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13 April, 2005@12:00 am

     ”Live from Oakland, California,” as they state on the opening track, “True,” rap and production duo MC Zion and Amp Live have, respectively, outdone and spitkicked their way above their 2 previous releases, Mind Over Matter and Deep Water Slang, with their third collective release from the Bay Area, True & Livin’. Set against the backdrop of jazzy, live band-like Amp Live productions, MC Zion drops heady and provocative wordplay that outdoes the conscious tag slapped onto his lyrical content.

     Whether personifying hip-hop music with the shapes and curves of a female on “Bird’s Eye View,” a la Common’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.” minus the promiscuous innuendo, or simply “Doin’ My Thang” over the melodramatic saxophones of Amp’s grittier production, Zion’s aggressive but positive flow sounds simply refreshing in an otherwise angry underground scene. “She’s the one I always count on, one that wouldn’t leave me, one that’s in the city always written in graffiti,” Zion raps on the former, fodder for his lead-in to the hometown smash “The Bay,” with its deep bassy strings and ode to the slanguistic left Coast city.

      Abstract favorite Aesop Rock joins the darker “Poems 4 Modern Day Decay,” as the pair speak out bluntly on the current state of affairs within America, each seeming poised to force the other’s darkest thoughts to emerge through the bleakest of all Zion tracks. Talib Kweli even gets fiery with Zion to take the “Temperature” of the present-day ghetto, which still cannot manage to bring the oh-so-alive Amp Live down off his production high. “I know I got a problem, it all started with me, I wanted something special, wasn’t what I thought it would be,” Zion continues on the Roots-like blueprint “Next To U,” a lovesick joint backed by the simple cymbals and on-point flow that even Black Thought would admire. An aggressive guest effort from Del on “What U Hear” and Gift of Gab-assisted “Stranger in My Home,” an anthem only for the grown and sexy, only reinforce the arsenal of thick and thought-provoking material delivered live from the Bay.

      Noticeably absent are mainstream lyrics featuring gunplay or womanizing behavior, while the light-hearted appeal of many of the songs deny Zion I the opportunity to be the next angry underground group pissed off at their national exposure (or lack thereof). Instead, what shines through is an act with a live sound and words stimulating enough to speak about making a real difference in the world while actually sound believable. MC Zion and Amp Live are definitely not lying this time around. They are just as True & Livin’ as their album title suggests. – Christopher “Scav” Yuscavage

  Mixtape D.L.
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