True & Livin’

Artist: Zion ITitle: True & Livin’Rating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Paine

Zion I is the freshest new talent to come out of Oakland, California since The Coup in the early 90’s. 2000’s Mind Over Matter remains a breakthrough for the area and the duo. But with leaks and pushbacks of Deepwater Slang, the group has faded from the major underground consciousness since their last official release. Amp Live and Zion return with an album that’s title reflects their message, Zion I is True & Livin’ (Live Up).

Zion I’s lyrical direction has evolved a great deal. In good Oaktown tradition, the activism element on this album is very prevalent. Whether the vivid social conditions expressed on “Amerika” or the highly cynical attitude on “Poems 4 Post Modern Decay” with Aesop Rock, the duo is using this song to criticize the mass-consumption going on in the world with little purpose. Aesop’s verse is one of his best in several years, largely due to the fact that he rhymes to the beat and not around it. Zion also provides a clever interpolation of DMX’s “Slippin.” Unlike so many third albums, Zion I brought in only the finest and most compatible guests in Talib, Gift of Gab, and Del. All of the results are impressive. True to their lineage, Zion I can rock the ‘Hip-Hop as a woman’ metaphor well on, “Bird’s Eye View.” This song addresses the career doubts that the group experienced as well as the undying dedication. Although the concept is growing tired after ten years, this sounds better than many. In addition, the outright emotion on “Luv” is more original, and more personal. This work shows tremendous growth in terms of concise writing, and developed themes from a group often noted more for its bold production.

Listeners and critics seemed to enjoy the conventional break sampling on last year’s Family Business mixtape, and True & Livin’ builds upon that strength. “One Chance” uses a classic sample, and twists it to Zion I’s faster tempo to create a nice, easy vibe with energy. “Temperature,” which features Kweli, is another of the album’s finer productions. A chopped string arrangement, and strong percussion allows Amp Live to showcase his work, and reconnect with an East Coast friend. Throughout the album, Zion I continues to bring in scratches, something they’ve always done. This keeps things interesting in between the highlights of the album. The boldness is still there though, from the offbeat loop in “Oh Lawd” to the electronic-fused “Soo Tall.” These experiments will impress some, and turn off others. The group has treats for both conservative and liberal fans of the music, much meatier alternative to the electro envelope pushing of Zion I’s past. As lyrically fulfilling as the duo has gotten, Amp has also improved upon his musical vision for the group.

It’s rare to see an artist from the independent wave of the late 90’s outdo a previous work. This is Zion I’s most complete, most artistic, and most fulfilling album to date. It has everything cutting edge about the duo in 2000, with exciting guests, and much more to say. Time off may not be so bad for Zion and Amp Live. True & Livin’ will only get sweeter as the weather warms up and the tops drop. The album combines melodic music with finely crafted lyrics that analyze America’s problems and present solutions.

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