Loud / RCA, 1996
Before joining Dr. Dre’s team at the end of the 90s, Xzibit had a career that was a bit off the radar. If Dr. Dre made him explode on the mainstream scene with tracks like Bitch Please, What’s The Difference or Some L.A. Niggaz before releasing Restless in 2000, the fans of the first hour already followed with attention the native of Detroit with his first two releases, At The Speed Of Life in 1996 and 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz in 1998.
With Restless, Dr. Dre converted Xzibit to more West Coast sounds, which did not please the fans of the first hour. Indeed, although he grew up in California, Xzibit made his own music far from the usual standards of the West Coast, his lyrics had nothing of gangsta rap and the sounds very far from G-Funk. In fact, his style was closer to East Coast rappers. We are not here to judge the movement of Xzibit towards more Californian sounds with his rallying to Dr. Dre, but rather to return on his beginning of career in the underground.
Close to King Tee, one of the pioneers of West Coast rap, Xzibit made his first appearance on the fourth album of the latter in 1995, IV Life. He then joined the Likwit Crew, founded by King Tee, alongside Tha Alkaholiks, Lootpack, Defari, etc. before signing a contract with Loud Records. Even in his debut, Xzibit is not alone and is already a member of a well-known and identifiable underground scene in Los Angeles.
Many saw him as a great rapper with potential, with his raspy voice and sharp lyrics, Xzibit had what it takes to succeed, which he did in view of his recognition in the underground. The rapper is a real machine of catchy and smashing punchlines. Mr. X is hardcore without being really gangsta, he knows how to be both provocative and raw, which gives him a slightly gruff side.
Xzibit, PaparazziSometimes I wonder if it’s all worth my while
Xzibit stay versatile with million dollar lifestyle
And I can feel it as a child growing up
The niggas that was real and the niggas that was scared as fuck
It’s why Xzibit only roll with a chosen few
You ain’t really real, I can tell when I look at you
So ease off the trigger-talk, you ain’t killing shit
It’s not affecting me or the niggas that I’m chilling with
I don’t believe the hype or buy woof tickets
Nigga, you make a gang of noise and never seen like a cricket
I guess that’s why we never kick it
A lot of niggas is soft and get tossed trying to fuck with the Likwit
Even if he can sometimes go a little too far on some tracks, on others Xzibit is on the contrary much more balanced with a lot of honesty and remorse, very perceptible on the single Paparazzi. With a beautiful introspection, he questions his legitimacy as a young thug with a redemptive side. Xzibit narrates a very beautiful and heartbreaking story about his past on Carry The Weight, we find him flayed and overwhelmed with a sincerity that makes us shudder. On the contrary, he is much more raw on Eyes May Shine or on Positively Negative with a beautiful dichotomy on the traps of the street. Other tracks deal with more futile and distracting themes like Plastic Surgery with Ras Kass and Defari, yet the tracks still work well with clever punchlines.
The mood is definitely heavy yet melodic and melancholic, the use of many muted horns and low resonating string riffs contribute heavily to this hybrid atmosphere between a Temple Of Boom’s Cypress Hill and a Nas’ Illmatic. The album kicks off with the eponymous track on a Thayod Ausar beat that features incessant snare slams and some melancholy guitar notes. We find this melancholy again with the cello of Eyes May Shine which is enhanced by small whistles in the chorus and high-pitched bells for a tragic and disturbing atmosphere. Paparazzi samples a emotional strings melody by Barbara Streisand. We find DJ Muggs on The Foundation with a beautiful high-pitched piano loop for a track dedicated to his son. The long and resonant notes of Carry The Weight easily support the dramatic and sad tone given by Xzibit.
Apart from a few tracks slightly below, the producers, Thayod Ausard, DJ Muggs, E-Swift, Craig Sherrad have done a remarkable job to give this atmosphere both melancholic and austere for Xzibit to express himself. The raucous voice and raw punchlines of the rapper perfectly contrast the beats for a unique atmosphere. Even though Xzibit is raw and aggressive, he also knows how to be perfectly emotional and introspective, which fits perfectly with the backdrop offered by the producers. As much in the productions as in the interpretation and the lyrics, the balance is very well mastered. It is not an introspective album strictly speaking since other themes are addressed, but the first try of the native of Detroit has a very personal side in the approach.
Xzibit signs an excellent first album. It is difficult to say if it is his best since it will be a new turn in his career. The fans of the first hour will tend to privilege the Xzibit of the beginnings, others will be more satisfied with his collaborations with Dr. Dre. In my opinion, At The Speed Of Life remains his best album for its authentic side, but Xzibit knew how to remain very convincing even in his more gangsta and West Coast banger period.