Zion I may have the album of the year with their critically acclaimed release True & Livin' '. The album shows the maturation of MC Zion, and the progression of producer Amp Live. The album is unlike the duo's previous releases by mixing in more samples and live instruments. MVRemix tracked down Zion I while they are on tour to discuss the new album and its change in direction.
MVRemix: True & Livin' 'has been praised by critics and fans alike everywhere. So I assume you guys have been very happy with how the album has been received and embraced so far?
Zion: Fa sho, it seems to be doing well even without the press really
hitting yet. I have the feeling that this is going to be a slow burner, but I feel good about it.
Amp Live: We have been pretty happy. It is going to be a constant push this whole year because I think there are still alot of fans out there who heard of it, but haven't bought it
MVRemix: What was your mindset like going into this album?
Zion: I wanted to create something that spoke to this strange moment that we are living in. When old systems are crumbling, yet new ones have yet to be built. I think this album is very observation based in terms of looking at the world and its relation to Hip Hop right now. We also wanted it to speak of the struggle of being African in this country as well. Life hasn't gotten any easier, yet all we hear about are platinum medallions and spinners. So the black struggle is in there as well. With all these things we also wanted it to be a joyful album, because there's enough doom and gloom in the world, so we wanted to keep it uplifted too.
Amp Live: On the production tip, we wanted to make some simpler, different, and more
banging material. We wanted an organic and raw Hip Hop feel for this album.
MVRemix: When you guys were done with the album, did you know that the album was going to be this big and fans would take it as the next level of Zion I?
Zion: No, honestly I had no idea. After finishing a project, I just pray that folks is feeling it! But, I did know that we had worked hard on the album. So I was sure there was goodness on the record.
Amp Live: No, I didn't expect it at all.
MVRemix: How would you compare this album to your previous efforts?
Zion: I feel this album is more professional in terms of how we put it
together. I know that lyrically its more focused and thought out. I really wanted to create cohesive wholes with the writing instead of fragmented ideas. I think it gives each song a more distinct feeling that way.
Amp Live: I think this album is our best one, and its stronger in all areas.
MVRemix: Zion - how would you say you have progressed as an artist over
Zion: One of the main things that I have progressed in is confidence. I don't second-guess myself like I used to in terms of concepts, and what will appeal to people. In terms of style, I'm still evolving and adapting. Yet, I feel my breath control is iller now, and my ability to punctuate statements and get my point across is more solid.
MVRemix: Zion - What types of concepts, topics, and issues can fans expect
to hear on True & Livin' '?
Zion: The topics range anywhere from the adoration of hip hop and its
transformative abilities - to good sex - to inspirational joints for my folks out there struggling' - to joints breaking down the hypocrisy of the US government. It’s all there. It’s what I see in my life.
MVRemix: Your production work on this album is amazing! Can you talk about the direction you, and MC Zion wanted to go for this album? Because it seems like you decided to go with more live instrumentation and samples.
Amp Live: We wanted to use more samples, and I also wanted to come different with
the way the samples were used. I replayed a lot of stuff and turned stuff around. Also, we wanted the music to be tired in terms of the live instruments played, with them being more present and prevalent.
Zion: The main idea was to bridge the sounds of Mind Over Matter and Deep Water Slang. To create a hybrid between the heavy samples on one hand...and the heavy live instruments on the other.
MVRemix: One of my personal favorite songs on the album is "The Bay". Can you just talk about your motivation for making that track, and your take on the current thoughts on Bay Area Hip Hop?
Zion: I mean its pretty basic. We live here and it’s a very slept on region in terms of the talent and influence it has had on hip hop culture. We have some real pioneers in the Bay, and folks don't take enough notice. This is a jam to big up Oakland, San Francisco and all the other cities that really support our records. We got love out here! I think the bay scene is on the verge of getting national attention again. This is because the cats out here have never stopped grinding, and have kept putting their independent hustle down
regardless of what the industry is doing. Thus, we've created a self-sustaining economy for Bay music. The labels are going to notice soon.
Amp Live: That track slowly turned into what it was. It had the bay funk to it
but a jazzy Hip Hop feel. I made the track, then had a bass player come through, and Zion dropped the lyrics to it at the end. In regards to bay area hip hop, the scene is up and coming. There are groups out here that are beginning to shine nationally for
MVRemix: "Soo Tall" is a very unique and intriguing song. Can you talk about
the message in the song? What do you mean by, "One day we'll be so tall"?
