Zion I have been prolific throughout their twelve year career, so it should come as no surprise that after a busy 2011 that saw the release of Heroes in the Healing of the Nation with The Grouch and producer Amp Live teaming up with Eligh to release Therapy at 3, they would come right back with a new album this year, ShadowBoxing.
Zion I have built up a large and loyal fan base over the years, through a combination of a steady stream of albums, constant touring, and an overall positive message to their music. Like any group with seven full length albums to their name, they’ve experienced some ups and downs. The good news is that when you have a group as talented as this Oakland duo, the highs can be really great and the lows are usually moments when the music is just “okay.” This is all to say that while I enjoyed ShadowBoxing, I didn’t find it quite as moving and fulfilling as their last two records, which rank amongst my favorite albums of the last two years. To be clear, there are portions of the album that I’ll be bumping for quite some time, such as “Human Being,” which manages to perfectly incorporate the slightest bit of dubstep “wamp wamp” with a laid back Bay Area groove, mixes in a little bit of hyphy, and then just the slightest hint of new wave to the chorus that makes the case for Amp Live as one of the most talented producers working today. Zumbi lays down rhymes in the song that highlight the most engaging quality of Zion I - the balance between a feel good party time and lyrics that turn introspective and spiritual and political. However, there’s just a few too many songs in between the ones that get me really excited that don’t especially move me, and there’s a few, such as “Life’s Work,” with Goapele, that seem to drag while dabbling in a pop/R&B territory. Of course, the moment I start to get frustrated with this album and feel that it’s not up to the high standard that Zion I have set for themselves, a song like “Whydaze” comes on. With a bouncy beat that recalls a much funkier version of Don Henley’s “All She Wants To Do Is Dance” and chorus that reminds me of the late Camu Tao, I’m back to being excited about Zion I. The second half of the album is stronger overall, with the real treat coming at the end in “We Don’t,” which features The Grouch and Eligh, with whom they share a great creative chemistry.
It’s really a testament to the standard they’ve set for themselves over the years that I’m disappointed by ShadowBoxing, which I actually enjoy quite a bit. It’s an odd position to be in, but one of the great things about releasing albums at the rate that Zion I does is that their next album will come out very soon, and we’ll just revisit the best parts of ShadowBoxing and not worry about the mediocre parts quite as much.
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