ho’s that nigga y’all came to see? X!”
Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner may damn well be the next big thing.
“Often imitated but cannot be? X!”
A rapper who’s only arguable misstep was his Dr. Dre executive produced 2000 release The Restless, still considered by many as the most definitive west coast hip-hop release since 2Pac’s death.
“What’s next? Collect respect like paychecks, straight to the bank with my bitch and have safe sex.”
Clever and fairly imaginative, The Restless still paled in comparison to Xzibit’s first two masterpieces, At the Speed of Life and 40 Dayz and 40 Nightz. The rhymes were top notch and so was the production, but more songs like “Sorry I’m Away So Much”, a letter to his son apologizing for being away on tour, would have been welcome. Since The Restless did garner X his first platinum plaque, Man Vs. Machine has those staggering sales figures to live up to. “Multiply”, the first single, is a good start, a fun and lyrically proficient romp and what should be excellent help to Xzibit in reaching his sales goal. However, sales mean nothing to most fans unless the album is good – so the big question is will Man Vs. Machine live up to his previous efforts, or will it be a watered down baby version of The Restless?
One thing to watch is whether or not the copy of Man Vs. Machine you inevitably purchase contains the bonus CD. The album is still worth the purchase without it, but, with it, there’s an extra three songs including “What A Mess” by DJ Premier, the best produced song on either CD. This is not to say that the rest of the album is poorly produced, in fact, this is far from the truth. For example, Man Vs. Machine starts off strong with “Release Date”, a musical and lyrical kin to “Chamber Music”, the musical introduction from 40 Dayz and 40 Nightz. “Release Date” is a great example of what an introduction should be, as it does a great job getting one excited for the album, discussing Xzibit’s actual – album -- and figurative -- prison, a metaphor for the state of hip-hop – release. Rockwilder’s powerful wind dominated production is a perfect backdrop to the concept, and it leads right into a faux-symphony “Symphony in X Major”. The production on “Symphony” by Rick Rock is slightly off kilter- it reminds of “Been There, Done That” and “Ghetto Fabolous”, with an extra emphasis on the ghetto. The unorthodox track fits Xzibit and Dr. Dre perfectly, and, just like “Multiply”, X keeps switching rhyming and beat styles on his audience, not giving them even close to what we expect. Continuing on, “Break Yourself” is an odd blend of G-Funk and Southern Bounce, and “Heart of Man” is a track we would expect to see on The Blueprint, not appearing proudly on hard ass, thugged out Xzibit’s LP. Nearing the end of the album, “The Gambler” has almost a western twinge behind it, and the Snoop Dogg featured “Losin’ Your Mind” is more straight up Dre G-Funk. Even after all that, the treats aren’t over. Dominating and extremely memorable, the “Renegades”-influenced Eminem assisted and produced “My Name”, another attack on Jermaine Dupri, leaves a listener changed and shook up from the Army influenced main track and hard snares in the background. Xzibit must have a great ear for beats, as Man Vs. Machine now makes four LPs with near perfect production.
The only real problem on Man Vs Machine is that Nate Dogg is not on all of the hooks. The general rule of the album that most songs abide by is that if a male singer sings the hook (i.e. Nate on “Multiply” and “My Name” and Anthony Hamilton on “The Gambler”), the chorus will be what it should be: memorable and a good representation of the rest of the lyrics. If a female singer or Xzibit sings the hook, it will not be probably annoying and frustratingly poor. Some of the choruses on the album really suffer, especially the Golden State collaboration “Harder” and “Choke Me, Spank Me (Pull My Hair)”’s generic “I don’t want to love you / I just want to fuck you / You should bring your friends through / I’ll fuck you and them too (Choke me, spank me, pull my hair)”. The hooks on “Harder” and “Enemies” are just bad enough that they cause the listener to cringe, and don’t make the songs impossible to listen to, just harder then they need to be. The bad hooks are made up for by the quality of the good ones, however. Xzibit should take a few lessons from Dr. Dre, who seems to be the king of hooks – just look at his recent work, “Bad Intentions” and “Without Me”. No matter what you have to say about these songs, you must admit their catchiness.
The lyrics are, as always from X to the Z, top notch. Songs like “Right On” display innovative flows with interesting gimmicks like X has always used, in this case having his staccato flow piped in the left and right ears, switching sides between lines. And, even though Xzibit’s subject matter here is weaker than on his best effort, 40 Dayz and 40 Nightz, he still has the ability to spit rhymes like “Never take a day I'm breathin’ on this planet for granted / Time for change, time for growth, peace and understandin’ / See, but niggaz keep forcin my hand, disturbin’ my plans / Bringin out the soldier in a peaceful man / It's like tryin’ to build a house on sand; you never get a solid foundation, one man can change the nation / Yo, I put that on all creation; Haitian, Jamaican African, Asian, Caucausian, Indian / Whatever your persuasion” on “Heart of Man”. Some of the lyrical content rises above the thug image that we have come to expect from Xzibit, but some of the songs don’t have the most interesting subject matter, like the M.O.P. collabo “BK to LA”. Even still, this may be the best song on the album, with the exciting orchestral influenced production reminiscent of the M.O.P. and Pharoahe Monch song “Show No Mercy”, and Xzibit and M.O.P. turning in memorable performances.
Man vs Machine is a great album, but it doesn’t reach the greatness of 40 Dayz and 40 Nightz or At the Speed of Life. It’s a worthy addition to any hip-hop fans collection, but don’t expect perfection or an album that you can listen to thousands of times. It’s a fun album that will be great for the first few weeks, but after that, it may only be good for a re-listen every month or so. It will sell, especially if “My Name” is the second single, but it’s a travesty that Xzibit’s two worst, but still great, albums are his best selling. Such is the current state of hip-hop, and as Xzibit himself has said “Don’t hate the playa – hate the game”.
Reviewed by: Brett Berliner
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01