On True and Livin’ (Live Up), the Oakland duo ZION I makes soulful hip-hop that favors acoustic sounds over electronics, thoughtfulness over braggadocio, and spirit-enhancing grooves over testosterone-fueled beats. Rather than use the overreaching, too-clever rhyme schemes popular among underground rappers, MC Zion delivers straightforward, introspective lyrics, and producer Amp Live creates lush and jazzy soundscapes using violin, piano, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, and even sitar. A lot of great hip-hop pumps you full of adrenaline; Zion I seems committed to making you breathe deeply and feel better in your own skin.
On his new album, S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M. (Subterraneous/Fat Beats), Michigan MC ONE.BE.LO (formerly OneManArmy) rips through verse after verse packed with consistently sharp, potent lyrics. On the infectious “Rocketship” he’s bursting with self-love: “These MCs still bitin’, still barkin’, still talkin’ real garbage / Explains why I’m feeling so trash-bag glad / I get the last laugh, you get the half-mast flag.” But he also takes on weightier subject matter, like religion (he’s a devout Muslim), crime, and social injustice: “It don’t take a professor / To see the oppressor got the whole treasure / Now how many Africans slain for one platinum chain on yo’ dresser?” he raps on “Axis.” Zion I headlines and One.Be.Lo plays fourth; opening are the Crown City Rockers, Abstract Giants, and Linc with DJ Hammurabi. Sat 6/4, 9:30 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-478-4408 or 866-468-3401, $10 in advance, $12 at the door, 18+.