January 19, 2009

Tha Liks (Tha Alkaholiks) - X.O. Experience (July 3, 2001)


After the release of their third album, Likwidation, Tha Alkaholiks (made up of Tash, J-Ro, and producer/sometime-rapper E-Swift) took a much-needed break. Tash recorded and released a solo disc, Rap Life, while the other two focused on work and (presumably) drinking. However, in late 2000, an affiliate of their posse, the Likwit Crew, hit all six numbers in the hip hop lottery: rapper Xzibit, who is probably best known for his MTV reality show Pimp My Ride and his puzzling appearance as an FBI agent in the last X-Files movie, was able to wrangle in Dr. Dre to executive-produce his third album, Restless, which automatically provided the project with a higher media profile, and, as longtime fans expected, Tha Alkaholiks were brought in to provide a guest spot. Due to the exposure, the trio decided to hook back up for album number four, but they soon found out that hip hop had undergone a severe shift during their absence.

In 2001, radio-friendly rap was the name of the game, and all hip hop albums were damn near required to include more commercial fare in order to justify/guarantee a release to the big box stores, where more units were shifted. Thankfully, this did not mean that the Trackmasters had the airwaves in the grip of their cold, dead hands: the very definition of radio-friendly had also changed, incorporating concepts from producers such as The Neptunes, Timbaland, and (to a much lesser extent) Rockwilder, who would have begged for radio spins just three years prior.

Forced to make a decision or face the possibility if becoming irrelevant in our chosen genre, Tha Alkaholiks opted to change with the times. They commissioned beats from two of the three producers listed above (Timbo wasn't invited, but can you imagine Tash drunken driving over one of the better Tim Mosely creations?), while E-Swift handled most of the rest, although he switched his style up more than a little bit to ape the flavor of the moment. The group even underwent a controversial name change: for their fourth disc, X.O. Experience (note the badass cover art above), they officially switched up the group moniker to Tha Liks. Since I'm not writing their biography or anything, I have no clue if the name switch was label-required or the choice of the artists (although I am aware that it was done because most radio station deejays refused to play songs by a group that called themselves Tha Alkaholiks), but either way, the motive was clear: glorifying alcohol abuse = poor sales; taking that out of the equation = better sales (maybe?).

X.O. Experience sold rather poorly (even with some Neptunes assistance on the lead-off single, "Best U Can"), and the crew took another hiatus, although this one wasn't as necessary as the last. Tha Alkaholiks left their label, Loud Records (although, to be fair, all of Loud's artists left their label, as money troubles forced it to shut down) and, five years later, released one final album before officially calling it quits. It's sad to see that an obviously talented crew like Tha Alkaholiks saw their career end essentially because the trends changed to such a degree that their old fans seemed to stop caring, but like a fine wine, the last three Liks albums have improved with age (especially Coast II Coast, their best effort to date), so the timing may be right for a Liks renaissance.

Let's find out.

1. INTRO
A rap album intro that's interesting in a nostalgic educational filmstrip kind of way, but it's still ultimately skippable.

2. BAR CODE (FEAT XZIBIT)
X.O. Experience already sounds completely different from the previous three discs, thanks to E-Swift's imitation of the club-ready sound of the day. However, that isn't a completely terrible thing. While Tash and J-Ro sound as good as always (and J-Ro slyly references Tash's solo album in his verse), I question Xzibit's inclusion in what is ostensibly the group's reintroduction to the game. He sounds good, his added clout should have helped, and I know that Tha Liks are basically responsible for his entire career, but I would have saved his cameo until at least the fourth track in. Still, this is pretty good.

3. RUN WILD (FEAT SHAE FIOL)
I wasn't feeling the hook on this one. The instrumental also sounds like some generic Rockwilder-lite pop music (which is pretty bad, since Rockwilder actually handled the production duties). Lyrically, the two rappers sound decent enough, but I probably won't ever pay attention to this song ever again, and I'm betting that the two of you won't, either.

