UPDATE: A GoFundMe for Gaines’ children’s college tuition has been established. Please donate if you’re able — I just did. Thank you.
Late last week I learned through an Instagram post by D-Stroy that Bay Area hip-hop legend Stephen Gaines, b/k/a Baba Zumbi from Zion I, had passed away at 49 years old due to complications from COVID-19. We’ve lost so many greats in the last 12 months that quite frankly I’m glad to be on antidepressants. It’s hard enough contemplating the passing of so many people as is that I think it would be completely devastating without that extra help, and if you’re able to do it without I commend your strength.
It can be equally difficult to build an entire career after your debut album is a rap classic, but Gaines found a way even as the lineup changed. Early on in their history deejay K-Genius left the group, and much later on Zumbi and long-time producer Amp Live amicably parted ways, but Gaines just kept on striving. He was consistently a thoughtful, intellectual and fun loving emcee who was never afraid to dig deeper into issues that mattered when they needed desparately to be addressed.
Unfortunately this story isn’t even as simple as “popular and well respected rap artist dies from COVID-19.” The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that Gaines had a physical altercation at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center before his passing. Due to pop up ads that try to force you to get a subscription it may be hard to read, so here’s an excerpt. “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, according to officials and people close to Gaines.” It’s hard to imagine a peaceful man like Gaines, a father to three children, provoking a fight with someone when he’s already dealing with COVID-19. I can’t even fathom him being the instigator, and if the assault led to his condition getting even worse then homicide charges need to follow.
If you’re late to the music Gaines made as Baba Zumbi of Zion I, there’s no better time to start appreciating his catalogue. I can’t shake the feeling this was a preventable tragedy on so many levels, both in terms of catching the virus and what may have transpired under medical care after he did. There’s nothing I can do on my end though but wait and learn what the police investigation uncovers. In the meantime my condolences to his grieving family and to his many fans around the world. Rest In Power.