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Zion I - True & Livin'

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Artist: Zion I

Album: True & Livin'

Label: Live Up

Review date: May. 26, 2005

Zion I is as much a misnomer as, say, Guru-otomy (Gang Starr), MC Tee-ronix (Mantronix), or Eric B. & Rakim (Eric B. & Rakim); MC Zion may give the Bay Area group the name, but it’s the many sounds of producer Amp Live that makes True & Livin’, the duo’s third LP, warm and worthwhile.

Putting the bass-and-drum sound of previous records on the shelf, Amp has assembled a collection of tracks that breathe without sacrificing bounce, low-key instrumentals seasoned with just the right amount of live instrumentation that move in surprising directions. The otherwise earthly “Doin’ My Thing” rises skyward with a lone mariachi trumpet. “Amerika” matches its title topic with a marching tempo before breaking into an all-out rock thrashing. The inspiring “Soo Tall” melds an unusual drum machine pattern reminiscent of late Sly Stone and violin that may make you jump out of your seat, the perfect backing for the song’s rallying cry.

If Amp’s sound is the meat and seasoning, MC Zion brings the potatoes. Zion is neither particularly lacking or interesting as a rapper, usually making up in sincerity (see the “I Used To Love H.E.R.”-like “Bird’s Eye View”) what he lacks in skill (see forced rhymes like, “Robert Marley / said ‘One Love’ now it’s time to party / Get on down like Gras of Mardi”). Essentially a less talented Black Thought, Zion still holds his own just enough against guests Talib Kweli, Aesop Rock, Del and Gift of Gab to keep their songs at the expected highlight level. Aesop Rock’s turn, “Poems 4 Post Modern Decay,” is a particularly good fit, with Aesop’s dense and darkly funny verse fitting lockstep into an eerie upright bass, cello and kalimba track.

The beat-rhyme ratio is far off-balance in Zion I; then again, the same problem effected Slum Village and Group Home without ruining Jay Dee’s work on Fantastic Vol. 2 or DJ Premier’s on Livin’ Proof. Like those records, True & Livin’s imperfections don’t spoil its uniqueness. In a producer’s genre, Amp Live is truly one to watch.

By Josh Drimmer

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