Zion I are a hip hop duo from Oakland, California, consisting of DJ/producer AmpLive and MC Zumbi. The group is known to its followers for Amp's futuristic production techniques, using a mix of live instrumentation and samples, and Zumbi's positive and socially conscious lyrics. Zion I debuted in 1997 with the locally distributed cassette-only EP Enter the Woods. Their first single on indie label Ground Control Records, "Inner Light" paved the way for an album deal. In 2000, they released the critically acclaimed Mind Over Matter. In total, they have released seven studio albums, Mind Over Matter (2000), Deep Water Slang V2.0 (2003), True & Livin' (2005), Break a Dawn (2006)--a Japan exclusive, Heroes in the City of Dope (2006)--a collaborative album with The Grouch, The Take Over (2009), Atomic Clock (2010), and in 2011 another collaborative album with The Grouch, Heroes in the Healing of the Nation.
The duo's musical roots stem back to early childhood where they were greatly influenced by Tim Scott. Taking interest in the workings of musical instruments, AmpLive began reassembling his family's radios at a young age and he soon began to play musical instruments such as drums and piano. In his high school years, he started crafting beats, finding inspiration in a number of musical genres.
Zumbi (formerly known as Zion) became fascinated by hip hop in its early stages; songs like "The Breaks" by Kurtis Blow and "Rock Box" by Run-D.M.C. got him hooked on the budding culture. He has said that Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest gave him lyrical inspiration, originally feeling that his vocal tone and style wouldn't be accepted. Zumbi wrote his first rhyme around 1990 during one of his Social Studies classes in high school. After continuing his writing, he gained the confidence to start rapping in local ciphers and began learning about critical aspects of the technique, like breath control, cadences and rhyme patterns. In 1991, Zumbi and Amp joined up with two other MCs, Sup from Connecticut and Richard Raymond from the Cherry Hill projects in Baltimore to form a group called Metufour. The group signed a deal with Tommy Boy Records, but never released an album on the label.
After signing with independent label Ground Control Records, the duo released their debut single "Inner Light" in 1998, along with their debut EP Starship. In 1999, they released their next single "Critical" featuring Planet Asia, and another EP, Chapter 4. Their debut album Mind Over Matter finally surfaced in 2000. The effort was one of the most critically acclaimed underground albums of the year, and was nominated for Independent Album of the Year by The Source magazine. AmpLive's futuristic production techniques and Zumbi's strong and substantial lyrical content were a major hit with underground hip hop fans.
Zion I recorded a second album titled Kos U5tak, set for release in 2002, but their label went under and the album disappeared. They prepared a second version, Deep Water Slang V2.0, which was released in early 2003. Music videos were shot for the songs "The Drill", "Finger Paint", "Boom Bip" and "Le Le Le", giving them the most exposure of their career. Zion I started their own record label, Live Up Records in 2003, and released a mixtape titled Curb Servin. In 2004, the duo released a compilation titled Politicks, and another mixtape, Family Business, which served as a prelude to their anticipated third album. They were featured along with Del tha Funkee Homosapien and Haiku D'Etat on the CD/DVD Calicomm 2004.
True & Livin' was released in early 2005, featuring guest appearances from popular underground artists like Talib Kweli, Aesop Rock, Del tha Funkee Homosapien and Gift of Gab. The album featured the single "The Bay" which became a West Coast/college radio hit, and featured a music video. The remix of "The Bay" earned the group its first significant commercial radio play in the San Francisco Bay Area. The remix and later projects represent a concerted effort to reach hyphy audiences, by collaborating with artists such as Turf Talk, San Quinn and Mistah F.A.B..
The duo's fifth album is a collaboration project with Living Legends member The Grouch, titled Heroes in the City of Dope, and was released on October 10, 2006. This fifth album was again highly critically acclaimed. Their song "Spinning" was included in the soundtrack of the movie Grandma's Boy.
Zion I's song "Go Hard" was the feature song in the video game NBA Live 10.
The duo was featured in a Linkin Park song titled "Plc.4 Mie Haed" from the nu metal band's album, Reanimation.
On September 22, 2010, the duo announced a new album entitled Atomic Clock which was released on November 9, 2010 on Gold Dust Records. "'The Takeover' (2009) was a very external record and we wanted to focus on fun, party music. 'Atomic Clock' 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", Zumbi said about the new album on their website.