilled lyricism is no doubt an aspiration for his nephew.

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