Zion: I'm saying that one day all the adversity we face will be overcome. We'll come to that day of reckoning, and all the pain we've gone through will be worth it, as we'll finally have our day in the sun. Its a hopeful message, to keep pushing through, because in the end there is only victory when we do the best we can and live righteous.
MVRemix: A lot of artists have their own dedication to the Hip Hop culture, like you guys did with "Birds Eye View". However, you were able to pull it off without following the usual blueprint. So were you conscious of that fact that the idea has been done before, and that you needed to switch it up a little?
Amp Live: We definitely were aware of it, but Zion told his story through the Zion I perspective. That's what made the song what it is.
Zion: Yeah, everything has been personified - hip hop, weed, whatever. I just wanted to tell it like it really is. This has actually been my relationship with hip hop! There have been a lot of ups and downs, but through it all. She's still true to me, as long as I've been true to her. Hip Hop has been a blessing in my life, and I felt it was a good time to express all of the joy and pain of this journey.
MVRemix: I see you guys are on tour. How has that been? What's been the best city so far? Any crazy tour stories, or anything of that nature?
Zion: The tours been cool, it's our first headlining joint, so it almost feels like starting over again. The best show was in San Francisco - it’s the hometown advantage! Other than that: Missoula, Montana was a big surprise, and Seattle was tight. However, the hottest overall had to be Coachella! That was huge! Crazy story.... I got in the car with an insane woman who was driving so out of control that I had to grab the wheel from the passenger's side. That was wack - I felt like my life was being threatened!
Amp Live: The tour has been pretty good so far. It's our first headlining tour so
the crowds and venues have been smaller but its still strong and there is still a lot of high energy. The best cities have been all the ones on the west coast so far. We will be
hitting the east coast in late-May/early-June, so we will see how that goes.
MVRemix: Just some random questions. If you had to choose one person to represent the Hip Hop culture, who would you rather have - Krs-One or Chuck D?
Zion: Chuck D, only because he has less ego. But I got love for both of them.
Amp Live: Chuck D
MVRemix: Better emcee lyrically - Rakim or Nas?
Zion: Both of these cats are two of my top dawgs, but I have to go with Nas. Only because I memorized the entire Illmatic album.
Amp Live: Rakim, because he was before Nas and a father to his style.
MVRemix: Better producer - Marley Marl or DJ Premier?
Zion: DJ Premier, he's got classics, and I can name off a gang of 'em. I don't think I was really aware enough to totally appreciate Marley Marl during his time.
Amp Live: Premier, hands down. He just has harder beats and a
longer life in terms of production.
MVRemix: Most underrated emcee in Hip Hop History is…
Zion: I'd say Run from Run DMC. That cat was ill, and had heart to back it!
Amp Live: Supernatural
MVRemix: Better West Coast emcee - 2pac or Ice Cube?
Zion: 2Pac, just for all his passion, and the way he brought people together. He's a legend.
Amp Live: Technically, Ice Cube. But in regards to feeling and passion, 2pac.
MVRemix: What was the one album each of you listened to growing up?
Zion: Public Enemy's "It Takes a Nation of Millions" - classic!
Amp Live: LL Cool J's Radio album.
MVRemix: Overall, do you guys have a main career goal you are shooting for in the near or distant future?
Zion: Fa sho - to make good music, and be able to take care of my family! It's pretty simple man. To keep putting out records, continue to create this hardcore fan base, and enjoy life!
Amp Live: We definitely want to get this label established and just continue to put
out good music.
MVRemix: What else do you guys have in the works?
Zion: We're working on a DVD documentary and short film to be released in the fall. I've got a solo project in the works too entitled Baba Zumbi. Of course we also have the other artist on the label Deuce Eclipse and D.U.S.T.
Amp Live: We are putting out Deuce Eclipse and D.U.S.T., look out for those. Also Zion has mix CD's he is doing, and I'm going to put out a drum n bass CD. We are also doing some upcoming collaborations with artist, but we can't say how just yet.
MVRemix: Any last words, shout outs, or plugs?
Zion: Big up all our fans holding it down, much love! Check out the website, www.zionicrew.com, and hit up the message board. Also hit up our myspace page as well, www.myspace.com/zioni. Thanks and praises due!
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"I'm saying that one day all the adversity we face will be overcome. We'll come to that day of reckoning, and all the pain we've gone through will be worth it, as we'll finally have our day in the sun."