When the world thinks of conceptual, timeless music Hip Hop trailblazer Dumi Right comes to mind. The acclaimed emcee/songwriter/performing artist/cultural ambassador has been doing just that since the golden era of Hip Hop and his latest single/video “Stay Focused” is no exception. The track features Outspoken, Sykotek, and KHz Pro on production. Before diving into this mastered canvas check out the full interview below with Dumi Right. He chops it up about the inspiration and creation behind “Stay Focused”, current and upcoming endeavors, his role in Hip Hop, and more.
“With so much going on in the world in the grip of a global pandemic, it is easy to be overwhelmed and lose focus. This head-nodding track serves as a call to action and a reminder that we should always rise to the challenge, even if the odds seem insurmountable. It also speaks to bridging the gap between generations to help propel us to a brighter Afro Futuristic plane. As the chorus implores, “Focus on the challenges we’re facin’, Music that’ll spark elevation, Trying to change the current situation, Building with the next generation…”
MJ: For those who might be unfamiliar with Dumi Right, let’s begin by introducing you. Your history in Hip Hop dates to Zimbabwe Legit, one of the first Hip Hop groups in Africa to receive global recognition. How did that experience pave the way for you as an emcee, songwriter, and performing artist?
Dumi: When I first came out, all I wanted was for the world to hear the story of a young dude from Africa, a “brother from the Mother” that had been drawn to the power and magnetism of Hip Hop. Back in 1992, my group Zimbabwe Legit dropped a groundbreaking EP that included production from Black Sheep’s Mr. Lawnge and DJ Shadow. Since then, I’ve remained deeply immersed in the art and culture performing domestically and internationally and recording critically acclaimed albums and unique projects. I like to live by the phrase, “Don’t let your past be brighter than your future” so I was never one to rest on my laurels. Even though back then we were written up in Billboard magazine, The Source, and yeah even “Word Up! Magazine” that I read from cover to cover admiring my favorite rap stars like the Biggie lyric says, I knew that if I didn’t keep pushing and keep moving, I could easily fall off. When we first got started, international Hip Hop was by no means at the scale that it is today. There wasn’t a well-defined blueprint on how to make the connection between Hip Hop in other parts of the world and what was going on in the US at the time, and so I had to navigate and learn by trial-and-error style. I loved the fact that we could give voice to a whole segment of the culture that many people may not have been familiar with and bring a unique perspective and view of the world through the music. Also coming out at that time meant that I was a de facto ambassador of sorts, representing a bunch of people like myself. That meant I had to come correct and make a mark because a lot of eyes were watching, and I felt the weight of people who were counting on me to be successful. Having that pressure from the get-go gave me the drive and perseverance to realize that failure wasn’t an option and that I always needed to put my best foot forward. You don’t realize at the time the impact what you do might have, but hearing from people how that initial splash was an inspiration is definitely humbling and very deeply appreciated.
MJ: You are not only respected as an emcee but also as a cultural ambassador. How did that role come into fruition? How does it tie into your music?
Dumi: Coming out of the international scene, I have always had a desire to connect with artists from all over the globe. Knowing how Hip Hop culture influenced and inspired me growing up and so I understood how important it was to build bridges and community globally. As a result, for many years I worked on collaborations, projects, and initiatives that involved artists from countries around the world. I later heard about a formal opportunity to practice many of the things I had been doing already, by teaching Hip Hop overseas through a program called Next Level. A DJ friend of mine had participated in the first edition of that program and he told me that it was amazing and that I needed to apply. I did and was selected to teach emceeing in Thailand a few years ago. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my music career and even my life in general. It was an extension of the work that I had been doing but it also allowed me to build with up-and-coming emcees and teach the principles of Hip Hop and performing as well as learn more about Thai culture and the people. It was an affirmation that I was doing meaningful work and strengthened my resolve to continue to be a global connector and bring artists together through music.
MJ: Your latest video “Stay Focused” features Outspoken and Sykotek with production by KHz Pro. Before we dive into the content of the video, tell us how everyone linked up with each other. The filming aspect alone of the video is incredible.
Dumi: Outspoken is one of my favorite emcees from Zimbabwe. He has insightful rhymes that address the times, and he is a very versatile artist. I have performed with him when his group visited the US and we collaborated on a previous song and video. My homie Khz cooked up this head-banging track and as I was formulating an idea of what I wanted to do with it, I realized he’d be the perfect artist to collaborate with on it. He also works quickly, and the finished product is always dope. I was introduced to Sykotek by a mutual friend and really liked the way he rhymed and the way he seamlessly transitioned between languages. He raps in English but can stop on a dime and start spitting in Ndebele and he’s got crazy skills doing both. Also having previously done a song called “Doin’ Damage in My Native Language” it seemed appropriate to have him carry the torch and represent that here. In addition, the three of us had collaborated last year on a Covid-19 awareness song for a project that a counterpart was putting together. That song “In These Days and Times” turned out well and our styles complimented each other so I felt we needed to do it again for this. We are all in different countries, Outspoken in Harare, Zimbabwe; Sykotek was in Johannesburg, South Africa at the time and I am based in Washington, DC but we were able to get on the same page and record music first and then later the video to bring the “Stay Focused” concept together.
