You guys know each other for almost fifteen years now. How would you describe your relationship?
Zion: Since we’ve known each other so long…we know when to give one another space, and we respect each other’s quirks. It’s like having a long lost brother in a way. We push each other to create better music.
Amp: Our relationship is tight, a lot business though since we have so much going on, being in a group together and running a label as well.
What are the most important things you have learned from each other along the way, and what are your individual strengths?
Zion: I think I’ve learned persistence from Amp, because he knows how to refine and tweak the details to make them tight. My best strength is being able to connect with my emotions and deeper feelings, and put that into the music and our shows.
Amp: I have become more organized and detail oriented.
When you got started back then, could you have ever imagined that you would be where you are today?
Zion: No! I always wanted to tour, but I never thought I’d be touring the entire world! It’s a great blessing in my life. It’s incredible that we’re still going strong after all these years.
Amp: No, I definitely never imagined I would be in California making music.
You used to be signed to a major label; such labels have plenty of resources to make an artist successful. Why did you decide to go independent?
Zion: Well, when we were signed, the major label didn’t show us any love. It was a bad situation, and it left no joy for the music. It’s all about the music, so the independent route gives us a way to still make music freely and enjoy the process without fear of being forced to create vibes we don’t really stand behind.
Amp: We were signed to a label early in our career, like 1995. When we got off the label we still kept doing music, but learned more about the indie game. So it sort of just fell in our lap. We put out our first album on an indie label and liked the freedom of it.
After breaking into the industry with the critically acclaimed Mind Over Matter and an album that was named “Independent Album of the Year” by The Source, did you feel any pressure when working on the new material?
Zion: Not really. I just knew that we needed to sit down and focus, and spend a lot of time in the studio grinding it out. I try to accept it as a great challenge to make a good album. There’s a little bit of pressure, but I turn it into inspiration.
Amp: I definitely felt pressure. A lot of pressure from friends and fans. But I have learned everyone has got something to say about everything….some people want drum n bass, some don’t, some people want clean music…some want headphone shit. The only opinion that matters is your own.
The new album True & Livin’ has just been released. In what way do you feel you have grown, compared to Mind Over Matter and Deep Water Slang?
Zion: This album is more focused. We knew exactly what we wanted to do when writing this album. It was more strategic and planned than the other albums. In that way, it is also more professional.
Amp: I feel that we have definitely become more straight to the point and direct with what we are trying to do, whether it’s in the lyrics or the music.
What’s the story behind the title?
Zion: Well, we wanted the album to resonate the lives that we lead…so what better title than True & Livin’. It’s a statement that we accept our place in hip hop. We are not thugs, pimps, or gangsters…as is the popular conception in the US…yet this music we create is real, relevant, and alive.
Amp: The title describes our life. We are doing music full time, that’s all we do. We grew up with hip-hop so it’s a big part of our life. On this album we wanted to stay true to the way we felt and the elements we thought were important.
What can fans expect from True & Livin’ and what do you hope to achieve with it?
Zion: Fans can expect though provoking material, and as always, very smooth production. I hope to sell 50,000 this year in the States. That will be a great marker to pass!
Amp: Well, fans could expect a tight album. This is our best album, no doubt. We want to achieve success on this album by selling more than our other projects.
What are the main subjects discussed on the album?
Zion: A lot of the album is just about everyday life…rhyming, living through this music, relationships, spirituality and the state of affairs in the US.
Amp: We discuss many different things. I would say the main things are the love of doing music, relationships, the world and things going on in it when it comes to politics, and also street shit.
There are several guests on the album, including Talib, Gift of Gab, and Del. A remarkable guest is social activist Fred Hampton Jr’s appearance. How did you hook up with him?
Zion: Many of our friends are very active in the community…and one of them knew him, and said that he was in town. We just had him come through the studio and freestyle. It turned out great!
Amp: We have a friend in the bay that is always bringing him out. So after seeing Fred Hampton a couple of times at functions and meeting him, we thought it would be tight because he is such a tight figure in the black community. We felt it would be good to have that energy on the album.
Aesop Rock makes an appearance on “Poems 4 Post Modern Decay”, what is the track about?
Zion: That song is about the twisted aspects of the society that we live in. How we are trained to fit into society, but not trained to achieve our higher goals, or live our dreams.
Amp: That track is a reflection of our society in 2005.
On first sight, Aesop Rock and Zion I seems like a strange combination. Why did you choose to work with him?
Zion: We though it was unpredictable to team up with him…as no one would expect us to. We like to keep our fans on their toes.
