Zion I: Shadow Boxing
Socio-political and conscious hip hop has been strong in hip hop since Dead Prez came onto the scene. They aren’t the only ones to do it nor are they the only duo to take on this conscious style. Zion I has been delivering true notes to the underground hip hop world since the 90s and are still relevant in their cause today. This is due in part to their genre-bending metamorphosis over the years. With their new release Shadow Boxing, they are still keeping it positive and still keeping it interesting.
But wait, “Shadow Boxing?” Isn’t that Wu-Tang’s thing? Well, Zion I decided to take on the ancient art form and title their latest project as such. Right off the bat, I noticed a truly bizarre difference in the production. Producer Amp Live clearly has a plethora of influences contributing to this album. The most electrifying track in my opinion is “Human Being” which features an enormous electronic influence, including but not limited to heavy saw-tooth synths, grunger effects, static, clashing percussion and more. As abstract, intense and “electro” this track may be, I actually enjoy it. Emcee, Zumbi does a fine job over the intricate instrumental.
There a number of features on this album like common-collaborator, Grouch, and other artists like Eligh and Bassnectar. As you can tell by these features, this album has a much more obscure and abstract sound than Zion I’s previous projects. Although they have come a long way from their deep hip hop roots from the 90s, they are still doing their thing in their own unique way. This is evident in tracks like “Sex Wax” and “Joe Frazzzier.” “Joe Frazzzier” find Zion I making a blatantly loud track and it ends up sounding obnoxious at best.
After that let-down track, I was happily surprised with the supersonic ambiance on “Life’s Work.” Zumbi has a nice flow over the beat and goes in on his ladies’ man bravado. There’s also a fantastic hook with a featured female vocalist over the R&B-like production. “Anymore” breaks this softer tone, though, and brings back that loud, mainstream production back into the album. It is really disappointing because I have listened to Zion I for a long time and enjoyed their different yet authentic hip hop sound. With Shadow Boxing, they seem to deviate from that, as if they are trying to be more commercially-friendly.
To my despair, this trend continues on for the majority of the album. Zumbi still goes hard on every track with positive and conscious lyricism, but Amp Live’s production clearly has more commercial overtones. I usually enjoy all Zion I projects, but this is the first I can not endorse.
MP3: Zion I “Human Being (Bassnectar Edit)”