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Music Review: Hero – Hero

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On the self-titled debut of hip-hop group HERO, Jamaican-born MC E-Dot declares that “this is for all y’all out there witnessing the madness I’m witnessing.” Working from this simple statement, E-Dot, and producer-extraordinaire Darp Malone, craft a debut LP that pushes the packaged boundaries of hip-hop music.

The topics of the 15 tracks flip from introspective examinations on the struggle of everyday life, to the bliss and stress of the significant love in your life. E-Dot’s rhymes ascend the facile label of “consciousness rap” which unfairly has dogged the likes of Talib Kweli. His rhymes are honest, intelligent, and, simply, good. He has the ability to take seemingly mundane subjects and create clever, interesting stories out of them. E-Dot derides the stereotypes that are expected from rappers, especially on the album’s best — and shortest — track: “Be Aware.”

There isn’t a contrived lyric on the album, which is remarkable when considering the range of topics that are discussed. The guest MCs that show up on the first-half of the album include the newcomers Loer Velocity, Verbal E, and the veteran Wordworth. Loer Velocity, who sounds like a young, gravelly-voiced AZ, shows that he’s an up-and-comer to watch closely. And Wordsworth lays down his reliable rhymes on one of the album’s many standouts, “They Don’t Care.”

As impressive as the wordplay and singing is throughout the album, the production by Darp Malone deserves special acknowledgement. He incorporates many distinct-musical elements in every track, like flutes, saxophones, and guitars, emerging as a worthy heir to Blackalicious’ Chief Xcel. Each track features drum tracks, which sound like they were performed by a live drummer, and bass lines that carry the rhythm effortlessly while never overshadowing the rest of the sounds.

And Darp Malone uses many fantastic sounds on Hero which includes awesome use of pianos, organs, keyboards, and synths. The work on the track “Denial” sounds as if Stevie Wonder showed up to the session for a guest spot. Darp Malone deftly manages the pop-inflections of the single “Mogadishu,” induces straight-up hip-hop on “Feel Good,” and achieves an intimate, lounge feeling on all of the album’s laid-back tracks. Even more noteworthy, Darp Malone sings quite impressively on several cuts like “Lonely Sunday” and “On My Side,” lending the proceedings with a voice that equals John Legend’s.

E-Dot and Darp Malone have affirmed that HERO’s purpose is to emancipate the minds and ears of their listeners. With this debut, they're well on their way. The album is available at the Thirsty Music site.

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