Artist: Zion I & The GrouchTitle: Heroes In The City Of DopeRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Kathy Iandoli
The California independent Hip-Hop scene has been seriously slept on since the dawn of its inception. Whether inhaling the THC-induced sounds of the Bay Area or improving your swagger to the rugged LA street beats, Cali is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to gifted MC's. Following along that vein are the dynamic "duo" of Zion I and the Grouch of Living Legends. Roughly a modern-day Gang Starr (Zion on the words and Amp Live on the beats), Zion I combines pensive lyrics over commercially viable production while Living Legends stand as one of the most revered indie collectives on the West. Combine the two and the result is a work that will quite possibly make "heroes" of the urban prophets in their pursuit of quality music: Heroes in the City of Dope (Om). An album of this magnitude could only be created by two acts with their fingers to the pulse of experimental Hip-Hop.
Heroes in the City of Dope possesses a plethora of influences, from the Simon and Garfunkel inspired intro "Noon Time" to the screwed hook of "The Faint of Heart." The vocal diversity between Zion and the Grouch gracefully balances each track even in the presence of smart cameos like Mistah FAB on the hyphy "Hit 'Em" and Chali 2Na on "Too Much." Most of the production-work is at the hands of the talented Amp Live, with some sparse beatmaking by Eligh, Headnodic of Crown City Rockers, and even the Grouch himself on the treble-heavy "Open the Door."
Of the many notable tracks on Heroes in the City of Dope, two dramatically live up to the album title. The intoxicating "Make U Fly" features Esthero flowing like honey amidst violins, snares, and electric guitars. "Kickin It" utilizes punk samples to create this tough guy boombap that's completely hypnotic despite Zion's eery vocal similarities to will.i.am.
Should Zion I and the Grouch succeed in bringing Heroes in the City of Dope universally to the masses, it will be a triumph for something that the West Coast has been soldiering over for years. Radio-friendly or not, it's definitely an iPod essential.