Like its sonic predecessors -- jazz, blues and R&B -- hip-hop is undergoing a massive assimilation until everything is tinged with, in one way or another, rap. The sheer amount of gimmickry in producing and presenting "original" hip-hop today is daunting, which is why a record like True & Livin' is so enjoyable. The Oakland-based duo of MC Zion and beat-crafter Amp Live have gone it independent, proving themselves one of the most inventive outfits around. Here, they begin from the ground up, laying trustworthy beats and simple bass lines behind Zion's even simpler lyrical messages. Simple does not imply plain -- his quick-witted aphorisms and subtly metaphoric slide create a warm landscape for his partner's smooth undertow. Zion's verbal flexibility is as nimble as his capoeira break-dancing stage antics, as in the Slick Rick-inspired "The Bay," and quirkily bouncing "Soo Tall," where he wraps a tale of cubicle struggles into slavery's afterthought. Talib Kweli jumps on board on "Temperature," while Del tha Funkee Homosapien ingeniously blends "proboscis" into "pop shit" on "What U Hear." Merging the secular with sacred in street slang, Zion I chants down Babylon with tongues of concrete and poetry.
Zion I, and Opio are scheduled to perform on Tuesday, May 3, at the Old Brickhouse Grill.