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Bay Area rapper Steve ‘Baba Zumbi’ Gaines of Zion I dies at 49

The prolific rapper died less than 10 days after announcing a Zion I reunion tour

Oakland, California rapper Steve Baba ZumbiGaines, founding member of the hip-hop group Zion I, died at age 49 on August 13.

Gaines’ family shared a statement with KQED confirming the rapper’s death on Friday. While the cause of death remains unconfirmed, All Hip Hop reports it may have been COVID-19 complications that took Gaines’ life.

RIP Baba Zumbi of Zion I . Man pic.twitter.com/P4z6VgQ791

— DAG SAVAGE (@DagSav) August 14, 2021

“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,” the family said. “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,” the family added. 

Berkeley police are investigating the death of Bay Area rapper Stephen Gaines, who went by the stage name Baba Zumbi as part of the group Zion I, after a physical altercation at a hospital,.https://t.co/FQFAURF5rd

— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) August 15, 2021

Gaines’ career began while he was a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia in the early 90s, joining forces with fellow student Anthony Anderson — who produced music under the alias Amp Live — to form the rap group Metafour

The duo briefly signed with Tommy Boy Records, the label known for launching the careers of Afrika Bambaataa, Queen Latifah, Coolio, De La Soul and Digital Underground, but left upon learning that the label had no plans to release any of Metafour’s albums.

Shortly after, the group added DJ K-Genius and moved to the Bay Area, releasing their debut single Inner Light under their new group name Zion I in 1998. The group was prolific over the next decade-plus, releasing nine studio albums, two of which were collaborative projects with Grouch, a fellow Bay Area rapper. The group also featured on songs with rapper Guru, rock band Linkin Park, and dubstep producer Bassnectar.

Rest in eternal peace Baba Zumbi of @ZIONI pic.twitter.com/UDfWyTAojw

— 𝐖𝐈𝐒𝐃𝐎𝐌 𝐁𝐄𝐀𝐓𝐒 (@WisdomSince70) August 14, 2021

After Anderson left the group in 2016, Gaines continued releasing albums under the name Zion I until 2018, when he released the group’s final full-length studio project Ritual Mystik.

On August 4, less than 10 days before Gaines died, he announced via Instagram that he and Anderson were going on a reunion tour in honor of the 20th anniversary of their 2000 album Mind Over Matter. The tour was set to begin on October 1 and last roughly seven weeks through November 13.

On Saturday, Anderson reacted to the death of his late friend and group mate on Instagram, saying “I feel like I have lost part of my body.”

“I have no way of really letting you know the sadness that I am feeling right now,” Anderson began. 

(Miikka Skaffari via Getty Images)

“My friend, my brother, Stephen Gaines, also known as Zumbi, Baba Zumbi, MC Zion, leader of Zion I, passed away Friday 8/13/2021.” 

“My heart right now is just shattered. I would not be who I am today without my brother,” he continued. “Steve was an excellent father, out of this world vocalist, and the most sincere, real, loving friend anyone could have. He was something special. Please send prayers to his family, children, and loved ones.”

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