Album Review: X Clan – Mainstream Outlawz

February 7, 2009

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Concept: As the album’s ridiculous artwork (not pictured) suggests, X Clan has a penchant for satirizing their own genre. Although it’s been done, it’s hard to imagine it being done better than this. The group waxes philosophical and conscientiously objects to distilled and perverted hip-hop imagery while defending the culture itself as uplifting, and in the meantime their display of common sense and passion for the process gives them real dignity beneath all the jokes. If there’s an underlying theme, it’s that “only real love can survive in these jungles / … / universes in the flesh / you breathe out the life, I’ll protect it to the death. / … / stack my chips and become the dream.

Sound: X Clan isn’t afraid to have a quirky swing to some of their tracks, and they can handle it and make something worthwhile from the risk. The beats are diverse, and the R & B samples and original recordings are arresting. They aren’t just laying something behind their rhymes. There’s plenty of texture in the album: dissonant orchestra strings, clunky saloon piano, flashes of choirs, bouncy bass, static buzz, peppy flutes, blazing electric organ…corny bossa nova. Furthermore, the speakers aren’t content to just follow the music. They make sure their rhythms compliment the tune. The result’s a tightly knit atmosphere for every track, and if they don’t start with a good hook, they find it.

Lyrics: Although the album has a slower start, X Clan gets to be thoughtful and incredibly funny, keeping it all up-tempo, and the best part is that it keeps going and going. There’s all the nuance of good conversation, with humor and invocations diverse enough to get anybody’s attention, offbeat enough to make Daniel Dumille shed a tear. Saul Williams isn’t the only rapper with love songs, spiritual concerns, and offbeat historical montages. Did I mention that they managed to do all this while keeping it completely clean for the kids?

Quick And Dirty: Unless a distaste for hip-hop is woven into the fabric of your being, I don’t know how you couldn’t find something to like here. I can’t emphasize enough how pleasantly surprised I am by this album. (♦♦♦♦)

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