August 18, 2010

Xzibit - Man Vs. Machine (October 1, 2002)

Whew!  For a split second, I thought Xzibit was holding the same stupid face mask-slash-helmet thing that Dr. Dre wears in that Hewlitt Packard commercial that pimps out his inferior new single, "Under Pressure".  Instead, it turns out that Alvin Joyner had simply been watching Breaking Bad before anybody else knew it even existed, and that includes the stars, the producers, and the creator of the show.

Anyway, Man Vs. Machine is the Pimp My Ride host's fourth solo album, coming two years after his mainstream breakthrough Restless, and by "breakthrough", I only mean "this was the point where Dr. Dre started paying attention to him", because Xzibit unleashed two really fucking good albums before joining up with Dre's camp.  Restless moved more than one million units, probably because of Dre's name brand endorsement, but hopefully because people realized that Alvin Joyner is simply a good rapper.

Man Vs. Machine was Xzibit's attempt to expand upon the themes presented on Restless.  For the most part, he didn't change the recipe any: the project features guest appearances from the likes of Snoop Dogg, Ras Kass and Saafir (under the guise The Golden State Project, Xzibit's group that had to change its name from the Golden State Warriors after the NBA caught wind of their efforts), and Eminem (but, strangely, not King Tee nor Tha Alkaholiks, who actually put Xzibit on in the first place).  Production was handled by Dr. Dre, Jelly Roll, Rick Rock, Eminem, Erick Sermon, and others, all shooting for the West Coast sound that has been Alvin's bread and butter ever since At The Speed Of Life. 

My curiosity for Man Vs. Machine perked up when Xzibit announced that he was going to branch out of his comfort zone and record a track with DJ Premier, a legandary producer who, nevertheless, always exudes an East Coast temperament with his work.  The fact that their collaboration, "What A Mess", failed to make the proper album pisses me off, but at least X was smart enough to still unleash the track for his fans; early pressings of Man Vs. Machine in the United States featured two discs, one for the actual album and the other for three additional tracks.  (Overseas readers may wonder what I'm talking about, as your versions of Man Vs. Machine should include all of the songs I write about below.  All I have to say is, stop showing off.)

Man Vs. Machine wasn't as successful as its Dre-handled predecessor, only managing to sell five hundred thousand units, which is still a ton, especially when you look at record sales today.  This is probably because the lead-off single, "Multiply", didn't click as well as Xzibit's other first singles had.  And sure, this would end up being the final album that Xzibit would release while under the loving care of the Andre Young money machine: his follow-up projects pretend as though Restless and Man Vs. Machine never existed.

Let's not let that discourage us, though.

Instead of going the Kool Keith route and whining about how his album needs a release date, Xzibit reintroduces himself as a rapper whose prison sentence ends tomorrow. This is not your typical rap album intro: X takes to the mic to deliver one long-ass, hyper-descriptive verse, without the aid of a chorus, and it is pretty fucking great. A lot of folks forget that Xzibit can be pretty goddamn good with a pen, and Rockwilder's uncharacteristic minimalist backdrop only enhances the dark-yet-hopeful mood. Huh.

And then we're presented with this shit. I shouldn't hate this song so much, since it actually features the good Doctor in a co-starring role (if not behind the boards, because then, where would Rick Rock sit?), but I do: the chorus is truly godawful, adhering to the title's concept in only the most indirect of ways (as listening to this shit is akin to watching an opera more so than hearing a symphony perform), and Xzibit adopts a calm, restrained demeanor that doesn't fit his needs, as he still rhymes about the same abrasive shit as he usually does. For his part, Andre quickly leaves after delivering his verse, which adds nothing to the proceedings.

This was the song unleashed for radio consumption: Mr. Porter's beat, tailor-made to score a night at the club or a drive to the grocery store, and the Nate Dogg-assisted hook practically shout “mainstream”. However, a good number of you two may have forgotten about this Xzibit single, mainly because it really sucks. Alvin spits his catchphrases with the conviction of a gangsta rap robot preacher, programmed by the music industry to make money, and the end result sounds so dead and empty that the fade-out at the end should signify the end of Man Vs. Machine. Alas, it does not. There is really no need to ever listen to this wack shit.

