XV, Zero Heroes

XV, Zero Heroes

For some, hip-hop excellence still begins with geographical location, which is then solidified by earning honors like “XXL Freshman” or “Jay-Z co-signee.” So what are we to make of Wichita, Kansas, hip-hop? The words barely make sense when compared to more iconic Kansas-centric phrases like “Kansas barbeque” or “I’m pretty sure the capital is Kansas City…wait, Topeka?” It’s not to say that the Midwest’s hip-hop scene hasn’t produced some fantastic emcees — it’s just that the notable ones seem to originate further north of the Sunflower State. Luckily, the Internet has made the “traditional” route all but meaningless these days, as artists bypass both record labels and the media to mainline self-released albums to their audience. Now, out of Wichita, XV has released the sixteenth mixtape of his young career, Zero Heroes.

With fifteen mixtapes under his belt, you’d expect XV to have his shit together. Zero Heroes‘ production values are quite high, with a strong combination of custom beats from producers like Pusha T and Seven and eclectic samples taken from both Utada Hikaru and Smashing Pumpkins. Guest appearances by the up-and-coming Kendrick Lamar and Cyhi Da Prynce add a heavy dose of expectation and gravitas to Zero Heroes — luckily, XV is ready to impress.

While many are content to ease into albums with soft opening tracks, XV starts strong with one of the best songs of Zero Heroes, a brilliant Just Blaze-produced memoir titled “Wichita.” Throughout Zero Heroes, XV continually touches base with his past. Whether it’s expanding on the difficulties of trying to make it in “Smallville” or accounts of how he used hip-hop to escape an abusive father in “Pictures on My Wall,” XV’s subject matter isn’t anything new. Even his penchant for video game references has been covered.

However, it’s XV’s effortless skill and tangible honesty that separates him from his peers. With a smooth verse here and a witty reference there, XV continually spits out quality like, “No Zack and Kelly but tell me and to the Max we go/ And treat these verses like Margarito and Pacquiao / Teachers thought I’d never come out of my shell and well / Now I hop on beats and go pistachio.” While his contemporaries might cover similar ground, XV never falters in his delivery or bludgeons listeners with long hooks/vocal choruses in order to prop up songs.

Zero Heroes isn’t entirely focused on the seriousness of earning XV his well-due honors in the hip-hop world, mind you. With “Awesome” (a rehash from XV’s previous album Everybody’s Nobody) and “All for Me,” XV lightens the mood by taking a turn into the feel-good party hip-hop territory. Tackling two subgenres is no easy task, one only has to look to the sensitive-thug styling of Slim Thug’s “My Bitch” to clearly illustrate that tackling two contrasting styles has its problems. XV speaks, however, with a kind of accessible cleverness that pushes the complicated Zero Heroes far above the average mixtape. If anything, his broad subject matter, clean cadence, and eclectic beats evoke favorable comparisons of another prominent Chicago emcee, Lupe Fiasco.

Being that Zero Heroes is my first introduction to XV, it’s hard to see him flying under the radar for too much longer. Warner Brothers has recently signed the Wichita native, and a lot of hype is beginning to surround his next project, The Kid With the Green Backpack. There is no question that XV is a rare talent whose efforts in Zero Heroes have managed to not only compete for best mixtape of the year, but possibly hip-hop album of the year.

[XV is playing 10/20/11 at Warehouse Live, along with Chip tha Ripper.]
(self-released; XV -- http://iamxv.com/)

Review by . Review posted Monday, October 10th, 2011. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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