Back on top of the mountain

Bay Area rap duo Zion I release new album celebrating love for reggae and dub

Zion I: MC Zumbi (left) and DJ Amp Live.

Zion I: MC Zumbi (left) and DJ Amp Live.

Preview: Zion I performs Tuesday, Nov. 16, 7 p.m., in BMU Auditorium.
Tickets: $18-$20.
BMU Auditorium Chico State, 898-6333,

Bay Are rap duo Zion I is set to take the stage once again at the BMU Auditorium at Chico State on Nov. 16, right on the heels of the release of their brand-new album, Atomic Clock.

“I feel like it’s a mature record,” said MC Zumbi. “I feel like it kind of has a spiritual vibe of mind over matter … it’s definitely more of an organic feeling than most of our albums.”

Zumbi (aka Zion) said that, while most of Zion I’s previous albums had music and beats that were created solely by his band mate, producer Amp Live, Atomic Clock relies heavily on live musicians lending a hand on the reggae-and dub-influenced disc. The new reggae-rap sound is showcased on the debut single, “Many Stylz” performed with the popular Santa Barbara reggae-rock band Rebelution (and available for free download at

“Those guys are really good people,” Zumbi said about the band. “We’ve been on the road with them a lot this year and we’ve been pretty cool with them on a personal basis, and at this point I consider them friends.”

Zumbi said he began writing “Many Stylez” with Rebelution in mind, even utilizing lead singer Eric Rachmany’s vocals on the track.

Speaking during a recent telephone interview while on the road to Syracuse, N.Y., Zumbi seemed thoughtful as he talked about what evolved naturally into a very reflective album.

“I think it really looks at where we are in the world right now as human beings,” he said. “You know, like economics, capitalism, war, resources being depleted. It just kind of questions everything that is happening right now.”

The opening verse to the bombastic track “Polarity” sets the table: “Dark versus light, good versus evil/ man versus woman, planet earth upheaval/ Jew versus Muslim, North bay soar/ Blood versus Crip, everywhere more war.”

Most of the songs on the album are heavily influenced by current issues and the duo’s emotional response is strong. One of the deeper tracks, “Signs of Light”—broken up with somber pianos, crying horns, far-off synths and a chorus of militant handclaps—offers a glimpse into Zumbi’s internal explorations: “The clock is tickin’, I’m just slippin’ in the darkness/ Light as a feather is the heart, let me start this.”

The approach is much different from that of their previous album, The Takeover, which focused on a fun, party vibe. Zumbi and Amp Live composed the last album via the exchange of e-mails of tracks between one another—adding and changing beats and verses until it was done. Though Zumbi contributed vocals in a similar manner for Atomic Clock, the process differed in the day-long recording sessions Amp Live had with musicians in the studio.

Zumbi said he’s eager to perform new songs for his loyal fan base in Chico, and maintains that the college crowd has always provided a positive experience for him.

“Our fans are pretty much everything,” Zumbi said. “Without them we can’t do this and all the credit goes to them. … It’s kind of like a family vibe, because we get a bunch of people with all this peaceful energy and I definitely appreciate them.”