Zion I & The Grouch
Welcome to the conscious hip hop revival! Zion I & The Grouch are partying (and pontificating) like it’s 1994 and conscious hip hop isn’t a label that most rappers wouldn’t touch with a very long stick. Heroes In the Healing Of The Nation is an album that wants, to well, heal the nation (if not the world), built on the philosophy that anyone who tries to change life for the better is a hero. It’s an admirable stance and Lord knows we need this positivity at a time when the apocalypse seems to be coming with wars kicking off in North Africa, Japan melting down and problems at home every bit as serious as those abroad.
So I hope you’ll forgive me for raining on Zion I & The Grouch’s parade, but this album shows exactly why conscious hip hop flopped. Grouch boasts at one point that they ‘consciously kill it’ and that is precisely what he and his compadres do here; extinguish any flicker of life or spark of interest in favor of forcing positive vibes down your throat. It’s a real turn off.
All but a handful of the joints here are plain dull. The beats are uninteresting, the drums, wack. But the real problem is that they’re overladen with heavy-handed dogma of the highest order. The message is on point; help one another, community values are important, etc, etc. But the delivery? Man.
At its worst (“Be A Father”) it’s like a governmental focus group that’s tried to go ‘urban’ in a bid to appeal to the kids that gets it horribly, horribly wrong. It takes you back to that feeling you had as a teenager when your parents would sit you down and try to pass on their wisdom, and even though you knew they might be right, you wouldn’t listen because all you wanted to do was go outside and get laid or high.
The sad fact is that to impart a message, particularly a ‘conscious’ one, you need a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. A dope beat, a neat rhyme or turn of phrase, anything to get your head nodding or your feet tapping. Sadly there’s precious little of that to be found in Heroes In The Healing Of The Nation. There are some honorable exceptions: “Rockit Man” is a nice little electro joint, “Drop It On The One” successfully integrates some dubstep into the mix and “Victorious People” is a powerful tune. But that’s it.
Maybe the problem’s The Grouch (sorry, dude). He comes off like Gift of Gab*, but without the lightness of touch, the wit or the skills. His flow gives tracks like “It’s Going Down” an overpowering Blackalicious-lite feel that makes you yearn for Nia and Blazing Arrow*; albums that addressed similar subjects with a charm, intelligence and musical quality that’s seriously lacking here.
And that’s the way it goes with this project. It’s simply not that appealing. As a community workshop, Heroes In The Healing Of The Nation is great, But that’s exactly the problem; it feels more like a lesson to be learned rather than an album to be enjoyed. The sanctimonious vibe just makes me feel like a difficult teenager and want to do anything but listen to Zion I & The Grouch. Maybe like the advice my parents gave me, I’ll begin to appreciate it ten years later when I’m a full-grown man, but for the moment, I’ll just skip out the door and listen to something else. Their message should be heard, but not like this.
*[Editor’s note: we apologize for the two published errors, however both Gift of Gab and Blazing Arrow have been corrected.]