4. L-I-K-S
I didn't really care for this song, either (E-Swift's beat didn't work for me this time, and the whole concept of spelling your name in your rap song became obsolete, in my opinion, after Elmo from fucking Sesame Street dropped his Definitive Jux debut), but I love the fact that, whenever Tash or J-Ro start to rhyme, you're instantly transported into a much better mood than the one you would be in if, say, you just finished up reading the write-up for GangStarr's Daily Operation prior to this one. These guys have this party-rap shit down, and I mean that only as the highest of compliments.

5. BULLY FOOT SKIT
The first time I ever heard this skit, I thought it was clever that the ringtone/pager beeping at the end seamlessly leads into the instrumental for the next track. Hearing this today, it's a lot less clever, but at least it's short.

6. BULLY FOOT (FEAT BUSTA RHYMES)
Guest star Busta Rhymes seems to hijack this song from hosts (for good reason, as I later found out that Tha Liks were pretty fucked up during the recording sessions for X.O. Experience, and when they finally arrived at the studio to record this collaboration, they found Busta already working his ass off), but not because he outshines either J-Ro or Tash. It's simply because Busta's voice is the first one you hear, and DJ Scratch's production work suits his style more so than it would a couple of alcoholic artists. The beat starts to become unbearable after a short time, so don't say Max didn't warn you.

7. MY DEAR (FEAT DEFARI)
Well, someone responsible for this song was a huge fan of The Pharcyde's "Passin' Me By" (or, to a lesser extent, Joe's "Stutter", a song that I still like to this day). This song isn't bad at all, but Defari manages to fuck up the souffle by slamming the oven door with a verse that is both harsher than it has any right to be and very poorly written. (A note to all aspiring rappers: quoting a certain Trick Daddy song is never a good idea. Give this track a spin, and you'll see what I'm referring to.)

8. INTERLUDE
...

9. DA DA DA DA
I can't stand the lazy-ass hook on here, nor can I tolerate the imaginative song title, but lyrically, this is pretty good. It's not as if J-Ro was ever a bad rapper, but because he's usually outshined by Catashtrophe, his lyrical skills have been overlooked numerous times. On this track, he proves why you should give him a second glance (although, yes, Tash raps circles around him on here as well).

10. 40 OZ QUARTET PART I
Short enough to be an interlude, but this is really a one-verse wonder from J-Ro over some simple production (I believe E-Swift is utilizing the "breathing over a jug of moonshine with two x's printed on the side" technique to furnish the melody). Not bad at all.

11. SICKNESS (FEAT BUTCH CASSIDY)
I've always wondered why Tha Alkaholiks never collaborated with Method Man and Redman: I'm sure Red and Meth's blunted rhymes would compliment the drunken verses from Tha Liks any day of the week. Anyway, this song is pretty good, especially Tash's denouncing of weak rappers, although Rockwilder's production (his second and final contribution to X.O. Experience) is a bit too club-ready for my tastes.

12. GOIN' CRAZY
E-Swift's beat is overly simplistic, like one of those mixtape songs that fifty million other no-name rappers would jump on to further their own careers (or, at the very least, to see their name pop up on multiple blogs when their version posts). Tha Liks deserve better, as the track comes off as if no actual thought was put into this shit whatsoever.

13. BEST U CAN (FEAT PHARRELL WILLIAMS)
Tha Alkaholiks made their lone foray into the mainstream with the help from the hitmakers of the moment, The Neptunes, who were still riding high from their recent success. Although the combination of Tha Liks and Chad and Pharrell's dancefloor beats should sound fucking awful, I actually really like the song. It's not the crew's best effort by a long shot (and The Neptunes have also produced much better beats for other artists), but it is enjoyable, and you probably wouldn't kick it out of bed, either, if you're truly being honest with yourself.

