To save both reader and writer the trouble of writing Elemental Zazen’s entire inspirational story twice, I recommend reading my 2008 review of “The Glass Should Be Full.” I also recommend buying the album, but that appears to be hard to do right now as it’s out of print and the lowest priced copy on is $19.38. Ouch. I’m really shocked that album wasn’t released as a digital download at some point.

Thankfully “Kill Em With the Beat.” Joe Beats provided a symphonic backdrop with hard hitting drums that lived up to the song title, but it could just as easily have described the hard hitting lyrics both emcees spit on the shit like Zazen’s “Whoever tax the aristocrats/probably end up in a ditch with a slit wrist and fist” and Fashawn’s ferocious flow:

Fashawn: “Fuckin with them, herbs, I’ll make you puff on my ‘erb
From the gutter now I’m rich as them white kids from the burbs
Swerve like a malt liquor, spliff’s what I prefer
I’m sick and not sure if it’s a gift or a curse
Out the bottomless pit I used to pitch on the turf
Now I’m swift with the verse, take take trips around the earth
Pro-ceed to collect my chips that I disperse
Similar to a fifty round clip when it burst”

The other guests on “Nothing to Lose But Change” are similarly high caliber, from the rock and rolling “Hollow Heart” featuring Canibus to liquid and hypnotizing melody of “Barbie Doll” featuring Jean Grae. As good as they are there’s no question this is Zazen’s vehicle, and he’s not afraid to grab the wheel and take you for a ride on songs like the sinister sounding Metaform produced “Bricks and Mortality”:

“Die upon never differing right from wrong
Night from dawn, a firebomb from the fired thorn
Feel the quiet calm in the violent storm
Can’t fight ’em all, paragon what you stare upon
Leave ’em buried in the lawn while you mourn, clutchin a sterile guard
and a sword, end up in the morgue as life’s scores
Born without a heart, from the start scorned, into a form forlorn
Never gone, addicted to the drugs and the porn
Another overworked, underpaid, slave to the minimum wage
Forced to pray for a way to escape
The factory cage, betrayed by the same
Betrayed as they lead us here to lead us through the maze”

If you’re left with the feeling that Elemental Zazen is a bit of a firebrand on the mic, you’re not entirely wrong. The sense one gets from his lyrical politics is akin to what one would hear from Immortal Technique or Chuck D, yet the intellectual rebellion never gets in the way of the rocking the mic. The musical backdrop goes a long way toward providing Zazen that balance. “Lockjaw” has what Zazen aptly describes as a “beat pounding” soundtrack courtesy of Jake One, all piano and attitude. The still underrated M-Phazes layers up an epic melody for “Words That I Write” that you’d expect for a DJ Khaled track featuring Akon, Lil Wayne and Rick Ross, though they probably wouldn’t say lines like “religion, capitalism, an unholy alliance.” Even when he’s not rapping he’s making a point on the Blue Sky Black Death produced “Greed,” using samples of Michael Parenti talking about the failures of capitalism in countries from Poland to Brazil. The most unexpected collabo may be Left Coast stalwart Eligh lacing “Blood On the Track,” but it doesn’t change his rap:

“They’re in love with the gat, use it on the poor and the black
Blamin the same neighborhoods where the coroner’s at
And foreigners trapped, while they stay ignoring the facts
Should be a war of class, but we’re scared of questions that’s important to ask”

The album closes on the Kno produced “Wanted to Be” featuring Toussaint, but it doesn’t really feel finished at all. At under 45 minutes long this 12 song album leaves you wanting more of Zazen’s well produced, well thought out raps on the wealth (or perhaps welfare) of nations – and that’s certainly the idea. It’s not very often that you listen to a rapper with an activist agenda that has not only the ability to express those ideas eloquently but the music to back it up and the flow to keep you listening. Zazen has achieved that trifecta on “Nothing to Lose But Change,” an album whose title seemed at first to be a pun on President Obama but in hindsight seems more like a double entendre asking us all to question whether this economy truly works for us. Given the staggering rates of unemployment and poverty worldwide let alone the growing recession in the United States, even the change in our pockets has failed us as change we can believe in, and that NEEDS to change.

Elemental Zazen :: Nothing to Lose But Change
8Overall Score