A&E » Arts

Zion I: Taking Over

California-based hip hop duo fuses socially-conscious lyrics with futuristic beats



Who: Zion I

When: Wednesday, March 24, 9:30 p.m.

Where: Maxx Fish

Cost: $12 in advance

Over the span of their 10-year career, Zion I has become known as one of hip-hop's most diverse groups, gaining a reputation for AmpLive's futuristic production techniques and diverse influences - ranging from funk, soul, house and drum 'n' bass - coupled with Zumbi's philosophical lyrics, which touch on everything from spirituality to world issues.

AmpLive is the beatmaker for the Bay-area hip hop duo, Zion I. While his partner in crime, MC Zumbi, carefully crafts the bulk of their socially conscious lyrics, AmpLive helps with the hooks. Zumbi will run lyrics by him for his feedback. That's because this duo is acutely aware of how important the message can be.

"It's very important because that's what people take away," AmpLive said of their lyrics. "The beat just sort of lays the foundation, but the lyrics are very important."

Their most recent album, The Takeover , is something totally new for the versatile duo, who seem bound and determined to constantly challenge themselves and the limitations of their genre.

"The overall vision was to sort of just have soul music with a different type of twist. Music that'll still make you think and music that'll make you feel, but also simple enough that people will get it faster," AmpLive explained.

Though they're still all about making music with real messages that they can stand behind, this time around they're looking at things through a more laid-back lens.

"Especially because of what the world is going through right now, we didn't want to do another album where we were just talking about the world's problems and all that stuff because people hear enough of that," AmpLive explained. "We sort of wanted it to be a really uplifting experience."

So, they simply soaked everything in and "spit it out in the Zion I way" without forcing things.

On the beat-side of things, AmpLive wanted to make the album feel more musical and "alive."

"I knew I definitely wanted to have more live musicians and drummers and stuff like that."

This meant creating more original material from the top of his head.

"Which was cool, because I've definitely practiced on making my music sound like samples and I think that really has shown," he said.

This time around, they've opted to include a select few people from outside of their group in the creative process, letting Devin the Dude, Ty and Brother Ali weigh in.

"We definitely wanted to work with Devin the Dude and Brother Ali because they're just MCs that we've been around and respect, so we always really like incorporating people we're in the same vibe with."

The diversity of the tracks featured on the new album shows that the group is determined to continue to grow and push the boundaries of their genre.

DJ DJ is a party banger with a definite electro-rap feel; not exactly your typical hip hop track.

"Caged Bird is one of my favourites because of the subject matter, and that song went through like five different types of beats to get to the point where it was at," AmpLive said.

In the end, the fastidious producer was very happy with the finished product. He has received a lot of positive feedback from fans since releasing the album last February.

On The Takeover they've managed to capture the feeling of their live show, which often features a full band - keyboard player, drummer and soul singer Courtney Holiday.

But at their upcoming show in Whistler, the audience can expect an interactive two-man DJ set featuring just Zumbi and AmpLive entertaining the crowd: think freestyles and AmpLive live on the drum machines.