Ten years after the release of their debut single, Oakland hip-hop duo Zion I return with The Takeover, a filler-free new mix of jabs, roundhouses and uppercuts that continue their streak as one of hip-hop’s most diverse groups.
For Takeover, which features guest spots by Houston legend Devin the Dude, UK emcee Ty and Rhymesayers’ Brother Ali, producer AmpLive and emcee Zumbi incorporate the best parts of their live show—perfected through nonstop touring—and bring that vibe to the studio.
“Zion I has a reputation of being very spiritual and serious,” notes Zumbi. “I think The Takeover is a lot more fun than our past records. We still touch on serious subject matter, but this album shows the other sides of our personality.”
Over the course of five LPs and numerous EPs and mixtapes, the group has proven to be a welcome enigma in hip-hop. Lyrically, Zumbi runs the gamut on a range of issues both serious and frivolous, discussing problems and pleasures both spiritual and worldly. Throughout, his fanbase keeps coming back for his smooth delivery and ability to raise issues without sounding didactic. Musically, Amp draws from both the usual (funk, soul) and esoteric (house, drum n bass) to create soundscapes that work as well on an electronic music mixtape as it does hip-hop. An accomplished remixer as well, Amp has remixed everyone from Linkin Park to MGMT, and most recently released Rainydayz Remixes based on Radiohead’s In Rainbows. Every production and remix, though, always brings it back to his main job in Zion I. “I started using way more effects on this album,” says Amp. “So I was able to bring in more elements that I’ve been using for some of the dance and indie rock stuff.”
Despite living a few miles from each other, technology facilitated the making of Takeover, as the duo would e-mail verses and beats back and forth, with each member continually making notes and suggestions on both parts of the song. This fully collaborative effort ensured that both Amp and Zumbi would have a say in the final product during the entire production process. “Our songs go through many different styles and iterations,” admits Amp. ““Caged Bird,” for example went from an Electro R&B joint to a drum n bass track to its current version [as a soul-inflected, string-laden beat].”
While the final work is still Zumbi and Amplive, the two are quick to point out how their writing process has changed this time out. “We have an inner core of people who we let listen to the album in different stages and got feedback on what they liked,” says Zumbi. “On other albums, it was generally us just making whatever we wanted and then they’d just say what songs they like. Our skin is thick enough and we’re honest enough with ourselves that we can take criticism.”
This new method of recording was essential to the finished product, but the group always has a definite idea in mind, looking at their tracks as fans as much as musicians. “We try to make music that falls into a crack and fills a void for us as fans of music,” says Zumbi. “We discuss what we want the album to feel like and then we just let the unconsciousness take over and let things go. We just allow that process to take on its own life.”
From the electro-rap homage “DJ DJ” to the spacey futuristic synths of “Antenna,” The Takeover encapsulates the diversity and versatility that have made Zion I Bay Area stalwarts for over a decade. As with any Zion I album, there’ll never be any compromise away from deep thought, but as anyone who’s seen the pair live knows, that means nothing if the crowd ain’t entertained.