Zion I & the Grouch

Hmmm. 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, Heroes disproves 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 the Bay Area's 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 Mistah 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, Heroes still 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" bass line that comes off as visceral as an episode of The Wire without lapsing into cliché.

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