Brothers Akim and Dumi Right are Zimbabwe Legit. Previously signed to a subsidiary of a major label which was home to Organized Konfusion, Lifers Group, Booya Tribe and Charizma and Peanut Butter Wolf; poor marketing of their first EP did them no favours. It actually took 13 years for ‘Brothers From The Mother’ to see the light of day. I mean, you hear about an album being put back but…
Rightly so, ‘Brothers From The Mother’; influenced by African music, soul and jazz, received positive acclaim, and the people wanted more.
Their second album ‘House Of Stone’ received a Rock Solid – 4 out of 5 from Hip Hop Connection and Okayplayer reviewed it as ‘a refreshing and memorable release for 2007. Firmly invested in ‘progressive hip hop’ this album features appearances from Vast Aire, Chubb Rock, Stic.Man of Dead Prez, Prince Po, YZ, Cadence, and Mike G from the Jungle Brothers.
I spoke with Dumi RIGHT who talks a lot of sense about the industry, and the journey of Zimbabwe Legit…
Lady Jay UK: How did you two first get into hip hop?
Dumi RIGHT: I give credit to my oldest brother who was a prominent DJ when we were growing up in Zimbabwe. He used to bring home crates of records and put us up on the latest jams from the Sugar Hill Gang to Kurtis Blow, even soul and funk like Midnight Star, Lakeside. That gave us our first window into the music and we were hooked from there.
Lady Jay UK: So you moved to New York from Zimbabwe in 1990, to begin college, and started trying to infiltrate the hip hop scene. What was the reception you got?
Dumi RIGHT: I think when we initially arrived on the scene a lot of people were pleasantly surprised that we actually could flip and had serious rhyme skills. I think they expected that we’d have some basics but I don’t think they realized that we were students of the art and had been honing our craft.
Lady Jay UK: Is it true you were the first African group to record hip hop in America?
Dumi RIGHT: I’m not a historian by trade but I do know that we are widely regarded as one of the first hip-hop groups to make a mark stateside and I am fairly certain we were the first to have a deal with a major label here.
Lady Jay UK: Your first album ‘Brothers From The Mother’ was massively delayed. What happened?
Dumi RIGHT: Aw man, so much. I always am reminded of the phrase “almost famous”. We were ready to make noise but it was a combination of lack of support from the powers that be at the label and then the unfortunate deteriorating health of our mentor and label rep that had signed us Dave Funken-Klein. As he underwent a terrible battle with cancer he turned over a lot of responsibilities at the label to other people who were not as interested in pushing our project forward. We ended up in limbo and our project ended up not seeing the light of day, until just recently when we were able to put it out through Glow In The Dark Records.
Lady Jay UK: You must have learnt some important lessons along the way. Share some with me…
Dumi RIGHT: One of the biggest things I learned is that you have to do for self. Regardless if you’re on an independent or a major you have to drive your career and make things happen. It’s important to network and gravitate towards like minded people. I also learned a lot about how the music business works. Perhaps the greatest experience was travelling to Japan on tour with Organized Konfusion and watching and learning from those brothers.
Lady Jay UK: There are some great guest appearances on ‘House Of Stone’. Run me through it, and how did it all come together?
Dumi RIGHT: After the success and critical acclaim that our album Brothers From The Mother received, people kept asking me when they were going to hear some new ZL material. At that point I sat back and meditated on the best way for us to reintroduce ourselves to old fans and discover a slew of new listeners in a much changed music landscape since the last time out. One other thing that the initial experience afforded us was meeting a number of hip-hop icons from the Jungle Brothers to YZ and of course Organized as mentioned before. So I came up with the idea of doing the album that incorporated appearances from a lot of the hip-hop veterans that we had met over the course of our journey through hip-hop. Part of the reason I involved all these guests was I felt it was real important to shine light on the progressive voices in hip-hop and skilled artisans that are not heard in the flood of the mainstream. I wanted to turn the spotlight back on to the art instead of the run of the mill same old, same old that is dominating airwaves.
Lady Jay UK: Why did you call the album ‘House Of Stone’?
Dumi RIGHT: That is a metaphor to symbolize solid music. If you make music like a castle of sand, when the tide rises, it tumbles into the sea (word to Jimmy Hendrix). If you however build a solid foundation, you make music that is timeless. I mean I listen to old albums by Tribe Called Quest or EPMD and they still bang today. These other ‘flavour of the week’ ringtone type hits don’t last. So with this album I wanted to build something that could stand the test of time.
Lady Jay UK: Who produced the album?
Dumi RIGHT: I enlisted a high powered coalition – Cadence from Raw Produce who is a long time collaborator, an ill producer named the Saint out of New York, an up and coming cat called Olatunji Mason, a dude I worked with out of Germany named H-Peh who also mastered the album, this cat named Lord Lamont and then someone from your backyard, Wytfang who laced an interlude.
Lady Jay UK: What are your musical influences?
