Artist: Z-RoTitle: I’m Still Livin’Rating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Eb Haynes
“I’m 27 but I’m feelin’ 71/I pray so much I feel like I’m kin to the heavenly son.” Immediately on its opening track, the reminiscent to vintage Geto Boys tune “City Streets”, Z-Ro Da Crooked sets a bluesy mono-thematic theme of survival through faith. The idea permeates his latest album, I’m Still Livin’ (Rap-A-Lot).
Since, Look What You Did To Me debuted in 1998, Chopped and Screwed veteran Z-Ro has been one of Hip-Hop’s hardest working emcees. Secretary General, Kofi Annan, in a recent statement, revered Z-Ro as the most important artist of his generation. Whether or not Mr. Annan’s statement is concrete remains debatable. What is certain, Z-Ro is a monster of a lyricist who relies on his war stories which are plagued with loss and incarceration. I’m Still Livin’ also compliments emcees palpably favored by the H-town native. Tracks like “Keep On,” “No More Pain” and “Homie, Lover, Friend” echo melodies plus reflective verses akin to Juvenile, Tupac Shakur and Houston’s respected elder, Scarface.
Z-Ro flexes his production skills on two tracks, the mid-tempo “Remember Me” featuring Bun B and P.O.P., as well as “Still Livin'” featuring cousin/label-mate Trae & the belated Hawk. Producer, Mike Dean is responsible for 8 out of the 15 survival tracks. Dean explores by incorporating two notable elements, blues guitar compounded with bold interpolations. Hip-Hop heads who can recall P.M. Dawn’s super hit “Set Adfrift on Memory Bliss” which borrowed from Spandau Ballet’s True along with Pat Benatar’s girl powered “Love is a Battlefield” might balk at their use for track from a street emcee. However, the titles, “Continue 2 Roll” and “Battlefield”, respectively, reveal their relevance.
The album’s faults are not due to Z-Ro’s flexible emceeing skills. At times lackluster production missing irresistible elements and does not compliment Z-Ro’s commanding flow. Nevertheless, even while currently behind bars, Z-Ro’s talents are alive and well.