Steve ‘Zumbi’ Gaines, Prolific Bay Area MC from Zion I, Dies at Age 49

MC Baba Zumbi from the hip-hop group Zion I.

Steve Gaines, the MC better known as Baba Zumbi from

the Bay Area rap group Zion I, has died. Sources spoke

directly with Zumbi’s family and confirmed his death on

Friday afternoon.

 

The family shared a statement with us Friday evening:

 

It is with utter disbelief and great sadness that the

Gaines family shares the news of the passing of Steve

“Zumbi” Gaines on Friday, August 13, 2021. Gaines, 49

and the MC of the critically acclaimed hip-hop group

Zion I, passed away at Alta Bates Hospital today in the

early morning from unknown causes. The family

requests privacy in this very challenging time while they

await further details.

 

Steve is survived by three sons, his mother and his

brother. He was working on a Zion I reunion tour with

longtime producer and collaborator, Amp Live, to honor

the legacy of their musical endeavors for their fans.

 

Baba Zumbi of Zion I in 2012.

Zumbi began releasing music under the Zion I name in

2000 together with DJ and producer Amp Live. Over the

next decade, the group released seven full-length albums,

plus several mixtapes and collaborations. Amp Live left

Zion I in 2015, but the two had reunited for an

anniversary tour together this year, scheduled for

October.

Zumbi was known for weaving a spiritual approach into

hip-hop, reflected in his searching, mystical lyrics, and in

the title of Zion I’s debut album Mind Over Matter,

which The Source nominated for Independent Album of

the Year. Yet Zumbi also understood the streets, as

evidenced by Heroes in the City of Dope, Zion I’s

hoodwise 2006 collaboration with the Grouch. Stridently

creative and uncomfortable in any box, Zumbi also strove

for blending different styles, notably on the widely varied

2008 album The Take Over.

 

Zumbi was no stranger to the social issues in his music.

In 2016, he became a victim of the Bay Area’s housing

crisis when he was evicted from his Oakland home,

and filmed the video for the song “Tech $” inside his

house as his family packed up belongings into moving

boxes.

 

“I wrote the song out of frustration with trying to find

something affordable and being abruptly introduced to

skyrocketing rent prices and hordes of people eager to

pay,” he told sources at the time.

 

Zumbi of Zion I performs at the video shoot for 'Human Being,' in 2012.

Two years later, wrestling with the deaths of his father,

his grandmother and a close friend, Zumbi told the East

Bay Express that he found strength in a regular schedule

of tai chi and inspiration in his family, including three

kids. In the recording studio, he said, he’d recently had

an epiphany that his lost loved ones were there in spirit,

supporting him. “Now I can never deny the fact that I

know that the spirit world is always present,” he said,

“and I always have to acknowledge it from here on out.

 

Zumbi loved the Bay Area so much he wrote an ode to the

region, “The Bay,” and he performed with, collaborated

with, and recorded with countless other Bay Area

musicians up until his death. In April, he released “Try &

Try,” a collaboration with Fantastic Negrito, and over the

summer had played shows with Mac Mall, San Quinn and

Equipto.

 

A prolific live performer who toured regularly, Zumbi

also performed in the past with with Shock G from Digital

Underground, upon whose death Zumbi wrote: “hip-hop

is getting rocked left and right… tears stream down my

face as I write this.”

 

In an Instagram post after the death of Biz Markie three

months later, Zumbi sounded a more somber tone.

 

“Feels like an entire generation is leaving us as of late,”

he wrote.

Rest in Peace Zumbi

 

Source: Tyshawn Smith

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