You know how right before they execute you, you get one last meal? The prison will let you eat anything you want, as much as you want, cause f**k it, you’ll be dead soon. So I was thinking about what I’d have at my last meal and this is what I came up with: smores, teriyaki chicken, blueberry pancakes, sushi, vanilla frosting and bacon. But then I realized something important: while every one of those foods are delicious on their own, they don’t really work in combination. Imagine dipping a finger in some frosting and …
Fans can also check out Zion I's previous albums: Zion I - ShadowBoxing
DJBooth Album Review
What does any of this have to do with Zion I? I’m glad you asked. Zion I, the Bay Area crew that’s been redefining the term Bay Area crew for almost a decade, just dropped the musical equivalent of my last meal on their new album, The Take Over. The Take Over was supposed to be a celebration of Zion I’s versatility, and on that measures it succeeds wildly; producer AmpLive is at his eclectic best and MC Zumbi (who just dropped a dope freestyle for DJBooth) continues to grow into a premier rapper. Song for song, pound for pound, this might be the best album in recent memory, but at times The Take Over’s versatility works against it. Every great album had a central focus, and if The Take Over has one, it’s hazy (or I’m too dumb to see it clearly).
Then again, The Take Over’s unencumbered musical landscape is fitting for a group that has been notoriously hard to pin down. They’ve been called everything from hyphy to backpack, but no matter what label gets slapped on their music, it’s always ill. Just take Antenna, a track that somehow manages to build a hip-hop track on a house music foundation. Lyrically Zumbi’s rhymes are either about a long-distance relationship, or his relationship with God, or maybe both. It’s this complexity, delivered in simply clean package, that make Antenna a track only Zion I could do. The same goes for their Caged Bird series, two back to back tracks that take different angles on the struggle to survive. Part 1 is an up-tempo soul jam featuring a poetic verse from Brother Ali, while Part 2 rumbles with heartache. If only the entire album exhibited such diverse symmetry, it would have been a masterpiece.
Like Common on Universal Mind Control, Zion I seem determined to prove that even though they’re known for their intelligence, they can still get down with the best of them. The first entry into their party portfolio is Juicy Juice, a minimalist track AmpLive’s constructed out of a screwed vocal sample, bass kicks, claps and not much else beside Zumbi’s old-school delivery (think The Cool Kids, if The Cool Kids had a social conscience). If you’re going to go old-school, go all the way, and that’s why as soon as I heard DJ DJ I busted out a cardboard box and starting doing headspins (and promptly broke my lamp). DJ DJ is an appropriately production heavy homage to hip-hops turntable roots, but just when I was getting into a groove The Take Over hit me with the aforementioned club-oriented Antenna. And no sooner was I getting comfortable with the New Orleans jazz of Gumbo than I got slapped with the booty lovin’ pop of Country Baked Yams. The Take Over never lets you get comfortable, and while not knowing what lays around the next corner is exciting, Zion I’s only real problem is giving us too much of a good thing. Hey, if you’re going to have a problem, that’s the one.
Ultimately it comes down to this: there’s something holding me back from absolutely loving this album, but in a world where Ray J has his own TV show, we can’t afford to overlook great music. The Take Over is made up of quality ingredients, and when Zion I truly figures out how to truly combine their diverse tastes, I have no doubt they’ll make a musical meal worth making your last.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 02/20/09
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