Although East Bay hip-hop producers always have had a knack for making uniquely memorable rap songs, only a few of the current crop have the potential to become the next Timbaland, Dr. Dre, DJ Premier, or Hi-Tek. Our money's on Amp Live of Zion-I. The group's first album, Mind Over Matter
, showed a willingness to push hip-hop's boundaries, even at a time when the genre was in a creative rut. Its sophomore effort, Deep Water Slang
, is even more impressive, moving fluidly from soul to electro to hip-hop -- musical styles that haven't always meshed easily. In between the two LPs, Amp found time to lay down tracks for Oakland songstress Goapele's eponymous independent debut, showing he can handle a laid-back, mellow jazz vibe as well as in-your-face material. For this talented Midwestern transplant, the sky's the limit.