Marc Cabrera has nothing better to do than watch a lot of movies and television, and listen to a lot of music. Luckily, he has a job that pays him to blog about local and national arts, entertainment and pop culture. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dateline, San Francisco. Friday night. Zion-I and the crew return home to a hero's welcome, and for one night, Bay Area hip-hop doesn't revolve around muscle car stunts and spastic dancing, synth-driven keyboard beats and designer drugs.
Zion-I and Deuce Eclipse performed at the Independent for one of the livest shows I've been to in a while. And, yes, they did get hyphy with it (to a degree), but really, they transcended the Bay Area's latest craze in exchange for true artistic showmanship and craft. Enough to make the backpacker crowd go dumb.
My homie DJ Worldwize served as an opening act, getting the crowd all yellow-bus stupid with Yay Area bangers like "Hyphy Juice" by Clyde Carson and "Blow the Whistle" by Too $hort. Ya boy knows how to move the crowd on the wheels (I gotta get him in here for an interview, pronto. Dave, if you're reading this, h@yb!).
Deuce Eclipse rolled up next. This Nicaraguan nightmare is a beast on the mic, boasting a breathless flow and indigenous estilo. He busted out with a freestyle from the Zion I mixtape "Family Business," claiming he's "The Oywalk/Never with no toy talk" and meaning it (I still don't know what Oywalk means, or if i'm even spelling it right).
Later, he proclaimed "We doin' it Straight for Nicaragua," and then flipped as nimbly in the King's English as he could in Espanol. He even implored the crowd to get hyphy before running through a tongue-twisting freestyle in bilingual tongue, rough and sinister at once.
"When it's Dia De Los Muertos/You'll see me with a mask on" was one of many lines that caught my attention through the night. I went to buy his new cd, "Live from the Plantation," but they didn't have any on display at the merch table. Somebody hook me up with his new disc, please!
As the night wore on, it became a large-scale Bay Area celebration. Everyone from E-40 to Crown City Rockers was getting props from the show's host. And just when it looked like the smoke was starting to settle, Zion I came onstage to a large roar form the crowd.
MC Zion sported fresh dreads and a T-shirt promoting the group's last album, "Tru & Livin'" (which was one of my top 10 picks for 2005). Amp Live, the group's DJ/Producer, manned a work station that included turntables, CDJ tables, a groove box, and other noise making contraptions, giving him the appearance of a mad scientist working a nuclear silo.
Live, Zion's voice is a commanding rebel yell, contrary to the helium-balloon-inhaling tone he sports on record. They stuck mostly to tracks off of "Tru & Livin'" and the "Family Business" mixtape, although the song "Cheeba Cheeba" from their second disc showed up three tracks in.
Amp Live did his patented beat-switch, sound-selector movida, going from the recorded track to an improvised beat performed live on his drum machine. It's a brilliant display of low-fi beat-matching, something that more rap group's should strive fore. Songs like "Temperature" and "Poems for Postmodern Decay" got this transformative treatment, going from a live song to a jazz-inspired sonic experiment in the flip of a switch.
As the show hit its stride, I realized that Zion I has singlehandedly carried the Bay Area underground scene on its back for the past two years. No other underground group has produced as much dope material and toured as extensively as this duo, and it shows in both their stage show and crowd interaction. These guys get love in their home turf for a reason.
The energy reached a crescendo with "Bird's Eye View," the first single off the "Tru & Livin'" album and a showstopper. Lots of heads bouncing in the front row. Watching from an elevated view, the place looked like it was ready to take off.
Deuce joined the crew on stage to spit some light-speed fast freestyles over a beat that sounded like JJ Fad's "Supersonic." The way the crew drew energy off of one another, it was like an old school revival, where the dj played the beat and the MC's got the crowd hype.
The group did an encore to showcase a new song, then got into their tribute to the place they live, the single "The Bay." The remix of the song featured a synthesizer-driven remix that was perfect for the club, and the trio of MC Zion, Deuce and hypeman DUST (along with a chicano MC who I swear looked like bay g-rapper Mr. Kee) got down for the crown.
It was a perfect ending to a hype night of Yay Area funk, proof that the area's talent pool is deeper than one hot for the moment trend.