Amp: We decided to work with him because of what you just said, it’s a strange combination. Aesop is a dope artist that can flow so after the beat was made we thought he would fit on it and make it edgy.
Then there’s lead single “Bird’s Eye View”, a lyrical masterpiece on which you compare your love for hip hop to a woman. Now, let’s combine those two: Who are your favorite female rappers and whom would you like to work with?
Zion: I used to love MC Lyte back in the day! She was the illest. Then, Lauryn Hill is a great MC…I’d love to rock a joint with her!
Amp: MC Lyte, Lauryn Hill, and Remi Martin, even though I know she is new on the scene she still is hard as hell. Doing a song with Lauryn Hill would be cool.
Do you feel that conscious rappers have a harder time coming than mainstream colleagues?
Zion: Yes, because right now the industry does not support conscious messages. It would rather a dumb downed spectacle than something uplifting.
Amp: They definitely do. Common and Kanye out with his new album and selling a lot of units helps, but overall the industry tries to push the same sound and dominate.
Amp, how would you describe your type of production on this album?
Amp: On this album, the production is more straightforward, more sample based, and better live instrumentation than the last.
Amp, you produced for artists such as Linkin’ Park and Goapele. Are there any plans to work with different artists in the future?
Amp: Yes there are. I worked with Goapele on her new album. I also am doing a project with Chief Xcel from Blackalicious, Deuce Eclipse, D.U.S.T., Martin Luther and C Holiday.
Your beats have been featured on numerous TV shows and movies. Do you guys have any big screen ambitions and if so, in what kind of movies would you like to play?
Zion: I’m currently working on a script, so I definitely want to get into the movie biz somehow. I’d have to play a strong role, to show the strength of Africans in America.
Amp: Zion is writing his movie and I would love to score a film. A Sci- Fi film.
The official website, www.zionicrew.com, just got a new lay-out. What effect do you feel the Internet has on the hip hop industry?
Zion: I feel that the internet has somewhat leveled the playing field for underground artists. We know have a place to communicate outside of the controlled system.
Amp: The internet has opened up the doors in the industry big time. It has changed things in a major way. I guess in a way its positive, but you have to know how to use it right. Now fans can listen to your albums before they buy it. The key is making it tight enough for them to want an official one.
You will be doing a European True & Livin’ tour soon. What can the Europe expect from a Zion I show?
Zion: Expect hyped energy, cunning wordplay, crazy freestyles, and booming beats!
Amp: A lot of hypeness and good music.
Does back-up MC Deuce Eclipse still travel with you guys or are you taking other crew members with you to Holland in July?
Zion: Deuce Eclipse is traveling with us right now. Keep an eye out for his new album…Radio Plantation!
Amp: Yes, Deuce Eclipse does travel with us and he will be in Holland.
You will be giving a show in Holland this summer. You never performed in there before, what kind of idea do you have of the country?
Zion: I’ve heard that Holland is a beautiful country…I can’t wait to see it!
Amp: We have heard that it is extremely beautiful and tight. The music scene is very supportive and good to artists.
You have been in Europe before, what is your impression of the European scene and in what way do you feel that it differs from the American culture?
Zion: The folks in Europe really appreciate hip hop as a culture. It is a beautiful thing. In America, it is too simplified sometimes.
Amp: The European scene is tight because people feel the music just off of what they hear. The hype machine out in Europe still exists but people come to the shows that can barely speak English. So, whether or not they heard the music was tight or heard it 1000 times on the radio, they are just going to be hyped regardless.
After touring with people from Mos Def to The Roots to Run DMC, are there any artists left you would like to perform with?
Zion: I’d like to rock with Outkast!
Amp: Outkast, Prince, Jay-Z.
What else do you have going on in the future?
Zion: We have a new DVD on the way, called “Daze in tha Life”…and a re-release of unreleased tracks (Starship & Chaper IV) called the Alpha.
Amp: We are getting our record label off the ground, Live Up Records. We are putting out our music, Deuce Eclipse, D.U.S.T., and much more.
Any last words to the Dutch fans?
Zion: Much love!!! Keep the real hip hop alive y’all!!
Amp: Look out for the new album True & Livin"…also check out our website www.zionicrew.com . BIG UPS!!
More info: http://www.zionicrew.com
NOTE: De show die het duo in Nederland zou gaan geven lag wel in de planning, maar was op het moment van het interview nog niet officieel bevestigd. Inmiddels is duidelijk geworden dat Zion I dit jaar helaas niet naar Nederland zal komen.