Review Summary: Zion I & The Grouch - The Anti Kevin Federline
2006 was quite the year for hip-hop. In Atlanta, hometown kids T.I.
released well selling albums and had much nationally played singles; Snoop Dogg
came back to life musically for another year on the West Coast , even the popular "underground" circuit got their runs in with The Roots
releasing Game Theory
and Jurassic 5
going to Dave Matthews to completely kill their street cred in Feedback
. Like any of this is anything new though, as a standard it seems the same MC's come back year after year to drop their creative load and to go hide in the shadows for a few years more, only to come back with some new kink to further turn the wheel of rap. As some of us saw this year, the rise of hyphy rap in the Bay Area rivaling the Crunk uprising in the south as the newly founded and localized movement, but who would show up to act the part of Lil' Jon?
Enter Zion I, you may have heard of them (the group is comprised of MC Zion and Amp Live) before this year from their 2000 debut Mind Over Matter
. Even though the direct releases from the group have not come in critically acclaimed waves, they haven't been slouching; label bankruptcies and the creation of their own label can be quite time consuming. All work and underground acclaim aside, the group hadn't made a real impact on pop music; but with the stage set with hyphy being so big, Living Legends member The Grouch, and a slew of guest spots, what would be the catalyst to boost the underrated credit of these vets?
How bout a concept soda to go with that rap sammich?
The city is Oakland, and it being one of the centers of the rap universe right now would seem the perfect candidate to be dubbed the "city of Dope", but the name goes further than that. Its dope because we "all pass the buck/we all don't give a fuck
" (Too Much
), its dope because your "cell phones causing you to drive like an ass/to [The Heroes] that doesn't seem like a good reason to die in a crash" (Digital Dirt
), and its dope because they "kick in your front door/are you gonna run/will you stand../..or deliver with your gun?" ("Trigger"
). The much troubled metropolis is given the visual job with this piece, aided muchly by the under appreciated beats and scene setting turntables of Amp Live, who drops beats on 12 of the 15 songs here. Of course like you learned in speech class, variety is
the spice of life, and variety is what you get; some tunes get sample infested artificial drum beats and deep bass blasts making it perfect for in car blasting, while others feature live instruments (notably the guitar on the track "10 Fingers, 10 Toes, 10 Lbs, 10 Oz"
and violin on "Make U Fly"
Making cliche and simplicity not a feature of this work, the pitfall of making every song go one way in terms of message and tone is skipped over. Thanks to more laid back bass heavy tunes like "Hit Em" existing on the same plane musically but not even in the same quadrant when it comes to social awareness as the warning of the digital age warning "Digital Dirt" should be enough to fit the quota, but it goes on. As previously mentioned, the album is about Oakland which is publicized for the bad but the bad doesn't exist in every single household. The stellar "10 Fingers, 10 Toes, 10 Lbs, 10 Oz"
chronicles a healthy new born, but also a mini story of commitment and willingness to stay. "And I swore I had *** figured out before../..I just want to be the father folks rarely do/Stand up and be there for you"
. The song is a beautiful tale of life born, accompanied by a more Latin influenced rhythm section, shows off what good can happen, and how good it can be.
Of course there's no happy ending, as the closer "Bad Lands"
will show. Bass beats creepin' up and sounding like sludge introduces the beginning of the end and it goes on a sour note. "Tumbleweeds and twisted tales/these the bad lands where the angels fail"
goes the chorus, "Make money try to stop the fear/if you think it ain't real then you ain't been here"
. Dreary, and yet one of the tamest lines found on this track, it just shows how fast the tone can go from hopeful to lost, and that is the story.
Heroes acting more like vivid storytellers is what we get out of this piece as well as hands down on of the top albums of 2006. Lacking severe self promotional lines in every verse but still occasionally putting politics aside for more loose songs, the group of Heroes have shown us their ability in the art, the only thing missing is more listeners.