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Zion I, Sweatshop Union headline hip-hop shows

A pair of positively charged indie-hip-hop groups are coming through town this week in the form of Sweatshop Union and Zion I.

Both are sticking to formula on their latest releases, upholding tradition but altering the chemistry of their signature styles.

California MC/producer duo Zion I – MC Zumbi and AmpLive – seemed to have been going in separate directions with each member working with other artists.

When MC Zumbi began to explore side projects, rumors spread of the duo’s demise. But the time apart gave Zion I the chance to spread their individual wings before coming back together.

AmpLive finished out 2012 with a spot on NPR’s best hip-hop list for “Therapy After 3,” the rapid-fire remix followup to 2011’s “Therapy at 3” collaboration with Eligh. 

Ali Shaheed Muhammad, NPR host and co-founder of A Tribe Called Quest, praised AmpLive for his uncompromising blend of electronic and alternative hip-hop styles.

AmpLive and MC Zumbi reconnected late last year to drop “Shadow Boxing,” the followup to “Heroes in the Healing of the Nation” featuring The Grouch.

While “Shadow Boxing” is collaborative in nature – guests include Collie Buddz, Goapele, D.U.S.T., The Grouch, Eligh and Bassnectar – the lyrical content of the album is more introspective than the preceding releases, which tended to focus on questioning social norms and the status quo.

Instead of outlining problems, “Shadow Boxing” attacks inward, casting light on the darker corners of the mind.

On “Anymore,” Zumbi takes the listener on a walk through his personal head trips, feelings of isolation and anxiety, while talking himself back from stepping over the edge. He continues along a similar path, taking on the world’s problems, and then finally decides to “Buck Em” on the track of the same title.

In addition to “Shadow Boxing,” Zion I also teamed up with Santa Cruz dubstep DJ Minnesota at the end of last year.

Leisurely Sweatshop talk

Canadian hip-hop group Sweatshop Union has consistently reinvented its sound with each release.

But with the latest album, Sweatshop has gone through a deeper reiteration of itself, adopting the new alias, “The Leisure Gang,” effectively making their sixth release eponymous.

Made available free to fans, “The Leisure Gang” features seven tracks of light-hearted, blue-collar lyrics delivered with raw cadences over avant-garde production.

The new album comes on the heels of the critically acclaimed “Bill Murray EP,” which was named hip-hop album of the year at the Western Canadian Music Awards.