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DJ Zeph and Azeem Bio

“King Cobra in the sed-i-ments of my saliva/Look, I’m staring back, it’s more than a pereformance/ I’m recording tracks but while I rap, I’m reading auras” -Rise Up After reintroducing the hip hop world to an intricately-layered jazz chords with Colossus West Oaktown, ushering in a post-neo-soul era with Stange Fruit Project’s The Healing, and showcasing the non-hyphy side of Bay Area rap with Zion-I & the Grouch’ s Heroes in the City of Dope, Om Hip Hop unleashes its most visionary, groundbreaking and (quite possibly) controversial release to date. Rise Up, the long-awaited album from veteran underground emissaries Zeph & Azeem, offers thirteen tracks (and two interludes) worth of consciousness lifting metaphors, party-rocking beats, and undiluted, 100% rebel music. In the tradition of classic pairings like Guru & Premier, the D.O.C. and Dr. Dre, Erik B. and Rakim ( and more recently Aceyalone and RJD2), Rise Up matches one DJ/Producer with one MC, with suitably stellar results. As Zeph explains, “Movement and music have a lot in common. Musically, this album incorporates several styles that Azeem and I agreed on going into it. Q-Tip once described hip-hop as a form of music based on other forms of music. We represent that idea.” Adds Azeem, “All we knew is we wanted to create our own sound. We mixed upbeat tempos with reggae and threw some Latin influences in there and shit started to come together. I don’t get an idea then write. I let the beat tell me what it needs…the vibe, the rhyme pattern. Somewhere in that process, the album named itself.” Rise Up emanates with an almost-punk rock attitude reminiscent of the earl days of hip-hop, when Grandmaster Flash and the Clash could play the same bill and not raise eyebrows. If songs like “10 Steps Ahead” and “Play the Drum” make an extra effort to be original in a time of creatively-challenged rap, well, that’s by design. Azeem’s lyrical background-he’s a champion slam poet as well as a performance artist/playwright (“Rude Boy”)- comes through loud and clear on “Here comes the Judge” and the first single, ominously-titled “That Type of Music.” Never one to hold his tongue when there’s a deeper truth to unravel, Azeem “paints with no brushes or easels” on the funk-infused “One Moor Time”, and delves into a soulful, jazz tinged metaphysics on “Alpha Zeta.” He draws on his Caribbean ancestry over a rock steady-meets SoulSonic Force groove on the title track, and flips even more West Indian Cultural flavor on “Time to Wake Up,” alsongside roots chanter Tony Moses and Quannum songbird Joyo Velarde. The dancehall-style tracks were inspired by Azeem’s family, he says who were “always buggin’ me about not havin’ no reggae on my albums” Meanwhile. Zeph is an in demand club DJ who’s been active on the remix circuit for many years, in addition to producing two solo albums, he matches Azeem’s versatility beat for beat and track-for track, showing why he’s the best kept secret behind the boards since Diamond D. Old-school 808 bass drops, retro-fink, tasteful turntable cuts, dub influenced treatments, African and Latin melodies, and loads of subtle musical elements make Rise Up well worth listening to, even if it wasn’t saying something that means something (which it is, in case you were wondering). Though the duo, who have been working together since 2001’s #1 college radio hit “Rubber’Glue,” have had their share of ups-and-downs and setbacks in the music industry, they’re confident that not only is Rise Up their best work to date, but the one which will finally clue the rest of the world in to the fact that they’re doper than the 1st and 15th of the month. As Azeem, who has 5 prior LPs to his credit, recently told the SF Chronicle, “this is the first of my albums that’s gonna be promoted properly.” Don’t believe the hype-real hip hop ain’t dead yet. If you’ve been sleeping on Zeph & Azeem, now’s the time to wake up, so you can Rise Up. – Eric K. Arnold