This was one of the biggest wastes of Ras Kass that I have ever seen in hip hop: who thought it would be a good idea for him to only provide a chorus? And a shitty one too, at that. X-Z is in full-on mainstream mode here, aiming for a club audience that normally could give a fuck about the dude riding shotgun. I get the feeling that X simply wanted to help his friend pay rent that month, doing so by forcing him onto a Rick Rock beat that didn't make much sense for him, and I appreciate the show of loyalty, but this was neither the time nor the place. Because the song sucked, you see.

Sampling music from the 1980s isn't a bad thing: longtime readers will know that I love the songs from that decade unabashedly. However, even I draw the line at stealing Toto's “Africa”, which turns “Heart Of Man” into one of the corniest concepts Alvin has ever created. Lyrically, the man sounds fine, even though he takes a brief ride through the “rap game equals crack game” clich√©. But the underlying music, manhandled by Jelly Roll, distracts from the experience, and the hook is just awful. Maybe this should have been reconsidered before mastering Man Vs. Machine, eh?

Jelly Roll's instrumental is easily the most commercial beat the artists formerly known as the Golden State Warriors have ever utilized, but I understand: they were using this as a demo tape, trying to sell the idea of a future Golden State Project album, one which has failed to materialize thus far. It's too bad that everyone is completely wasted on here: although I found Rassy's opening reference to Buffy The Vampire Slayer hilarious, his verse was weak overall, and Saafir, who only seems to leave the house to pick up diapers and tampons whenever he isn't invited out to record alongside Ras Kass and Xzibit, is ineffective. The only guy who can walk away with his head held high is Alvin himself, and even his verse leaves much to be desired. I think I'll pass on caring about the Golden State Project for now, at least until they get their shit together.

Getting Paul Rosenberg to perform essentially the same interlude as he would on Eminem's albums is ridiculously useless. This skit does manage to make me want to go back to Las Vegas as soon as possible, though.

Wow. There is a lot to hate about this song: the contribution from Traci Nelson on the hook (which is just the title of the song repeated ad nauseum), the Dr. Dre beat that is simply looped the fuck up with no deviation whatsoever, and even the trite subject matter (this is just a sex rap). However, what makes this not a complete waste of your time is Alvin's playfulness behind the mic: he adopts a sing-songy flow that actually makes this track sound much better than it has any right to. The song still sucks, but less so, thanks to Xzibit simply playing the game.

The unspoken promise whenever Snoop and Xzibit work together is that the song will recapture the chemistry that their previous “Bitch Please” managed, but that has never happened, so I don't understand why that is still the unspoken promise. Snoop Dogg barely registers here anyway, providing the hook and trying his hand at Flavor Flav duties during Alvin's verses. But this song still sounded pretty good; although Dre's beat was lacking that special something to push this over the top, X proves himself to be a lyricist that has actually improved since his “Paparazzi” days. And for you younger readers, yes, I am referring to that time when Xzibit covered the Lady Gaga hit.

10. BK TO LA (FEAT M.O.P.)
While this East/West Coast connection isn't that farfetched, the players involved try to force it down the throats of the listeners anyway, as Billy Danze spends a good chunk of his verse (when he finally gets around to it) telling us how much M.O.P. loves Xzibit. Alvin, for his part, seems to be having a panic attack, as he inserts himself into random places on the track (including within the verses of the other participants), as if to remind us that this is actually his song, as if we had somehow forgotten that we're listening to it on an Xzibit album. Fizzy Womack is the only man to survive unscathed, especially with his line about his guns suffering from cancer, which was both goofy and incredibly to-the-point. Overall, this Ty Fyffe-produced effort was middling at best.

