Zion-I & the Grouch

Heroes in the City of Dope (Om Hip-Hop)

"The beat knocks from my head to my cheap socks," the Grouch declares on "Hit 'Em"; MC Zion proclaims he's "rough and rugged, how you love it, with no budget"; and the Crown Prince of Hyphy, Mistah F.A.B., makes a bid for lyrical respect with "my mindstate define great, the crime rate got me irate." Hmm. Let's see. Bay Area all-stars, check. Illmatic production, check. What's not to love about Heroes in the City of Dope?

From the intro, "Noon Time," which interpolates Led Zep's "No Quarter," to the closer, "Badlands," which mixes Yay Area slaps with exotic-sounding melodies, HitCoDdisproves the theorem that the only thing Bay Area hip hop does well is make thizz-faces. Anchored by Amp Live's production — Crown City Rockers' Headnodic and the Living Legends' Eligh also contribute a few tracks — the album's well worth listening to from a musical standpoint alone. Amp might be the most underrated and least predictable of our local beatmakers, a versatile cat who frequently experiments with new sounds, but never strays too far from hip hop's boom-bip foundation. If you've heard previous Zion-I/Grouch collaborations like "Silly Puddy" and "Flow," then you know their microphone chemistry bubbles over; guests F.A.B., Chali 2na, and Esthero add a bit of glamour and variation to the disc. Occasionally overly precious in an almost-emo way, HitCoD nevertheless offers plenty of classic "conscious rap" moments, like "Kickin' It," a discourse on drugs and civil liberties based around the Clash's "Guns of Brixton" bassline that comes off as visceral as an episode of The Wire without lapsing into cliché. Eric K. Arnold

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