Bay Area "international future music" company Om:records recently put out new CDs by Strange Fruit Project and Zion I and the Grouch. Both parties stray from the commercial, carving out unique niches for themselves in a recently moribund hip hop space.
The Healing -- Strange Fruit Project
Similar in tone to Common, and reminiscent of A Tribe Called Quest, the Waco, Texas Strange Fruit Project serves up deep, thought provoking lyrics, laced with swanky bass lines and nostalgic, soul samples. Their distinct Texas vernacular is complemented by a variety of musical producers, making music where you can both listen to the lyrics and bob your head to the beat.
The trio is at their best when they weave in and out of sample-driven soul-drenched tunes such as "You (the only one)," a song to kick back and relax to. "Liberation" is another gem. Over a slinky, slow beat, the trio reflects on their lives, hardships, and mental freedom. "After Poppa caught the boat and set sail/ and momma followed shortly after that/ without a trail/ leaving a frail, innocent mind to defend himself behind enemy lines..." they rap, and I begin to reflect on my own personal growth; a testament to the power of a good song.
Next to the often profound lyrical offerings, there are a few danceable entries including "Get Live," a feel good song with Erikah Badu that elevates and energizes. However, another "party" track, "Good times," unfortunately sounds so retro it's like something recorded in 1998, and not in a good way.
Heroes in the City of Dope - Zion I and the Grouch
Zion I and the Grouch are giving the bay area music scene a heavy dose of socially relevant commentary. Like the Strange Fruit Project, this Bay Area rap trio has opted to follow a path less frequented by their hip hop brethren, and the result was music to my ears (for the most part).
Over the live, thumping production of Bay Area bred Amp-live, these MCs deliver unique lyricism that includes plenty of sarcasm, energy, and creativity. In "Trains and Planes" Zion raps, "I grew up on fresh air with hippies/ now I suck smog around wanna-be 50s (50 Cent)." Further, "Hit em' Up," a bass driven track with an infectious clap beat, was an opener that made me turn up the volume; much to the dismay of my neighbors.
The trio tries out smoother, laid back rhythms as well. "Lift Me up" a woosy, time-warped tune, feels like a dream. Other highlights include "Faint Hearted" and "Digital Dirt," which critiques this generation's fixation with digital media and materialism. "On the internet children sift through the sex/ FBI monitor message intercept/ ...gotta get my botox/ weed/ and Viagra/ just to get my rocks off/ what happened to my stamina?... So when you see us on our typewriters/ sendin letters snail mail/ rubbin sticks for fire/ covered wagons that's the tell tale sign of contentment/ peace and enlightenment." While I don't agree with the latter half of this lyric, being that digital media has made it possible for this trio to have a career, the song does make you think.
On other tracks, the Zion I and the Grouch attempt familiar territory and the results are mixed. "Too Much" sounds much too outdated to be included on the album, while "Smack" uses nostalgic early '90s beat patterns. This one works, but you just might start break dancing!
Check out Strange Fruit Project and Zion I and the Grouch. They give sincere, authentic musical offerings that, while not perfect, deliver a good amount of depth, in an age where Paris Hilton can get a record deal. So if you see me at BART with their music seeping from my headphones, you know the deal. Blaring headphones don't lie.