Dont check for Oakland duo Zion I, consisting on MC Zion and producer Amp Live, to be all over the radio taking advantage of McDonalds recent offer to drop pesos for Big Mac mentions. With over 14 years invested in their friendship and three albums collectively recorded, the Bay Area Hip-Hop heads have come to keep it pure, often rapping about everything from struggling to keep a love to struggling with race relations in America over Amps unconventional production methods.
Having already dropped their debut album Mind Over Matter and their critically acclaimed sophomore attempt Deep Water Slang, which was nominated for a VIBE Magazine Independent Album of the Year award, 2005 proves that Zion I is still keeping it live with their third record together, True & Livin.
A week before the release of that album, MC Zion and Amp Live hooked up with AllHipHop to discuss the appeal of MC/producer records, their induction into the heady Spitkickers crew, and Amps comedic curiosity with the McDonalds Big Mac offer. True and livin, true indeed.
AllHipHop.com: So, being that this is your third collective album, what have you guys learned along the way from Mind Over Matter, your first album, until now?
Amp Live: Good question. I mean, definitely learned to stay in tune with whats going on with the fans and also getting to know the business-side. I mean, I think now we know the business better, way, way better than we did when we made Mind Over Matter.
MC Zion: Yeah, and also, learning that the music basically reflects the friendship that cats have, that we have.
AllHipHop.com: How long have you guys known each other?
MC Zion: I think we met in like 91, so 14 years. Damn! [laughs]
AllHipHop.com: You are the MC and the producer for a whole album. People look at a group like Gang Starr, they have definitely adopted that and made that work. Its something that really works, because you can tell that you guys work together a lot and that comes through. Why do you think that works so well for you guys?
Amp Live: I think because of the commerciality of Hip-Hop and where its gone, its more hit driven. All you want is hits on the album, and you just want to choose and just try to have, like, come at people from all angles to make sure the album hits radio the best. I think that sort of changed things. And, the thing is, I think its important to have an album with diversity. I think when you have production in-house and you have somebody there whos constantly doing the music, youre able to capture a vibe and make the album more equal and together.
MC Zion: And I think that actually makes the music more see-through nowadays, because, like Amp says, there is no consistent vibe on records. Some records, like Illmatic, you had like four producers on there, and the vibe was still thick! But I think thats a rare occasion when theres a bunch of producers on the album. And actually, you brought up Gang Starr. We kind of patterned ourselves after that.
AllHipHop.com: It was also reported that you guys fielded some interest prior to this album from some major labels, Def Jam and Sony. How much truth is there to that?
Amp Live: Yeah, yeah. That was more during our last album, Deep Water Slang. This album, too, though, cats was checking us out.
AllHipHop.com: A lot of people look at a major label deal as a bigger budget and everything. Why go independent?
MC Zion: Well, we been through that road before. We been signed to a major. And, from my perspective, it seems like were not gangstered out, were not thugged out, were not whats happening in the mainstream right now. So, therefore, being on a major label, my experience is that you constantly have to prove yourself. You have to always give them, keep sending them in singles until they like one. And, for us, were grown men! We been doing it. I dont feel like I have to prove myself as an MC. I dont think Amp has to prove himself as a producer at this point in time. And we have the wherewithal to put out our own records and be successful cause the people around us are also contributing. So, thats why we just go independent with it.
AllHipHop.com: One of the times when you get a little darker on the album is when you hooked up with Aesop Rock on Poems 4 Post Modern Decay. This was one of the most blunt and honest and forthcoming tracks on here. So, what made you want to make that track?
Amp Live: Ive been wanting to work with Aesop for awhile. I think hes real interesting. The track came along, and it was a pretty different track so we just thought of an ill collaboration. His name came up, so we pursued him.
MC Zion: And, I think the subject matter is just that track, the bassline is dark and the whole feeling of the music is kind of foreboding a little bit. And actually, when I wrote that, we were staying in Brooklyn at my homies crib, J. Period. We went to New York for a month in May to work on the album. It was just kind of vibing off the scenario and life in modern-day America and how it aint all sweet, man, and how a lot of stuff was real foul. And I knew that Aesop would vibe with that.
AllHipHop.com: Speaking of, did you guys hear about that McDonalds offer, where theyre paying rappers $1-5 to put the Big Mac name in a song?
MC Zion: Yeah, I heard that, man! Its just ridiculous. I dont know. I see what theyre doing
Amp Live: Wait, how much are they paying?
MC Zion: You want to do it?
Amp Live: Nah, nah. You said $1 to $5 though?
MC Zion: If you put Big Mac in your record
AllHipHop.com: Yeah, its $1-5, but its for every time it gets played on the radio.
MC Zion: So, imagine if somebody like Jigga did that or 50. They just gonna add mad dough. Im glad I havent heard nobody do that yet. But, you know, cats is hungry. People want to make money. People want to eat. People want to be successful in life.
Amp Live: You could say somethings nastier than a Big Mac!
AllHipHop.com: On your track, Birds Eye View, you personify Hip-Hop and call it a she. So I wanted to know, if Hip-Hop was a woman, what would she look like to you guys?
MC Zion: Oh man! Okay, lets do it up. I think she would have big, large breasts, a big booty. I think she would probably have some kind of natural hairstyle like dreadlocks, or, if she was Latino or Puerto Rican, she would have curly black hair or something like that. And shed be real beautiful, man.
Amp Live: Yeah. I think right now, shed be in her upper-20s, and be sort of like commercial but also a mixture of cultural and commercial. But, I think shed be very loyal to me and shed be ready to have some babies!
AHH: Alright, lets see. You guys had social activist, Fred Hampton, Jr. on the record. Whyd you want to include him? Thats a real social lesson for people checking this album.
MC ZION: Basically, man, I didnt even know Fred Hampton, Jr. was really around until my homeboy told me. And basically, he brought him through the studio and was like, Yo, Fred Hampton, Jr. with me. Im a student of the 60s, the Black Power struggle, and I know the legacy of Fred Hampton. So, when I heard Fred Hampton, Jr., its just a legacy, its a link to that. And so, I just wanted to have the brother on there just to represent that. That struggle is still going today. His father was murdered in Chicago by the F.B.I. or by the police. And thats his son! Hes continued and done a lot of the same work.
AllHipHop.com: And, off the strength of this record, what would make you guys happy following the release of True and Livin? Im sure you guys arent holding your breath for a platinum plaque, so what makes it worth it for you?
Amp Live: The feedback from the fans, and itd be nice for it to sell double what the last album did.
MC Zion: I mean, I think what makes it worth it is being able to do shows and you rocking and you seeing people having a good-ass time, smiling, and getting crazy in the spot. And then, being able to travel all over the world! Meeting all these new people and just bugging out on life. I come home and people are like, Yo, Im working a job. You so lucky. You get to travel the world. Im like, Damn, thats right. It is a blessing to be able to do this, and its all through Hip-Hop.