Dumi RIGHT: I grew up listening to a range of stuff from hip-hop but also broader influences from things my folks would listen to – so the spectrum includes Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Mantronix, Eric B. and Rakim, Run DMC, Kurtis Blow, Manu Dibango, LL Cool J, Loose Ends, Guy – over the years that is stuff I came up on. Later on I looked up to artists like the Jungle Brothers, KRS-ONE, The Roots, Mos Def, Common, Talib Kweli, Organized Konfusion and people like that.
Lady Jay UK: Tell me about your music.
Dumi RIGHT: I like to refer to our sound as progressive hip-hop. I only make the distinction because there is such a glut in the market right now and everyone claims to be a rapper. “Back in the days you’d get jacked for being wack, but nowadays cats get dap for kicking crap”. So at any rate we make feel good music that stirs emotion, draws on real life experiences and makes you bob your head and get into it. The lyrics are key because we are always saying SOMETHING. Not everything is a message but we definitely know that there is a need for substance. We incorporate a variety of elements but the bottom line is it is hard hitting and introspective hip-hop music. A few people walk in expecting that we’ll be rapping over a Djembe on every song but I think that misses the point. The whole goal is to present variety and do the unexpected.
Lady Jay UK: Do you think it has been important to be in the States to ‘make it’ in hip hop?
Dumi RIGHT: I’ve been here for a while and I see two sides to that. I think from the standpoint of putting out records and making a mark there are definitely advantages to be being based in the U.S. There is a mature market and niches for independent artists to do their thing. However in terms of support for the underground and packing large volume venues, from what I hear our scene is way behind Europe and the rest of the world. People constantly tell me about venues packed for underground shows whereas over here it’s only the mainstream artists that are afforded that courtesy. But it would probably be harder to do what I’m doing if I was anywhere but here.
“Growing up in Zimbabwe we were poised to make noise, but all they played on the radio was Mtukudzi and the Bhundu Boys”.
Lady Jay UK: Who would you love to work with but haven’t yet?
Dumi RIGHT: One of my favourite artists is Masta Ace. He’s an ill emcee and I’ve always been a fan. I’d love to do a track with him. I’d also love to rhyme over a Pete Rock beat. One day.
Lady Jay UK: Tell me about pH music.
Dumi RIGHT: I did the current album House Of Stone through my own imprint pH Music in partnership with Pro Se Recordings and RedLine Music Distribution. pH Music is my label that is serving as a conduit for all the projects put out by me and my affiliates. The next project will probably be Dumi RIGHT and Cadence as Alternate Reality and maybe a ZL remix project. I also have a couple other things on the table that are a bit too early to speak on.
The previous ZL record, “Brothers From The Mother” that was the lost album that never came out from the 90s came out on Glow In The Dark. I hooked up with them just by chance after a discussion with a mutual friend. He told them about me and that I had the ZL material sitting in the vaults and they were keen to make something happen and the rest is history!
Lady Jay UK: What’s O.U.O., and how does it fit in with Zimbabwe Legit?
Dumi RIGHT: O.U.O is my other group, of unknown origin. If you listen closely on House Of Stone, you’ll hear subtle shouts out to O.U.O. (even hidden in the cover art). It is just another facet of who I am but right now the focus is all about Zimbabwe Legit.
Lady Jay UK: I read that you stated: ‘When we were buying stuff on cassette… you didn't want to kill your batteries with fast forward, so the whole album had to be tight’. I laughed my head off. What are your thoughts on mainstream hip hop right now?
Dumi RIGHT: I usually hold my tongue because I don’t want to come off bitter and when you speak the truth, people like to call you a hater. Mainstream hip-hop is a bunch of garbage right now. The entire industry as a matter of fact and they are paying a heavy price for their wackness. Sales are down and even stuff that in the past for them was a sure bet isn’t working. They engineered their own downfall by focusing on singles and now ringtones and so if the whole album isn’t tight, people don’t buy the whole album. Then sales fall and they blame it on file sharing. Its time for them to adapt and retool. In other music forms you have tons of veteran artists who’ve been at it for years but for some reason they think that for hip-hop the shelf life for a rapper should just be one album or two at the most. So they are building this elaborate house of cards that is in jeopardy every time the wind blows.
When things are going good, flaws in a system are not easily evident. The true test is when adversity sets in. A wise man said that, 'the rap industry is in trouble, hip-hop is doing just fine'. As a culture and an art form we will be OK, we are not subject to the effects of wild swings in a fickle market place because we have never catered to fair-weather fans and trends of the week. We make and break our own trends and then mass market comes to us. Where you fail is when you forget that and then cater to the market and then when forces shift, you’re finished. Ask any mainstream flavour of the month rapper who came and went in the blink of an eye.
In parting I’d like to say big up to everyone that supports independent hip-hop. I’d also like to encourage people to get up on the House Of Stone either with the physical CD or digital download. It’s definitely an album for the ages and is so very relevant to the times we are living in and has ill tracks and a dream team guest list and it’s a beacon for DIY hip-hop.