Zion I

After delving into upbeat, electronic music on 2009′s The Takeover, Oakland hip-hop stalwarts Zion I enter a new phase of their chameleonic career with Atomic Clock (November 9th, Gold Dust), a moody, emotional record inspired by the group's longtime admiration for reggae and dub.

While the group's roots are still firmly planted in hip-hop, Atomic Clock's cavernous, atmospheric vibe recalls both the classic roots reggae of Max Romeo and The Congos and forward-thinking dub mixing of UK artists such as Adrian Sherwood. "The Takeover was a very external record and we wanted to focus on fun, party music," says emcee Zumbi AKA Zion. "This one is much more reflective and internal. We didn't want to just recreate what we did last album. Art is not about living in the past."

For Atomic Clock, the duo employed live musicians to flesh out producer Amp Live's original beats and thicken the overall sound. For many of Atomic Clock's tracks, Amp would create the skeleton of the beat himself for the initial direction before collaborating with the group's live musicians to complement the sound and, in certain cases, redo the track live. In stark contrast to The Takeover, which saw Amp and Zumbi e-mail verses and beats to each other to constantly tweak each song, the group and their collaborators engaged in days-long jam sessions, for the first time in their career, to best enunciate Amp's initial idea.

For Zumbi, the writing style on Atomic Clock was much more instinctive than on past albums, and the result is a litany of emotionally introspective, brutally honest songs that both relay the emcee's personal experience and delve into weighty topics including the transient nature of time.

This extends to the title. "The Atomic Clock is the most precise timing device on the planet and I thought that applied to the immaculate timing and rhythm it takes between musicians in one room to make good music," says Zumbi. "But also, I feel that time is speeding up on the planet and it seems like it's dilating and contracting really quickly. We're living in such an interesting time and I think time is on everyone's mind in one way or another. Everything is exponential now."

On Atomic Clock, the group employs their usual mix of sonic exploration and unbridled creativity. "4U," with its choir vocals, soulful keyboards, and rock guitars, could be a lost Sly and the Family Stone track, while the horn blasts and heavy, electric guitars of "Always" supplement Zumbi's optimistic hook of "Love conquers always/Gotta keep your head up." "Many Stylez," featuring reggae band Rebelution (the album also features guest spots by emcees Locksmith and Macklemore and vocalists Courtney Holiday and Crystal Monee Hall), deftly defers to the genre's roots, and the atmospheric beat of "North Star" complements the central idea of being open to guidance in one's life.

On "History," the group's most insightful and candid track, Zumbi recalls the duo's autobiography from prior to the group's formation until now. "We've been doing music a long time and sometimes you forget how long you've been at and how many places you've been," admits the emcee. "I think it's good to look back for a second before keeping it moving." Keeping it moving is something Zumbi and Amp Live have never had problems doing and Atomic Clock stands as another engaging expression of the group's mind, heart and soul.

Some call it pop, some call it hip hop, but regardless of how you define it, "Seattle's Prince" Sol's understated lyrics and diverse beat selection have solidified him among the leadersof the northwest music scene. Following three chapters of his highly-acclaimed Dear Friends EP series, and appearances at both Seattle's Capitol Hill Block Party and Bumbershoot, the release of his highly-anticipated independent album Yours Truly (1/20/12) quickly rose to #1 on iTunes US Hip-Hop Chart (#4 worldwide).

Described by The Stranger's Charles Mudede as "rapping like a soul star", Sol's genre blending efforts have created fans of all types and ages, employing spirits of soul, R&B, hip hop and pop. With this all-encompassing sound, Sol's music is perfect for any setting, from house party to road trip to smoking session.

Yours Truly embodies the three year journey following the 2009 debut album The Ride, having since shared the stage with such greats as Wu-Tang Clan,The Clipse, Macklemore, Mike Posner, Big Sean, Mac Miller, Blue Scholars, Zion-I and The Coup. 2010 saw Sol place 2nd in the Experience Music Project 2009 Sound Off!, a Northwest 21 & under battleof the bands, as well as performing at colleges around the Northwest, most notably Washington State University's Cougfest and University of Washington's Spring Concert. Along with his growing success in music, Sol is a humanitarian and proud Haitian, having organized and performed at a sold out "Haiti Relief Show" at Neumos in Seattle, raisingmore than $7,000 for his maternal homeland. Later this year, he plans to travel the globe, experiencing the sights and sounds of the world to further develop as both an artist andhuman being.

Sol's records have seen airplay on Clear Channel's KUBE 93.3, KEXP 90.3, and college radio, reaching the KEXP hip hop top 10. Two tracks, "So Damn High" and "Stage Dive" have reached #1 on the Hype Machine popular music chart, above the likes of KanyeWest, DeadMau5, and Skrillex. At only 23 years of age, Sol's career has only just begun, and Yours Truly is the next step in introducing Sol to his dear friends.

This Fall, Seattle-based emcee Sol will hit the road on his first ever headlining tour. After a year-long hiatus traveling around Ethiopia, India, South Africa, Brazil, Haiti and more, Sol announces his West Coast Tour along with a new EP titled Eyes Open (also due for a Fall release). In the tour announcement video, you can see Sol back to work with his trusted producers and live band (Nima Skeemz, Elan Wright, and DJ Nphared) and hear snippets of some of the new music. After charting on Billboard and reaching #1 on iTunes hip-hop in the US with his 2012 album Yours Truly, Sol sold out Seattle's Showbox market and said farewell at a moment when many thought he was poised to be next up. Now having returned to the United States, Sol is rejuvenated and ready to pick up right where he left off.

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Zion I with Sol, MKSMTH, Aileron

Tuesday, February 4 · Doors 7:00 PM / Show 7:30 PM at Neurolux