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17 November, 2004@12:00 am

     Ever opened up a bag of Skittles or potato chips, eaten everything inside of the bag, and then wondered why the bag looked so much more full before you opened it? If you have, then you probably already know the feeling that you will get once Zion I’s “Family Business” mixtape finishes. But like the Skittles or chips, do not expect that emptiness to remain for long, as Zion I proves that they are as fulfilling with only half a bag as others are with a full tin. Zion I, a combination of California’s MC Zion and producer Amp-Live, deliver a remarkably well-done mixtape effort that rises above others with a full-length type vibe through and through and a laundry list of underground emcees just waiting to give them another burst of air.

      The scratchy vinyl feel of Amp-Live’s airy production on “Act Right” only helps to sweeten the feel-good vibes given out by Zion and his guests Miss Mariana and Encore. “The odds stacked on the table, I’m shooting my craps, We adapt, keep stable, We strong and we black,” Zion raps, steering clear of the usual gangster nonsense or even the conscious efforts being imploded on other rap records. Alert and prepared on “Sirens,” Zion weaves the stories of life in the ghetto, a typical tale told through the eyes of someone listening for the sirens throughout the city. And its back-up track, the more uplifting and positive breath of fresh air, “Oxygen,” features Zion lyrically and emotionally at his best, rocking a soft sped-up sample from Amp-Live and delivering pleas for the furtherance of his people. (“And so we grew up with these hopes and dreams, Like the world didn’t label us as dopes and fiends.”) Zion I at its best though comes in the form of “Dumb Down,” where the boys reject an A&R’s request to dumb down their lyrics for the sake of record sales. “I never been no follower, never been no sheep, Programmed by the media, live my life asleep, You can hate me or love me or leave me alone, but when I pass away I live on through these poems,” Zion raps, before taking a final “stab” at those currently in charge of hip-hop on the radio: “Now fools act like getting shot is a great badge of honor, But check your self, to me it sounds like bad karma!” Vast Aire also joins in the fun with a solid verse, but “Dumb Down” succeeds long before he even grabs the microphone.

      Still, for every fulfilling “Oxygen” or “Act Right,” there is a “Silly Putty (Remix),” which spans for only 1:45 before a bunch of errant voice mail messages run for the next couple of minutes. “Salt in the Game” turns sour after a performance that barely tops a minute, and even the posse cut “Places” (featuring C-Rayz Walz, A-Plus, D.U.S.T., Raashan Ahmad, and Pep Love) struggles to top a modest 3-minute mark. The ideas are all there, but the bag still only fills up halfway.

      “Family Business” succeeds in accomplishing what it intends to do - holding listeners off until Zion I’s “True and Livin’” drops early next year - but it fails to capitalize on what is already a strong tracklisting. Making the best of a free situation, Zion I does deliver strong attempts at appealing to the underground and mainstream audience at the same time. Check for the Skittles here, but do not expect to avoid getting a lot of the air in the bag while in the process ? luckily, the emptiness will not stay for too long.

  Mixtape D.L.
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