Changing the True School

Berkeley's Zion I is out to prove that hip hop and drum 'n' bass aren't strange bedfellows

After it became apparent that Tommy Boy had no intentions of actually releasing any of their albums, Metafour dissolved. "After the label deal, one dude moved, and the rest of us stopped kickin' it," Zion explains. "I had a girl, was smokin' hella bomb, just rhyming -- but I was hella mad because I felt like I put hella energy into something that had sizzled before my eyes. Then I started coming over to Amp's house saying we should make music, and he said to wait for [the other members] Supe and Rick, but I was like, 'Rick is in Baltimore and Supe's trippin'.' So he kept making beats and I kept rapping -- separately -- and finally I said, 'We should make some stuff, these cats aren't even around, I'm getting a headache.' We started doing it, and it was cool because we had a different chemistry."

The freshly re-inspired Amp Live and Zion enlisted the services of K Genius, who had recently moved to Atlanta after splitting with Sacramento underground veterans Fonke Socialistik. Moving to the East Bay to build a following, the trio made the acquaintance of local MC Rasco (who makes a guest appearance on Mind Over Matter). Rasco passed on some information about TRC, the record distribution service where he was working. Soon after, they arranged a deal with Ground Control, one of TRC's affiliates.

This time around, they picked apart the contract with lawyers, clause by clause; K Genius, even more than the other two, was scrupulous about ensuring everything was airtight. His first group, through circumstances he isn't at liberty to discuss, became involved in the early '90s with the most infamous figure in the industry, Suge Knight. Before they knew it, they found themselves in a world where executives kept gang-affiliated bodyguards. This time around, K Genius was leery about signing anything short of the ideal contract. "It's about as straightforward as I've ever seen a contract. I'm pretty sure it's got some little loopholes in there somewhere," he laughs, "but we've had it thoroughly checked out, and they seem pretty fair. If we come to them with good ideas and it seems feasible, they're down to put some money behind it. It's cool because they're new to it and we're kinda new to it too, so we're kinda growing together."

For their first single, they wanted to push beyond the stylistic expectations of an underground Bay Area act. They concocted "Inner Light," a rolling drum 'n' bass track punctuated with classic hip hop samples that has become the climax of their live set. "We've been through the live instrument thing, the ghetto murder beats thing, the East Coast phase, the West Coast phase," says Amp Live. "I know things are moving more toward playing instruments again, but also things are getting more computerized, stuff you can dance to. I think the boom-bap era is coming to an end. It's still there, but there's only so much you can do with a 4/4 beat."

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