Zion I

Deep Water Slang V2.0

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This Berkeley-based (big ups, Cal Bears!) underground hip-hop duo's sophomore effort is chock-full of their usual lyrical hooks and flows, but as with much product released by those looking to make their way in the bling-bling marketplace, it suffers somewhat in the production department. Not that the overly synthetic sounds -- such as depthless keys, Casio-style hi-hat swipes, and denatured snare hits -- aren't still hot when it comes to artists as varied (and/or lame) as Jay-Z and 50 Cent. On the contrary, hip-hop's musical register has moved farther and farther (some would argue backwards) away from noise and impact in favor of highlighting its vocal counterparts ("Here comes the drums!" this ain't). Truth is, as wordsmiths go, MC Zion is one of the more interesting talents flying underneath MTV and BET's radar. But Deep Water Slang V2.0 works best when the music matches him in skill, such as on the varied "Finger Paint" or in the poignant piano work found on "Flow," featuring the underground siren Goapele. Or when MC Zion gets some added wordplay from hip-hop all-stars like Aceyalone, whose turn on the homage to all things green, "Cheeba Cheeba," is this (ahem) joint's finest moment. Don't misunderstand, the music has its moments too, such as on the stellar "Kick Snare" (featuring some humorous German samples and an addictive beatbox complement from Killa Kela) or "Dune," a silky smooth trance dance track that closes out the album. Not to mention the hidden track, "One More Thing," which showcases some heartfelt guitar plucking. But Deep Water Slang V2.0 may leave those with a hip-hop memory that goes back farther than The Chronic wanting more meat and less vegetables. Dig?

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