Zion I’s latest offering, True and Livin’, is almost an anomaly in today’s musical climate. Nowadays, few artists have the ability to make you move and think at the same time; one of these traits has to give. However, Zion I has managed to fuse positive lyrics and head-nodding production to create one of the most pleasurable releases of the year.
It seems that producer Amp Live, emcee Zion, and DJ Worldwise have all agreed on one thing: consistency is the name of the game. Amp Live’s jazzy production and Worldwise’s scratches serve as the perfect canvas for Zion’s social commentary and braggadocio. On “Doin’ My Thang,” scratches, drums, and bellowing trumpets compliment Zion’s positive lyrics. Zion claims music as his source of pride, his clutch in a world rife with negativity:
. . . And the mean mugs and thugs who test your chest
It’d be so easy for me to be a pessimist
But I’m still here rhymin’, still chart climbin’
Addicted to the game, like I’m on ‘caine, vibin’ . . . .
This track works because Zion comes off as honest, not self-righteous. Another highlight is the song “Bird’s Eye View,” an ode to hip-hop. Perhaps the main problem with the song is that it sounds too familiar. Zion is not the only emcee to personify hip-hop as a woman, as Common and The Roots can attest. What saves the track, though, is Amp Live’s production. Once again, the trumpets, cuts, and scratches, produce another head-banger.
Although Zion I’s production and lyrics are consistent, this does not mean they are afraid to experiment. They use the Blues as a source of inspiration on “Oh Lawd Blues.” Supported only by guitar licks, Zion sings about his spirituality, his source of redemption. On “America,” the live drums adopt a military cadence, which allows Zion to cite injustices ranging from racism to unemployment. Guests Talib Kweli and Del the Funky Homosapien show up on “Temperature” and “What U Hear” respectively, two boisterous tracks that remind us Zion can still get down with the best of them. Aesop Rock lays down vocals on “Poems 4 Post Modern Decay,” and Gift of Gab adds his golden touch to “Stranger In My Home,” a song about decaying neighborhoods.
Despite the strengths of this album (and there are many) one can’t help but dock points for unoriginality on some songs. The aforementioned “America” is the umpteenth song to document injustices in America. Moreover, Zion’s lyrics, while honest, are not exactly gripping: Young soldiers go to die (for America)/ unemployment too high (in America) . . . . Compared to songs like “Doin my Thang” and “Stranger In My Home,” the language on “America” is a little lax, almost bordering on clichéd. Songs like “I Need Mo” and “Next To U,” despite their stellar production, also fall in the vein of clichéd love songs. Despite these minor flaws, Zion I has created a refreshing album that should entertain Zion I fans and gather new ones.