TRANSCRIPT Bullseye with Jesse Thorn Bonus: Remembering Zumbi, of Zion I

Zumbi, born Steve Gaines, made up half of the Oakland duo Zion I, who were stalwarts of the Bay Area hip-hop scene for decades. Zumbi died at 49 and what follows is an appreciation of his art and music. Jesse shares some words about Zumbi and we play a clip from Zion I’s 2009 live performance at SF Sketchfest.



Gentle, trilling music with a steady drumbeat plays under the dialogue.


Speaker: Bullseye with Jesse Thorn is a production of and is distributed by NPR. [Music fades out.]

jesse thorn

It’s Bullseye. I’m Jesse Thorn. A few weeks ago on the show, I said that you know you’re getting old when your heroes start to die. That was—that was me talking about the, uh—the amazing rapper, Gift of Gab, who had just passed away. This week, we lost another one. Zumbi was the MC half of the hip-hop duo Zion I. For decades, they were stalwarts of the Bay Area hip-hop scene. It hardly felt like a rap show unless Zumbi was stalking the stage and his partner, AmpLive, was behind him playing the pads of his MPC sampler like they were an electronic drum kit. Zion I put out their first record in 2000. Mind Over Matter remains an underground classic with Amp providing hard hip-hop drums and sort of ethereal electronic sounds. And Zumbi—whose shifting style finds all the nooks and crannies of those beats.


“Silly Puddy” from the album Mind Over Matter by Zion I. Dear lord, you showed me the best of times Showed me the worst of times Confusion all over my mind But still, I keep busting rhymes And I fight for what I want But I’d die for what I need And I watch my people bleed While vultures steady feed We proceed with the mic, bless Fashioned in your likeness More deadlier than vipers Lyric spirit snipers Ignite us, we’ll be candles in the dark Solid like Noah’s Ark [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]


Zumbi was never scared to grasp for profundity. He was never scared to rock a crowd or get a party started, either. And for two decades, he was—as we say in hip-hop—true. And he was true even in the toughest circumstances. Zumbi was born and raised in Oakland, and he lived in Oakland with his family. At least, until a few years ago when he lost the house he was renting there thanks to a landlord who, let’s say, wanted a different kind of tenant. As Zumbi and his family packed up and moved out, they rolled cameras. And the result was a song and attendant music video called “Tech $”. As Zumbi raps in the foreground of the video, we see his kids in the background putting their toys into boxes. We see Zumbi thumbing through his bills and his rental applications. [Music fades in.] We see furniture leaving the house. Maybe you’ve heard about gentrification in the Bay Area. Now you feel it.


“Tech $” from the album Saving Souls by Zion I. Seen it in the ‘90s with the Condo shiny popping Shandon He was still grimy, you had no charm Made a lot of money ‘til it’s no fun Turn Mission Street into a lounge that Drunk frat boys where they found at Penned up, missing—how you love that? When your ground gets christened Where are the brown cats? Got pushed out—this ain’t your house Third generation came from down south [Volume decreases and continues under the dialogue then fades out.]


Zumbi was 49 years old: a vibrant 49 by all accounts. He did tai chi every day. He had three children. On GoFundMe right now, you can find a memorial fund to get those kids through college and through the loss of their father. You can find it by searching for GoFundMe and Zumbi—Z-U-M-B-I. We’ll post a link on our website, too. And listen, can I ask you something? Go to Bandcamp and buy those amazing Zion I records. Send a few bucks to those beautiful kids and please, go get vaccinated against this horrible virus. Your people need you. Anyway, in 2009, Zumbi and AmpLive brought Zion I to my stage, guesting on a live taping of our show at San Francisco Sketchfest. They were gracious guests, and they really brought the heat. Let’s go out this week on a sincere and deeply felt tribute to what makes the Bay Area special. Here’s Zumbi, AmpLive, and singer Martin Luther, performing Zion I’s “The Bay”.


