Album: Man Vs Machine
Rating: 7 / 10
It would be fair to say that the jury is about to finally decide on Xzibit. The time has come to really combine his searing rugged style and lyrics with the new commercial fame his affiliation with Dr. Dre has given him with a standout album. His latest attempt is “Man Vs Machine”, released in the last week, or October 2002 if you €™re reading this in a year’s time. X has had a rather difficult time of it recently – “Restless” was greeted by a very mixed reaction, and the critics were not far behind with scathing attacks upon X to the Z.
X sobered up in 2001 and 2002. After recently becoming a father he gave up the weed and the booze and went to work on his latest. “Man Vs Machine” finds a new Xzibit: a confident industry veteran with a lot to say about life. He has also enlisted an all-star guest list. Does all this finally confirm Xzibit €™s potential with a mind-blowing album, though?
Things starts off just how I like €“ ‘Release Date’ sends proceedings off on an upward spiral. Rockwilder creates a sumptuous middle tempo, melancholy, dramatic multi-layered orchestral beat. Over this X kicks one of the most thoroughly descriptive verses describing life in jail I €™ve ever heard €“ and like Masta Ace €“ this is an extended metaphor for the difficulties and problem €™s he €™s recently had with the rap game. You hear Xzibit €™s gruff and distinctive voice, stellar, growling flow and his penchant for clever, descriptive lyrics. Note the brilliantly direct, contemporary beat. It €™s symbolic of the rest of Man Vs Machine.
While Xzibit is renowned for witty, vicious braggadocio battle lyrics, he can also be one of the more conscious emcees in the game. Tracks like ‘Missin €™ U’ show his sincere, emotional side, while ‘The Gambler’ is an intelligent blaxploitation-themed personal self-examination. However, ‘Heart of A Man’ is a real standout. Over a breezy, light, African-sounding beat (producer Jellyroll samples ‘Africa’) Xzibit analyses himself and the rap game with a series of sincere and analytical rhymes delivered with the charisma that X is so capable of:
€œLife ain’t long, it’s more like a snapshot
You can have the top, I live for the hop
Never take a day I’m breathin on this planet for granted
Time for change, time for growth, peace understandin
See but n—z 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
O ne man can change the nation.”
The meat and veg of the album though, lies in X €™s raucous, ear-splitting braggadocio supported by a set of varied beats from big-name producers. Rick Rock €™s decision to combine the opera and hip-hop on ‘Symphony in X Major’ certainly makes for unique results. You €™ll either love or hate the song €™s melodramatic falsetto style chorus (a certified hip-hop first) €“ I fall into the former. Dre does his best, but X rips it:
€œI’m faced with an altercation manhandling my opponents
I got eyes in the back of my head/ I never sleep so they bloodshot red
Yo, we so far ahead of our time
If we can stop life and press rewind
You still wouldn’t catch up ’til 2K and a dime, so turn it up. €
Speaking of Dr. Dre, while his signature style is now often criticized €“ his trademark loud piano drones and synthesized keys on ‘Losin €™ Your Mind’ creates the perfect backdrop for X to rip up mics with a witty edge to his savage battle rhymes. Both ‘BK to LA’ (featuring Roc-a-Fella €™s newest recruits M.O.P.) and the astounding darkness of ‘My Name’ (featuring Eminem and Nate Dogg) prove once and for all X to the Z can hold his own with some of rap €™s finest.
However, arguably the highlight of the album actually comes when you flip over to the excellent Bonus Disc, and you hear the DJ Premier blessed ‘What A Mess.’ With Primo’s typical uptempo bassline, various fragmented samples and a scratched chorus the beat is sublime, and X €™s analytical, critical rhymes about the state of the rap game, it can’t fail:
€œI ain’t concerned with who gon’ shoot who
I’m only concerned with music, and who break through
F–K YOU, for thinking platinum is the ultimate goal
These f—-t n—-z gettin they money, but losin they soul.”
My personal favourite, and it shows that Primo should work with X together more €“ because they €™re an awesome team.
But with the thick comes the thin €“ and “Man Vs Machine” has it fair share of suckas. ‘Harder’ finds X €™s Golden State Project (of course, X, Ras Kass and Saafir) showing up, but Jellyroll €™s wack, jiggy beat does not suit the group €™s tremendous talent AT ALL. Backed up by a horrendous chorus it €™s a flop. The same goes for the very annoying, misguided, Rick-Rock produced ‘Break Yourself’. Besides this, apart from a rather worrying trend of some poor choruses throughout, and a stupidly solid, generic lead single (‘Multiply’), X keeps things consistent throughout.
Don €™t listen to “Man Vs Machine” expecting a completely mindblowing hip-hop masterpiece €“ cos it ain €™t that. But Xzibit certainly delivers the goods on a slightly less-grandiose scale. The beats are varied and listenable, and his razor-sharp tounge and growling lyrics remain safely intact. He’s matured considerably – and his lyrics reflect this consistently. “Man Vs Machine” is superior hip-hop and a good idea where to get your contemporary Westcoast rap kicks.