Do Remember: Zion I & Planet Asia’s Critical (Audio)
February brought some saddening news to many Heads. Zion I, the veteran duo of Zumbi (f/k/a MC Zion) and partner Amp Live are parting ways. The split is amicable, and seems more related to creative directions and geography than anything. However, the Oakland, California group stems out of the 1990s, when the pair more or less lived together, balancing professional lives with rocking stages, and recording what would ultimately become their debut, Mind Over Matter.
Released just under 15 years ago, the Ground Control Records/Nu Gruv Alliance LP showcased a new sound in Bay Area Hip-Hop, informed and influenced by Hieroglyphics, The Click, and Too Short, but deeply forward-reaching. Zumbi kicked other-worldly, inventive rhymes, while Amp tapped into Electronic Dance Music (before Heads were really callin’ it that), giving the regional sound a massive charge of energy and rhythm. Label-mate Rasco would work on the LP, as would recurring album collaborator The Grouch (of Living Legends), however it was the other Cali Agent that appeared on one of Zion I’s most enduring anthems.
Planet Asia, Zumbi and Amp made “Critical” in the closing days of the ’90s (first appearing on the New Dimensions cassette EP). Like “Halftime” before Illmatic or “Protect Ya Neck” before Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, the group’s follow-up to the “Inner Light” 12″ crossed the coasts, and the surrounding oceans as intelligent, original Hip-Hop. A spacy bassline, underground bravado bars, and descriptive lines made this song in demand under the needle, with a DJ Premier-inspired scratch chorus to boot. Planet Asia, who had a cult-championed self-titled EP out for the year prior, used the guest spot as effectively as any in his extensive career. A month after Mind Over Matter, P.A. would shine (“harder than ya chain”) on the Cali Agents’ debut How The West Was One, subsequently grabbing Interscope Records’ attention. Asia would become label-mates with Eminem and 50 Cent to follow, and although fruitless, showed the magnitude of his Grammy-nominated talents.
Zion I would release more than nine albums since Mind Over Matter. The duo also were tireless in EP’s (including a 2015 parting-shot), compilation work, and maintaining the Bay tradition of non-stop product. However, as the group takes a step apart (Amp has stated that he will still produce Zion I songs in a decreased capacity), hopefully the absence makes more take notice to the greatness that was, and is.
#BonusBeat: The 1999 Madlib remix of Zion I & Planet Asia’s “Critical”: