First it was Z-Trip’s Uneasy Listening Vol. 1 of 2001, where he and DJ P blended his signature ‘mash up’ classics of rock and rap like Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way it is” with Run-DMC’s “It’s Like That,” or Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise” with Naked Eyes’ “Promises Promises”. Although today he may still be known for these types of ideas, hence his landing of his remake to Jackson 5′s “I want you Back” on the upcoming Motown Remixed project, this time his major label debut Shifting Gears does just that - puts it in a totally different gear. Discarding his earlier and easier technique of pulling from his crates of rock and rap, he magnificently shows his originality, now in the production realm. When you have guest artists such as Chuck D, Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, Aceyalone, Mystic and many others, while the type of productions vary from sounding like old school break dance tunes, punk and even soft rock fusions, you know you have an LP going in many different directions. Luckily, Z-Trip’s doesn’t lose the listener by haphazardly scattering his sound all over the place.
Getting into this album, the first few songs nostalgically bring you into Z-Trip’s world of older hip-hop and its foundation. All his new breaks pay homage to the pioneers of hip-hop, as he unravels his admirable work by inviting original Bronx emcee Whipper Whip on “All About the Music,” and bussing a backspin might be your first thought. It’s the 1980′s ‘yes yes y’all to the beat y’all’ block party atmosphere, this time on “The Get Down” featuring Lyrics Born where percussions douse your head into rhythmic niceness, that define the first part of this album. As that 2 Live Crew-like 808 bass thumps on “For My People” featuring Supernatural, the pace intensifies and the energy seems infectious riding with Supernatural’s witty rhymes, throwing you so far back into an era where crews stood on corners with their vinyl, just waiting to do battle.
Back on the West Coast, or in the hot Arizona sun, it’s onto more abstract back-pack jams on “Take Two Copies” featuring Busdriver, who for the first time in this critic’s liking, seems perfectly matched with this beat - still flowing at his usual hectic speed – but masterfully painting picturesque artworks in rhyme, so enjoyably. And the album takes a twist, this time displaying Z-Trip’s versatility in productions, mellowing it down a bit on “3rd Gear,” one of his many instrumentals featured. On this track, whether it’s weed smoke that surrounds you, or the sexy bar atmosphere overlooking the city, you’ll have to be outdoors to fully enjoy a vibe that keyboardist TK helps decorate, with incomparable lounge-like, chill-out settings. I wish this infusing of chocolate, the LP’s first drop of soul, and probably its only coating, occurred more throughout. But for a first attempt by one of the most promising DJs of our generation, his originality more than makes up for the lack of groovy, rich funk that excusably isn’t the focus of Z-Trip’s travels.
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