WRCU Review – Hip Hop Review

Aaron Shier

Heroes in the City of Dope is a Bay Area collaboration between the frontman for the Living Legends, The Grouch, and the emcee/deejay Zion I (Zion and Amp Live). The Grouch has guest starred on some of Zion I’s most revered fan favorites, including “Silly Putty” and “Flow” – so it was only a matter of time before they teamed up for a full-length album.

The Grouch’s gruff and blunt style is juxtaposed with Zion I’s capacity to bend and curve buttery, charismatic flows over any track. A further contrast manifests itself in the production work. A diversity of musical styles are infused in this album, including the dub rock of “Trigger,” the chop and screw based “Faint of Heart” and the soul/jazz nexus on “Trains and Planes.” Despite this diversity the album comes off as rather homogenenous; each track is anchored in solid drum constructions with soaring atmospherics. The producers do not seek to explore any new territory, resulting in perhaps the least adventurous production work on a Zion I album to date.

The album’s title and the track “Smack” are based on the 808 and funk-guitar-driven “City of Dope” off Too Short’s 1988 release, Life is…Too Short. Too Short’s “dope” was crack-cocaine from the streets of Oakland, CA. The “dope” Zion I and The Grouch seem to be approaching is one that balances the hifi-sound currently associated with Oakland and the conscious hip-hop movement of social critique in which they engage. The give and take between the two styles on Heroes… produces a hip-hop album that delivers powerful messages, and doesn’t shy away from getting down and dirty either.