14. 40 OZ QUARTET PART II
I would pay actual money (and not the Monopoly money I sometimes trick street vendors with) for an entire Alkaholiks album that utilized the moonshine jug throughout. Tash fucks up his one-verse wonder midway through: I smell a fix.

15. ANOTHA ROUND
I appreciate the fact that Tash references the crew's name change, but I still found myself bored to death by this shit. In fact, I just dug myself up out of my grave with the sole intention of finishing up this write-up.

16. YO MOUTH SKIT
...

17. THE BUBBLE (FEAT KING TEE)
It's hard to look past the beat, which sounds like background music for either some truly ineffective children's programming or for some online refresher on-the-job training. King Tee comes off the best, probably because his verse is the shortest, forcing you to listen to E-Swift's awful instrumental for the least amount of time. As such, he wins.

18. 151 (FEAT XZIBIT)
The closet thing to a "regular" Liks track on X.O. Experience, and the album is that much better for it. J-Ro's odd rhyme technique is off-putting at first, but the fact that he throws in an anti-drunk driving public service announcement in his final verse redeems it. Tash, of course, rips shit in a lovely manner. (Longtime readers will recall that I have frequently touted Tash as one of the most underrated rappers in the game.) This shit is just entertaining, which is all that music needs to be.

19. PROMOTE VIOLINS (FEAT KURUPT)
The title alone is pretty fucking hilarious. E-Swift's beat sounds like yet another instrumental Busta Rhymes would lease, hook up digital cable (or a satellite dish, if he were so inclined), and build an Ikea entertainment center within, but it still works for Tha Liks. Although Kurupt's verse is the weakest of the three (which is consistent with his current output: seriously, where did that guy leave his talent, on the bus?), the sound of this song is powerful enough to serve as an effective album closer.

FINAL THOUGHTS: X.O. Experience was a critical disappointment, failing to appeal to fans that religiously picked up the last three Alkaholiks albums. However, lack of sales should never be used as a true barometer for the album's effectiveness. While there is a lot more filler on here than on their previous efforts, Tash, J-Ro, and E-Swift have still managed to concoct a disc of enjoyable party songs without entirely dumbing down their message. It also helps that, when it comes to the lyrics, Tha Alkaholiks continue to shine, even when E-Swift's instrumentals take their inevitable radio-friendly detours.

BUY OR BURN? I would recommend that you two actually buy this shit (it is apparently out of print, but used copies should be relatively easy to find). Not every song works, but the disc as a whole is an entertaining package. You won't be disappointed, although Max is not legally responsible if you don't have the capacity or the capability to enjoy this album.

BEST TRACKS: "Sickness"; "Bar Code"; "Best U Can"; "40 Oz Quartet Part I"; "Promote Violins"; "151"

-Max

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3 comments:

  1. "I know that Tha Liks are basically responsible for his entire career"

    Why not King Tee? How are they responsible for X's biggest track "Paparazzi"? or "X", which launched that mofo to stardom, thanx to Dre and Snoop? How did the Liks have anything to do with ANY of his hits?

    Its strange you wouldn't mention that "40 Oz. Quartet, Pt. 2" is a recreation of "Eric B. Is President"...

    And yeah, I hadn't really given it much thought, but I agree Tash is a very underrated MC, but I seem to laugh at more shit J-Ro says..

    oh and that Best You Can beat is fuckin annoying as shit.. I fuckin hate that track, and thats being honest with myself...

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  2. Well, I was surprised to find out that Max actually recommended PURCHASE for this album...I mean his reviews about some albums which sound much better were negative...so really...X.O. Experience???? I wouldn't listen to that shit neither drunk or sober...I don't find a single track that shines..as for the so-called ''club'' sound - just pick up a whole album of ''The Neptunes'' if you are so much into it.. I liked th first three releases of the Alkaholiks, but this one is Catashtrophie..

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  3. Well I've just bought this on your recommendation Max. Here goes... (oh and ps: I'm eternally grateful for you introducing me to the Likwit crew)

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