In Rock ‘n’ Roll, there exist bands that have been putting out albums for over a decade. Dr. Dog is one example of such band. They have been active since 1999 and have released approximately twelve EPs and LPs. With each new album, they are practically forced to experiment with new song-writing styles in order to maintain their edge. Bands like Dr. Dog and others face the problem of having to maintain relevancy throughout their career.
Zion I is also one of those bands. The duo has been active since 1996; they’ve put out nine albums and seven EPs over the past twenty some-odd years. Their new EP, The Sun Moon and Stars, is the newest edition to their discography. The band chose to adopt sounds from all over hip-hop. On the five track EP, you can hear boom-bap, trap, and neo-soul all within five tracks. Unfortunately, this variety is the downfall of the EP. The duo is stretched too thin and they fail to wholly embody any of the styles that appear on the EP. Zion I became the jack-of-all trades, master of none.
The instrumentals on this five track EP are scatterbrained. The first track “Dread” is a nod to the garage-influenced dub that is more well known in Great Britain. The horn-like bass locks tight with the drums, and the hazy synth lines dangle like cheesy Christmas lights over the track. There is no question that this is dub; however, it fails to strike a chord with the heart of dub music. It’s difficult place your finger on what’s wrong, but it’s obvious that the track won’t stick in your mind for long. This, basically, is the feeling that the rest of the album has. Fortunately, the duo manages to sneak in a great rendition of New York boom-bap on “Unity.”
“Unity” sounds like it’s part of the sub-genre; it brings you to your feet. If only the duo could have harnessed this power in the rest of the EP. “Lost in Translation” sounds like a trip-hop tune, “Juggernaut” is unequivocally trap music, and “Last Nite” is a nod to neo-soul. Again, all of the tracks sound like their respective sub-genres but they all fail to resonate. It’s something like eating Panda Express: it’s definitely Chinese food, but it’s not truly authentic.
One thing that could tie the whole EP together would be subject matter. But like the instrumentals, the subject matter varies from track to track. On “Unity,” AmpLive and Zumbi speak boldly and bluntly about the over-militarization of the police force in America. They the Bay Area duo goes on to talk about girls, themselves, and what happened last night. Perhaps it’s commendable that they are able to discuss a myriad of topics in one shot. Perhaps they’ve lost a clear sense of direction, what with the end of their collaboration hanging like a dark cloud.
Zion I has been around for almost twenty years. They have released great, good and bad records. When Zion I lacks a clear vision, like on The Sun Moon and Stars EP, they tend to spread themselves too thin across the plane of hip-hop. Unfortunately, this is the last album by the seasoned artists as Zion I, so this is what we are left with – take it or leave it, really. Zumbi will continue to work under the Zion I name; however AmpLive has split from the group and will only remain as a contributor at times. Fortunately, we have a great deal of previous records to remember their legacy. For some, The Sun Moon and Stars EP just may not fit in that collection of memorable records by Zion I.