Okay, I'm confused, but maybe I'm just hearing things wrong. I'm fairly certain that Xzibit throws shots at “Billy Danze, Dupri, or anybody” who dares fuck with his family tree, but I don't remember reading about any beef between M.O.P. and Xzibit, and even if it was true, why would this song appear immediately after the Mash Out collaboration? I have to have misunderstood. Guest star Marshall Mathers, who does a somewhat credible Andre Young impersonation with the instrumental, takes more swipes at Moby and Canibus before devoting his entire second verse to destroying Jermaine Dupri, which was one of his most useless beefs ever. This track wasn't that bad, but it wasn't very memorable, either. And why would you get Nate Dogg to not sing on your hook? What was the point of that shit?

Technically, none of Alvin's lyrics have anything to do with either gambling or Kenny Rogers, but this song still works, thanks to the Bink! beat, which fits jazzy excess into the constructs of a hip hop instrumental, and Anthony Hamilton's out-of-left-field hook, which is so out of place that it forces itself into your subconscious, making it hard to imagine this track playing out in any other fashion. This was pretty good, I have to admit.

Alvin's ode to his late mother is both touching and interesting, because he reveals that he has since replaced his mother's unconditional love with the security provided by his gun whenever he goes to sleep. That was actually pretty deep, which is something that I can't say about the rest of this track. X's lyrics are just fine, but Dre Boogie's crooning on the hook is cornball and without class, turning this dedication into just another song that you'll want to skip. Nice work, buddy.

X experiments with multiple flows on here, but the end product isn't something that I cared for. The entire song sounds like a gimmick, a sales pitch even, and Erick Sermon's perky instrumental does nothing to detract from my argument. Also, portions of the hook sound as though Xzibit is playing both sides of the final round on the $25,000 Pyramid. Moving on...

A mean-spirited interlude performed by Double Team's Eddie Griffin, one which you can skip without an ounce of regret. Man, I hope he doesn't score a cameo on Detox: his time is pretty much up.  (And I say that as a huge fan of Undercover Brother.  That shit is underrated.)

J-Beats uses drums similar to those from Naughty By Nature's “Hip Hop Hooray” for an awfully powerful album closer, which features one of Xzibit's best performances behind the mic, even though the hook is all kinds of terrible. Seemingly inspired by the instrumental, Alvin takes on all comers, lending credence to the thought that he is, in fact, one of the best West Coast rappers ever. This was a pretty interesting way to cap off Man Vs. Machine.

Ah, if only we were actually finished. As I mentioned above, limited edition copies of Man Vs. Machine came with a bonus disc consisting of three tracks that failed to make the proper album.


Of the two tracks that Traci Nelson participated in for possible inclusion on Man Vs. Machine (or, at least of the two that she played a huge role in), X elected to use the one where she appears to be enjoying sadomasochistic rough sex on the actual album. Good call: her chorus on this track is weak, but then again, that could be said about the entire song. Bink!'s beat sounds incomplete, and although I liked X's line, “What's my anti-drug? Drugs!”, there isn't anything to recommend here. Rightfully dropped from the final product for a reason.

I remember being shocked that a DJ Premier production failed to make the final cut of Man Vs. Machine, but today that decision makes perfect sense: “What A Mess” doesn't fit in with the sound prevalent on the rest of the project. However, this song serves as the best possible argument for Alvin to broaden his musical horizons, as he sounds pretty fucking brilliant over a decidedly non-West Coast beat. X's boasts over Primo's boom-bap (which, admittedly, could sound a bit better) make for one of those unconventional marriages that lasts longer that every other couple around them, it's that good.

