This story has been updated.
Steve Gaines, the MC known as Baba Zumbi from Bay Area hip-hop group Zion I, has died. KQED spoke with Zumbi's family and confirmed his death on Friday afternoon.
The family shared a statement with KQED 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.
Neither Zumbi's family nor his publicist would address reports that he died from complications related to COVID, as told to KQED by close friends. Zumbi was said to be hesitant about receiving the COVID vaccine.
Earlier Friday, the Los Angeles hip-hop collective Project Blowed posted a statement from DJ True Justice, a touring DJ for Zion I, saying that Zumbi had been recovering from COVID when "he had a severe asthma attack and his heart stopped. He died in the hospital. They were unable to revive him."
But Berkeley police, who responded to a physical altercation between a patient and hospital staff shortly after 5am on Friday, are now investigating Zumbi's death. A spokesperson for the Berkeley Police Department told the San Francisco Chronicle that the involved patient was eventually pinned down by hospital security. The spokesperson added that, upon arrival, officers began handcuffing the patient when they determined that he needed immediate medical assistance.
Police and hospital staff performed livesaving measures, the spokesperson said, but the patient was unresponsive and pronounced dead at the scene. Police dispatch recordings reviewed by KQED identify the patient as Steven Gaines.
Zumbi began releasing music under the Zion I name in 2000 together with DJ and producer Amp Live. Over the next decade and a half, the group released nine full-length albums, plus several mixtapes and collaborations. Amp Live left Zion I in 2015, but the two had reunited this year for an anniversary tour together, 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 in 2000.