Zumbi: Alright, we’re gonna switch it up a little bit. This is hip-hop right here, so. [The audience laughs at regular intervals.] We wanna engage with the community. We, you know—if we call, please call back. That’s how we do it. That’s my boy AmpLive on the bass. I’m Zumbi. Zion I crew. First song we’re gonna do is called “The Bay”. Feel free to clap. Just clap. Clap. Oooh! Music: “The Bay” performed live by Zion I at SF Sketchfest. Hey, let it go Let the good take hold I'm a brother from the west Who was blessed with a soul Let me tell you about a place You probably don't know Still live in Cali Got a style cultural We was Known from the ‘60s From panthers to hippies Now we're known for Murders, pimps, and three-sixty's Side shows high speed chases too And a crack epidemic that will turn you blue Plus, an AIDS epidemic that can end you too It's the Yay baby brother and I thought you knew Oakland to Vallejo Vallejo to the Zay The Zay to the Sko' AKA as the Bay Unique so to speak A whole lot of ways Hardly get the love, we close to LA We got our own slang But everybody took it Now we going dumb down the Av driving crooked This the way Zumbi: Sing along, this is your part right here. In the Bay (in the Bay heyeyeyey) In the Bay (heyeyeyey) In the Bay (heyeyeyey) Zumbi: Louder! In! The! Bay! Bay! Bay! We a little kuddy cold from the Northern Pacific Beach always cold, don't get the game twisted Thugs reprocessed to the death packing biscuits Weed almost legal the trees are terrific We got Cannabis clubs Filipino, Blacks, Latinos from all over the map Chinese and Vietnamese So don't get jacked Samoan, Indian, Tongans, Thai's It's the Bay homie and we multiply We never act shy when it's time to ride And we claim 2Pac as a source of pride I said we claim 2Pac as a source of pride Let it go Let me bless the flow, people Here we go, here we go, here we, here we, here we yo From the street to beach Flat lands to peace To the freaks in the Jeep driving by (beep beep) To the heat meet the seat To the cops on the beat To the rich living sweet To the poor feeling weak To the youth and the beast HP 3rd Street Telegraph to the Av North to the deep East Telegraph to the Av North to the deep East Telegraph to the Av North to the deep East To the youth and the beast HP 3rd Street Telegraph to the Av North to the deep East This the way Zumbi: It’s your part again! Let’s go! Right side! In the Bay (in the Bay heyeyeyey) In the Bay (heyeyeyey) In the Bay (heyeyeyey) Zumbi: Sounds good! In! The! Bay! Hey! Ey! Bay! Bay! Bay! Bay! Break it down. [The audience erupts with cheers and applause.]


Cheerful, thumpy music.


That’s the end of another episode of Bullseye. Bullseye is created from the homes of me and the staff of Maximum Fun, in and around greater Los Angeles, California. We’re working in the office a little bit, overlooking beautiful MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, where our producer—Jesus Ambrosio—attended his first free Levitt Pavilion concert, this summer. They’re back. He saw the local ska group The Paranoias, because Jesus loves ska. The show is produced by speaking into microphones. Our senior producer is Kevin Ferguson. Our producer is ska enthusiast, Jesus Ambrosio. Production fellows at Maximum Fun are Richard Robey and Valerie Moffat. No word on whether they enjoy ska. We get help from Casey O’Brien. I don’t think he’s into ska, but he does like The Twins. Our interstitial music is by Dan Wally, also known as DJW. He’s more of a soul and hip-hop guy. Our theme song is by The Go! Team. Thanks to them and to their label, Memphis Industries, for sharing it. They’ve got a new record; you should go check it out. You can also keep up with Bullseye on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. We post all our interviews there. And I think that’s it. Just remember: all great radio hosts have a signature signoff.


Speaker: Bullseye with Jesse Thorn is a production of and is distributed by NPR. [Music fades out.]

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Bullseye is a celebration of the best of arts and culture in public radio form. Host Jesse Thorn sifts the wheat from the chaff to bring you in-depth interviews with the most revered and revolutionary minds in our culture.

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