Zion-I 

The Take Over

What happened to Zion-I? The Oakland backpacker duo that produced such eminently conventional albums as Deep Water Slang V2.0 and True & Livin' is nowhere present in this year's The Take Over, which skews closer to electronica than hip-hop. Gone are the old personal-essay-format raps and bland spiritual musings that used to be Zion-I's stock in trade. Instead we get drum 'n' bass party jams like "DJ DJ" and the minimalist 808 track "Juicy Juice," which recall an older era of hip-hop in which the emcee served as a hype man, rather than a lyricist ("DJ DJ" is nearly void of words entirely). The Take Over is, in fact, a producers' album, wherein all imagination and experimental energy lies in the beats, while the substantive content of the raps ceases to matter.

Thus, frontman Zumbi (aka Steve Gaines) becomes a sideman, playing second chair to DJ and producer AmpLive (Anthony Anderson). And granted, Amp's maturation is what makes The Take Over wonderful. Five years ago he was making pedestrian R&B grooves that served as wallpaper for whatever Zumbi (then called MC Zion) was talking about at the time; now he's creating gems like "Peppermint Patty," a wallop of snare drum and '70s horn samples that adds extra wattage to Zumbi's fable about a girl gone bad. The title track, characterized by its chunky swing beat, is pure brillo.

Think of it this way: If Zion-I were a jazz band, then Zumbi would be part of the rhythm section: He spends the better part of each track singing vamps or adding vocal fills, while his DJ enjoys a long, sprawling solo. The words "take over" may sound like a political slogan, as indicated by Zumbi's shrill intro: This system does not work for us, so we must take this system over and make it work for us. But the real takeover amounts to a shift in artistic direction, wherein the DJ supplants the rapper. It actually works. (Gold Dust Media)

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