MJ: What was the inspiration behind “Stay Focused”? Did the video meet/exceed your expectations?
Dumi: The song basically talks about following through on what your goals are despite distractions, setbacks, or roadblocks. It also speaks to connecting with the next generation to build a stronger community and change sub-optimal situations or circumstances that we might find ourselves in. The beat slapped so hard that I knew I needed something high energy to match it. I did a couple of different things for the chorus but then I thought it would be dope to switch it up and have someone else rock the hook and summarize the whole concept. I loved what Outspoken did with it and that set the stage for everything else. I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to pull off a video given our different geographic locations, but the guys were all keen to try it out and made plans to record their footage and send it to me for editing. Another longtime friend and collaborator by the name of Magee offered to edit it all together and he did it seamlessly like the pro that he is. The footage was shot in 3 different countries, and he took the challenge of weaving the story together and he did an amazing job. It exceeded all expectations for me even though I know he’s a wizard with video. He’s directed and edited a lot of African Hip Hop music videos but also works in the field so has edited numerous films and documentaries, so it was certainly within his realm of capability, and it shows.
MJ: It seems at times music that offers empowerment and motivation that wake up and stimulate our core and minds, has fallen by the wayside. As an emcee and cultural ambassador, what is your blueprint to ensure “Stay Focused” doesn’t take a back seat to the monotony that is being saturated on the airwaves and in communities?
Dumi: The first thing for me is not being influenced by the flavor of the month trends prevailing in the industry. Understanding who I am and what my authentic and unique voice is means I can exercise the freedom to not go along with whatever is trendy now and stay focused on my grind and the work that I’m trying to do. I also know that saying something in music might mean it might not be highlighted in those mainstream circles so finding alternative outlets and audiences to amplify the messages that we’re dropping and spread the word about what we’re doing. I focus on non-typical music outlets but also leverage the global Hip Hop community to find the eyes and ears that appreciate that raw and true Hip Hop sound and lyrics. Like-minded people are out there, you just have to find them. I do work in Hip Hop education and so this type of music also finds receptive audiences in those types of forums as well. And a wise man once said, “Market and promote, and you gotta hope, that the product is dope” (word to Q-Tip), so to begin with I always make sure that I put forth dope music with beats and rhymes that people are going to want to listen to. If you have a great product, when the audience hears it, they can’t help but appreciate it. I also lean on my network of international collaborators to help carry the messages to fans in their areas that would dig it but I otherwise might not be able to reach on my own. So essentially building an ecosystem of progressive Hip Hop on our own, knowing that we can’t count on support from the mainstream. Doing things beyond just music like workshops and panels also helps to build that community and work to “try to change the current situation” besides just dropping records. Hopefully, through all these combined efforts a major impact will be felt.
MJ: Can you share with audiences and fans what they can expect from Dumi Right in 2022? New music, more collaborations, and/or other endeavors on the radar?
Dumi: While finishing up my next solo album, I ended up inking a deal with a label in the UK to re-issue one of my prior albums on limited-edition vinyl. That will drop later this year via Chopped Herring Records. I feel like folks that cop vinyls are some of the biggest supporters and truest fans and of course, that includes many DJs, so I am thrilled that we’re going to be able to make that happen. The biggest news though is the impending launch of my new website dumiright.com very soon and a brand-new solo album, Dumi Right – Foreword to the Future. I’m real amped about this as it has been a long time coming but it has some pure heat on it. Guest artists include Chubb Rock, Speech from Arrested Development, YZ, El Da Sensei, Breez Evahflowin’, Kev Brown (on production), Emskee, and more. I had an artist in South Africa draw some ill Afro-Futuristic artwork. It will drop also on limited vinyl first and then go on all the streaming platforms thereafter. We’re putting the finishing touches on it and working on the marketing and distribution plan.
MJ: Take this time to share anything else with the world of Hip Hop…
Dumi: I just served as an executive producer and artist on a compilation series, Stop Shooting Vol 1 and 2 that features emcees and producers from all over the world speaking out about gun violence and police brutality. Lots of exciting music on those two volumes including a new single called “Global Love Warming” that includes a chorus sung by Aloe Blacc. There are so many great artists on it and they all bring very unique perspectives and styles to the table so it’s refreshing to hear…Please subscribe to my YouTube channel at https://youtube.com/dumirightmusic and follow me on Instagram, FB, and Twitter for all the latest scoop.
Connect with Dumi Right