Zion I are an Oakland, California crew who have been giving the underground some interesting hip-hop for years. With their previous effort "Mind Over Matter", they only received respect but little sales or mainstream exposure. After many problems, Zion I teamed up with Raptivism to put out there next LP "Deep Water Slang V2.0". For those who do not know, Zion I is led by Zion I on the mic and Amp Live on production. They have a unique sound and are not afraid to take chances. As an emcee, Zion I has a "little-kid" voice that can get annoying at times but his lyrical ability and skillful flow garners respect. Lyrically, he is more of a conscious emcee who explores various themes of forgiveness, karma, spirituality, and a love for hip-hop. Amp Live's eclectic production consists of layered grooves, unique snares, interesting samples, live instrumentation, and a variety of styles ranging from old-school hip-hop to dancehall to jazz. This mixture makes "Deep Water Slang V2.0" an entertaining and interesting listening experience for people who love underground hip-hop.
There are many songs on "Deep Water Slang V2.0" that are instantly gratifying. "Sorry" (featuring background vocals by Goapele) has some wonderful live instrumentation. This is a very introspective and daring track for a hip-hop artist since Zion I leaves himself very vulnerable. Zion raps: "…This is for the ladies that I did wrong / It's sort of crazy / That I would write these words up in a song so that maybe / To get some closure / Relationships already over /…/ To romance, I can't say that I've been faithful / I cheated many times for experience, I'm grateful…" You can feel the truth in his performance as Zion I tells us about the power of forgiveness. The flute and live strings add to the intense emotion and make this a wonderful, poignant track. "Finger Paint" (featuring Susie Suh & Dust) also has live instrumentation and weird, atmospheric computerized synth beats. Zion I gets very abstract while Dust tries a little too hard. Dust raps: "Feel my finger paint on my parabola". What does that mean? Parabola is a geometic shape. How can we feel paint on a geometric shape? The theme of the track is how creativity can not only break down boundaries but how creativity and the act of creating has infinite potential. Zion I's energy and the music makes this a stand-out track. Susie Suh's ethereal hook along with the drowned-out electric rock guitar adds to the incredible energy. "Flow" (featuring Goapele & Grouch) is a very serene and jazzy track with some excellent vocals by Goapele and a nice beat. "Kick Snare" is an excellent interlude track with Killa Kela on the beat box and DJ Sharp on the turntables. As a beat box, Kela's skills are up there with Rahzel and Scratch of The Roots. "Boom Bip" (featuring Goapele) is an extremely ethereal and mellow track. Goapele's dreamy vocals compliment the beat and the love of hip-hop is truly evident. "Kharma" has an excellent beat and a cool reggae chanted hook by Zion I over some very well done scratches. There are some very good upbeat tracks too. "Tha Drill" opens the album with a fierce energy while the beat and rhymes find a nice balance. The hook has Zion I asking "Is you with this?" while DJ Period perfectly responds in the background. It is a great opening track that grows on the listener. "Rock Ya'll" is the hidden final track that is a seriously energetic head-nodder. Zion's energy on the mic is so furious you practically hear the sweat hitting the mic from his forehead. Again, the Amp Live's beats and Zion's flow work extremely well.
Experimentation is a beautiful thing and Zion I conducts some very interesting experiments. "One More Thing" (featuring Susie Suh) is an experimental hidden track with live guitar instrumentation and an odd beat with a slow tempo. Zion's vocals are distorted but they compliment Susie Suh's ghostly vocals. The atmospheric synths in the background creep up to create a beautiful crescendo. I wish more hip-hop groups would take chances like this. It borders on trip-hop/acid jazz and it is a wonderful piece of music. "Dune" (the final track before the hidden tracks) has an angelic and mysterious flute and distorted vocals by Zion. It sounds like the feeling of being high. It's a pure opium groove. The track, "Deep Water Slang" is a useless bluesy interlude that is too short to be annoying. It is the only time where the experimental feel does not work perfectly.
While there are not any bad songs, some tracks do not hit as hard and others can be considered filler. "Warrior's Dance" (featuring Pep Love of Hieroglyphics) is a little deeper than the usual dance-floor call-response track. Pep Love adds good lyrics to the track and helps out with the hook. Zion I calls for his "people" in the "struggle" and "streets" to "Rock to the beat". It does have a generic feel at first, but it acts as a call to arms. The electronic Timbaland-esque beat also gives it a generic quality. Still, the overall energy saves the track. "AEIOU" is a heavy-synth dancehall track with a cool flow and delivery by Zion but the hook puts the track in the filler category as Zion chants the vowels and a corresponding line for each letter. "Cheeba Cheeba" (featuring Aceyalone) is the lead single and has backing vocals by Martin Luther. It is a typical filler / typical radio friendly single track with a generic old-school loving hip-hop hook. The female-chanted hook "…Rock Rock Yall Freak freak yall / Cheeba cheeba yall…" is way too basic and simple for a deep group like Zion I. Aceyalone does rock a magnificent performance. "Le Le Le" (featuring Dust ad Deuce Eclipse) is in the same category as "Cheeba Cheeba" but the call-response hook is more original: "…If you really love your momma - say Le - Le- Le…" The beat, which sounds like a double-time Southern hip-hop track, does not save the track this time even though it may get the listener to do that bounce-dance. "Mind Blow" has some great scratching and nice guitar work but the repeated phrase "Let me holla!" gives it a generic filler quality. Still, the production, the verses, and the overall energy should be appreciated.
Zion I's "Deep Water Slang V2.0" is an entertaining album filled with passion, good beats, nice scratching, and unique live instrumentation. Sometimes, the tracks hit hard with the poignant "Sorry" or the abstract "Finger Paint" while others they can seem generic like "Mind Blow" or "Le Le Le". Even though the filler tracks have some kind of generic aspect, they always possess a unique quality too. Zion I love hip-hop, freedom, expression, and the force of music. This love is evident in both Amp Live (producer) and Zion I (emcee). Even the filler tracks have something that should be appreciated whether it is the beat, rhymes, energy or the production. As an emcee, Zion I's "little kid voice" can sound awkward and annoying at times but his energy and lyrics are powerful, hungry and filled with passion. He must be respected for that. As a producer, Amp Live is taking chances on some songs like "One More Thing" and "Dune". Mixing the live instrumentation with scratching while mixing different styles (old school hip-hop with reggae or acid jazz with rock) shows not only diversity but also an extreme creativity. "Deep Water Slang V2.0" is not perfect but it is strong enough to be entertaining, thought provoking and original. Water is the source of all life and both fans and newcomers to Zion I should just dive into their new album.