I'm going to start the rumor that “(Hit U) Where It Hurts” is the first volley in the war of words between Xzibit and the Black Eyed Peas, as X poses the question, “What's really behind the front?”, during the second verse, and Behind The Front was the first album from those sellout fucks. Looking at this Rockwilder-produced trifle with those glasses makes the song more interesting to me, anyway, because otherwise I would be left with a pretty useless relic from the cutting-room floor. Sigh. At least you can sit back and wonder why X thought it was important to start and end Man Vs. Machine with a Rockwilder beat.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Man Vs. Machine is Xzibit's worst album thus far, and that being said, it's still pretty good, even though the missteps happen much more frequently than I would like. X is coasting a bit too much on his previous success, completely ignoring his old friends Tha Alkaholiks and King Tee (who are missed), and some of his beat choices appear to have been made with the aid of earplugs, a blindfold, and a lottery system not unlike Ticketmaster, but Xzibit's lyrics, for the most part, remain intact. He toys with his flow a few too many times for my liking, but when all of the ingredients blend together properly, Man Vs. Machine is fucking delicious. It just doesn't taste as good as his other albums, so consider yourselves forewarned.

BUY OR BURN? There's enough good on here to warrant a purchase, but you don't have to go out of your way to pick up the limited edition model, as two of the three tracks on the bonus disc suck. Search the Interweb for “What A Mess”, but pick up the rest of Xzibit's fourth album: you'll find plenty to like on here.  Besides, just look at the price at the Amazon ad below.  You can't possibly pass that deal up.

B-SIDE TO HUNT DOWN: “Multiply (Remix)” featuring Busta Rhymes – This promo-only remix blows the original take out of the frame, thanks to Just Blaze's instrumental and the animated deliveries of both X and his invited guest Busta Rhymes. The only version of this song I could find is the radio edit, though: if any of you two happen to have the uncensored track, hit me up at the e-mail address in the sidebar.

BEST TRACKS: “Enemies”; “Losin' Your Mind”; “Release Date”; “The Gambler”; “What A Mess” (bonus disc only)


Catch up on the other Xzibit projects by clicking here.


  1. I never bothered to check any track on Man VS Machine till now, and that What A Mess track is pretty sweet.

    I guess I'll have to give this a spin, although the fact you had a 5-6 song shitty gap in between decent songs deters me, I might as well take a listen. No harm in wasted minutes right?

  2. i see that you really enjoyed saafir's contribution, i think a boxcar sessions review is in order

  3. oh and if anyone cared theres a way better ras kass and saafir song that also features ahmad (fuck xzibit) on the street fighter soundtrack. you know, that sweet ass 1994 live action movie? yeah it had a sweet ass soundtrack too

  4. wasnt feelin this album at all. thought it was weak

  5. Finally, a review on a review on a west coast rappers since a decade ago!

    Max, keep it up like this!

  6. If I was going by reviews (excluding the Wu) your favourite rappers would be Redman and Xzibit...

    Personally I think you overrate them both but Xzibit is definetely not as good as you think he is, am I really the only one who sees this?

    Also, are you gonna review Big Boi's new album, because every other blogger is in love with it.

  7. should check out of a kind flow is sick

  8. Redman and Xzibit are my favorite rappers? Reggie, yes, but throwing Xzibit into the mix just because I happen to like his first four albums is truly an oversimplification. There are many other albums written about on here that I prefer over this one.

    We'll see about Big Boi.

    Thanks for reading!

  9. @ protoman

    The remix of Come Widdit is pretty sweet too.

  10. Nice Review, Avarage album IMO..

    Max when(if) you gonna review some Lord Finesse stuff?

  11. Seconding the Big Boi review!

  12. II find it kind of unfair that this got a buy recommend after all the bashing, while Snoop Doggy Dogg's Doggystyle didn't. I mean I had this album, and compared to Doggystyle this album is not nearly as worthy. Doggystyle had pretty fresh production while this not so much (though I never got the bonus disc with that dope Dj Premier track).

    While I understand that Xzibit can be much more lyrical, and Snoop not so much, and even I'm not a big fan of the lyrical content of some G-funk songs (though the production is incredible), I still think Doggystyle deserved a buy if this did, or at least this deserves a burn.

    Anyways, just my thoughts.