Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Album Review: "At The Speed Of Life" - Xzibit (1996)

INTRODUCTION

Xzibit is a man of many talents. The casual individual knows him as the host of MTV's show, Pimp My Ride. The individual with great taste in music knows him as the man who can absolutely rip it on the mic and as one of the best rappers that has ever graced the west coast.

For some reason, Xzibit's debut album, At The Speed Of Life, tends to fly under the radar when discussing the west's greatest records. Of course, you have the usual mentions of 2Pac's All Eyez On Me (or Me Against The World), Dr. Dre's The Chronic, Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle, Tha Dogg Pound's Dogg Food, any of N.W.A.'s or Ice Cube's work, etc., etc., etc., but conspicuously absent from such discussions is At The Speed Of Life. Let me be clear about this: such an omission is blasphemy.

At The Speed Of Life, led by the hit single, "Paparazzi," is full of outstanding rhymes from Xzibit and banging beats from a myriad of producers, including E-Swift (of The Alkaholiks, a group that Xzibit was once a member of) and Diamond D. Perhaps the reason it is so criminally overlooked is because it dropped the same year 2Pac released All Eyez On Me and The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory? I don't know, but whatever the reason may be, I'll never be able to comprehend it.

The great thing about X's first project is the lack of any "filler" material. The album is not very long at all, containing only 11 actual songs (there are four interludes), so that obviously limited the potential for error that Xzibit could have encountered. One really has to commend Xzibit for not trying to do too much on his debut disc, because that is a disease that too many artists fall victim to.

TRACK-BY-TRACK

1. At The Speed Of Life

The first song on At The Speed Of Life also happens to be its best. You would think that would only be setting you up for disappointment the rest of the way, but that is not the case here. Anyway, the beat by Thayod Ausar (who produces numerous tracks on this project) bangs like you wouldn't believe, and Xzibit just sounds fantastic over it, coming across as a menacing specimen that no one in the industry would want to cross. What a start.

2. Just Maintain
There is a significant dropoff in energy from the title track to "Just Maintain," but that does not at all mean that this is a bad track; it's just a lot more laid back than its predecessor. E-Swift's instrumental is exceedingly chill, and Xzibit doesn't skip a beat, going in on this with the same ferocity that he did on "At The Speed Of Life." Also, J-Ro (of The Alkaholiks) makes one of two guest appearances on the cut and comes strong. The same cannot be said for the other featured artist, though, as female rapper Hurricane G is also present and just sounds awful.

3. Eyes May Shine
This record was also produced by E-Swift, and as effective as the dark, eerie beat is, it is Xzibit himself who carries this track. He sounds incredible over this. I don't have much else to add, but just know that "Eyes May Shine" is a sick song. It was also the album's third single.

4. Positively Negative
The production by Craig Sherrad on this is extraordinary, and Xzibit and guest artist King Tee (an Alkaholiks' affiliate who sounds so much like 2Pac that it borders on creepy) rip it to shreds. Seriously, though, I can't say enough about how ill the beat on this track is. "Positively Negative" rivals the title track for the title of "best song on the album."

5. Paparazzi
The song that put Xzibit on the map. The beat, by Thayod Ausar, actually feels very introspective (if that makes sense), and it matches the mood of the artist, as Xzibit gets pretty deep in terms of his lyrical content on this, rapping about how artists in the industry only do it for the money and notoriety. To put it plainly, "Paparazzi" is a great, great record.

6. The Foundation
I've heard people say this is the best song on At The Speed Of Life, and while I certainly don't agree, it still is a nice cut, as Xzibit dedicates it to his son and warns him about all of the strife he will experience in his life and explains to him how he should handle it. The piano-driven beat by DJ Muggs is pretty solid, but it is X who really makes this track, which was also the album's second single, worth listening to.

7. Bird's Eye View
Honestly, what is with the Hurricane G features? Doesn't Xzibit realize that she sucks? I didn't let her presence ruin this track for me, though, because Diamond D's beat knocks, and Tash (another Alkaholiks' member [who actually refers to himself as "Catastrophe" on here]) and J-Ro kill it along with Xzibit.

8. Hit & Run (Part II)
Did I miss something, because, um, where's part one? Whatever. It's no matter, because this song is sick. Craig Sherrad's instrumental couldn't possibly be any more chill, and Xzibit rides it effortlessly. Even if the content is pretty damn sleazy (it's a sex rap, in case you were wondering), "Hit & Run (Part II)" works. If you're not nodding your head to this, then I don't know what to tell you.

9. Carry The Weight
The final Thayod Ausar beat on the album, and while it does sound a bit too much like "Paparazzi" for its own good, it's still pretty damn nice. Xzibit's subject matter on this record reminds me a lot of that of Ras Kass' on "The Evil That Men Do" off of Soul On Ice, as he goes back in time and explains the perils of his early life. And to think people think of Pimp My Ride when they hear Xzibit's name. What a damn shame...

10. Plastic Surgery
Ras Kass and Saafir drop by to aid Xzibit on this E-Swift-laced cut, and while "Plastic Surgery" is probably my least favorite song on At The Speed Of Life, the collaboration certainly works (I just wish that Xzibit would have saved the Ras Kass collabo for a track that possessed a darker beat and was more serious in tone, but I guess I'm just trying to have my cake and eat it too, which is probably the dumbest expression in the history of mankind because it makes absolutely zero sense, but whatever; based on the meaning it has attained, it applies here), particularly in the case of Ras, as this was when the dude was in his prime.

11. Enemies & Friends
This is just phenomenal. DJ Pen One comes through with an appropriately dark instrumental that contains some banging drums, and Xzibit legitimately sounds angry when he raps over it. I honestly couldn't think of a better way to end the masterpiece that is At The Speed Of Life.

FINAL THOUGHTS

At The Speed Of Life is an underrated classic. There is not a single song that I skip when I listen to this album. I may have said that "Plastic Surgery" was my least favorite cut on the record, but I still listen to it every time through. Xzibit's debut is seriously one of the most consistent projects I have ever heard, from the sick beats to the incredible rhymes.

I hear At The Speed Of Life, and I wonder why the hell Xzibit doesn't get the kind of recognition he deserves in the rap game. This LP is just oozing with his talent from front-to-back, as X shows he can adjust to any type of instrumental and sound equally adept at killing a street banger as he does at rapping a dedication to his son. He is just an outstanding emcee.

Two years after his first album, Xzibit would proceed to release 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz, a record that many feel is actually better than At The Speed Of Life (it isn't), and two years after that, he dropped his most commercially successful effort, Restless. Both projects, while not at the same level as his debut, were very, very good, further confirming my notion that X is one of the most underappreciated artists to ever do it.

Of course, as Xzibit himself says in "Enemies & Friends," all good things come to an end, as after Restless, X fell off the face of the earth, as he abandoned his hardcore roots and started trying to appease the mainstream junkies by releasing singles and albums that were clearly geared toward commercial radio. Oh well. It was certainly a hell of a ride for Xzibit early in his career, and hey; how many artists can say that their first three albums were the ish?

TOP FIVE TRACKS

1. At The Speed Of Life
2. Positively Negative
3. Enemies & Friends
4. Paparazzi
5. Hit & Run (Part II)

SKIPPABLE TRACKS

None.

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