Sorry I'm a little late this week! The weekend's plate got a little full thanks to some extra gigs! (I'm postponing another album I've been listening to for next week so here's one to tide you over.)
Zion I is a rap duo from Oakland, CA that's been tearing it up West Coast style for a little more than a decade. They're comprised of DJ Amplive and MC Zumbi (formerly known as Zion). As far as what sub-genre of hip hop they could be, well it's hard to pin one down. Underground, backpack, political, hyphy, could all be thrown around, but certainly wouldn't nail the group down completely.
The TakeOver is their sixth full-length album, their first on the Gold Dust Media label, and boy is it a doozy.
I'll be straight up, I'm a huge fan of true hip hop - as in hip hop that is true to the genre's roots, not the bubble gum/dance/'hey we made this song on a Macbook while we were waiting for our lattes at Starbucks' kind. Luckily for me, this certainly qualifies. The TakeOver was the group's attempt to push past their political rap label into a more radio-friendly, feel-good, but still intelligent album. I'd say mission accomplished.
After a politically-charged introductory quote, the album's first track "Geek to the Beat" lets listeners know that they're in for something a little out of the ordinary for this group. This track samples live tribal drums under some equally tribal vocals before Zumbi goes in with a very Lil Wayne rhyme. But don't let the lazy tone fool you. This one is full of social-conscious material wrapped up in a club-ready package. Two songs later, we get a track with a similar vibe: DJ DJ. This time however, think more house a la Bambaataa, less dance club.
The track in between, "Antenna" is one that once again disguises some honest rhyming (about long-distance relationships?) up in a very Dark Twisted Fantasy wrapping.
There are two tracks entitled "Caged Bird" on the album, one of which comes next. Amplive shows off his versatility through both tracks, as are built on the same beat, but through different synths and harmonies he creates two totally different atmospheres. The first joint features Brother Ali, who along with Zumbi, provide hope for a better situation to the listener, " Everyday that you hold me in bars is another day I can't teach your soul to soar/Here both of us are, link to this song - and when you hear a caged bird, sing along (Ali)," Pt. 2 is more somber, painting pictures of what its like to be in the proverbial cage, "We hustle and we grind/Precision at all times/Programmed for the prison/So we used to the dying (Zumbi)".
"Radio" is the eighth track and this one capitalizes on the 'boom, clap-clap' sound of Outkast's 'Hey Ya.' Definitely a feel-good song about diggin' on some new music with some new equipment.
After a short little instrumental mash called "Gumbo," a southern rap inspired track called "Country-Baked Yams" is up. If there is one track on the album that I'd have to call a flop, this is it. Seems to be one of two joints on this album that's about a woman, and in true hip hop style, tells you plenty about her appearance and not much else. A less flop-ish track that comes a few tracks later with similar content is Peppermint Patty. The only reason I like this one better is because the beat is pretty dope.
Next up is a minimally-produced track with a nice blend of real and synthesized instruments called "Coastin'." This one has a very chill vibe about taking it easy and rolling with the punches. In my opinion, this one fills out the group's West Coast obligation.
If "Coastin'" is the album's West Coast sound, then the next track "Juicy Juice" is the obligatory braggadocious track. Lots of self-hype here.
The penultimate track, "Bring in the Light" is probably the most politically-charged song, and in that way, the most similar to past Zion ventures. Rhymes like "imitate what you want, who's controlling your fate/they be pumping the hate, just for the media's sake" and "ignorance is the drug that powers the thug/I'm on the grind trying to show that there's love love love" blend some non-specific commentary on the state of society. Zion I in a nutshell.
The TakeOver's last track is another extremely thoughtfully-crafted production top to bottom. The instrumental portion is a killer blend of lounge, jazz fusion, and tribal elements. This one brings us back from the almost gloomy tone of "Bring in the Light" to a more optimistic outlook on our future. Very thoughtful way to wrap up the album.
In conclusion, I'm certainly a fan of this album, although I should mention something: I don't think it's a homerun. The versatility and variety featured on this disc is both its triumph and its downfall. I don't think there's a unifying thread to tie it all together, nor is there a single track that blows the others away. Everything is pretty good, but each track is so different from the previous that I don't think I'd believe they're all from the same album if I was listening to them blindly.
If you're interested in a fresh sound that's not too political but still has more content than whatever is on the radio currently, look no further then Zion I's The TakeOver.