True and Livin'

It's easier to fall in love with emcee Zion than with most backpackers or R&B crooners. He sounds as if he wholeheartedly believes every word he says -- on "Bird's Eye View," he rhapsodizes She's the one I always count on/The one that wouldn't leave me/The one that's in the city always written in graffiti, creating a romance more viable than most Al Green creations. These lovers won't be slinging hot grits at each other thirty years from now, because Zion wouldn't commit a lyric to song unless it were true. But if you're not one to swoon over hunky backpacker dudes, the real heat on this beloved Bay Area duo's latest is the production. Amp Live's beats sound more studied and melodic than prior efforts: He noodles with blues guitar licks on "Oh Lawd," and samples a fiddle line for "I Need Mo," which sounds folksy and digital at the same time. This is hip-hop without irony, geared for people who prefer feel-good vibes and songs with happy endings.


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