In 2004, Alvin "Xzibit" Joyner released his fifth album, Weapons Of Mass Destruction, on a major label (Sony) and with a major label budget backing him. This outcome made sense, as the man's third and fourth albums, both overseen by the almighty Dr. Dre, had sold a ton of copies, so clearly it was the man, and not his backers, that brought those projects to their respective levels of success. At least, that's what Xzibit felt at the time.
The Xzibit that released Weapons Of Mass Destruction was a very different guy than the one who was still struggling to find an audience back in 2000. Having broken out of the gate a Los Angeles-based artist with a direct connection to King Tee and Tha Alkaholiks, Alvin's first two albums, At The Speed Of Life and 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz, were met with critical acclaim and relatively low sales, but enough people heard a spark from the dude to warrant a continued career. One of those people was Dr. Dre, who decided to help back his next two projects, Restless and Man Vs. Machine, with the help of his Aftermath machine, bringing his beats, his friends (fellow Dr. Dre proteges Eminem and Snoop Dogg made cameos on both albums), and his pocketbook to the cause. Throughout the whirlwind of instant success, Alvin made sure to bring his Likwit Crew brethren along, as he didn't want to make it appear as though he had completely forgotten where he came from.
Until he did. Tha Alkaholiks aren't anywhere to be seen on Man Vs. Machine, although Dr. Dre and his motley crew are still involved; by the time Weapons Of Mass Destruction came along, Dre and his team had also abandoned ship. Xzibit decided to use his fifth album as a platform to prove that he was the mastermind behind his own career the entire time, leaving behind both the Likwit influence and Dr. Dre's perfectionist tendencies to present sixteen tracks of his own devices. He secured his own producers, brought in his own talent to provide guest cameos (more on them later), and basically took the bull by the horns.
Dre and company really could give a shit, as working alongside Alvin took time away from them rolling around in piles of their own money, but Tha Alkaholiks were especially hurt by the change, lashing out at their former friend by accusing him of not respecting his roots. (J-Ro was especially pissed at the dude, even going so far as to release a dis track, "The X-Homie", because rappers only communicate with one another through the magic of song.) To his credit, Xzibit brushed off the attacks, choosing to forge ahead with his future instead of continuing to live off of his past.
Weapons Of Mass Destruction has sold more than five hundred thousand copies, which is amazing, since nobody I know will admit to owning a copy of it. Even with the validation that solo success brings, Xzibit wasn't satisfied, as he accused Sony of mismanaging the marketing behind the project, and he chose to dive into the underground for his future endeavors.
1. STATE OF THE UNION
So, obviously, Alvin didn't vote Republican back in 2000. Producer Thayod Ausar presents a recut speech from former president George W. Bush that is fucking creepy, not just because of the (heavily doctored) messages within, but because of how plausible it all sounds in spite of the heavy doctoring. However, this is still ultimately just a rap album intro, so listen to it once, so that it can haunt your nightmares, and then never again. Alright?
Xzibit already has a song in his back catalog called “Los Angeles Times”, a travelogue focused on the City of Angels built around a framework that pretends that the listener is a passenger on a flight that just arrived: “L.A.X.” is about the interminable amount of time one will spend in the Los Angeles-based airport trying to fucking leave. Just kidding. “L.A.X.” is actually just a shit-talking battle cry that commands the audience to “get ready for the war” (presumably something tying in with the intro and the album title), with X acting as your leader through a dramatic Sir Jinx and The Real Mystro beat that sounds dope as fuck at first, but grows less so when the guitars appear. Our host sounds just fine behind the mic: excitable, but collected. But I wish the instrumental hadn't taken itself so seriously for the first actual song on here.
3. COLD WORLD (FEAT. JELLY ROLL)
There are only a finite number of words in the English language, and a fixed number of phrases that can be formed from those words that actually make sense, so although the song title may evoke a certain GZA/Genius track from one of the best albums ever recorded (that would be Liquid Swords, although if you're a frequent reader of HHID, I would certainly hope that I don't have to remind you of that), I'm okay with Xzibit calling this song “Cold World”. Over a Jelly Roll beat that sounds like something one of Dr. Dre's lower-grade “collaborators” (read: the people who do all of the work) would have come up with, Alvin describes three separate situations that prove how fucked up the world can be, the third one hitting the hardest, as it both ties into the overall theme of Weapons Of Mass Destruction and makes the United States sound like the most inconsiderate country on the planet. Which is a feeling my overseas readers may relate to already. The hook, also provided by the producer, wasn't necessary, but it doesn't detract from the experience, and X's attention to detail was impressive: his tales actually come to life.
4. SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (FEAT. JELLY ROLL)
A fucking mess. Xzibit doesn't even enter the picture until around the minute-and-a-half mark: up to that point, the listener is subjected to Jelly Roll's high-pitched vocals that will cause your brain to grind its teeth in anger. The beat, also contributed by Jelly, is pretty shitty, but in the way that you were completely expecting, if that makes any sense, so you could brace yourself for it, but all of the vocals are fucking terrible, so much so that it's easy to miss that X actually raps two verses on here. This was just bad. Moving on...
Also known as “the theme song from Domino”, that terrible Tony Scott (R.I.P.) film starring a horribly miscast Keira Knightley as bounty hunter Domino Harvey. That movie will give you fucking epileptic seizures: it's the visual representation of ADHD. Anyway, I didn't care for this song, either: Rick Rock's beat is too gimmicky, and our host can't help but to fall into the trap. The only truly memorable thing about the song is the way the word “motherfucker” is recited during the hook, but the track is called “Muthafucka”, so one doesn't need to actually listen to it to get the intended effect.
6. BEWARE OF US (FEAT. STRONG ARM STEADY)
Taking the place of both Xzibit's extended family, the Likwit Crew (with King Tee as a key component), and his spinoff group that never really got off of the ground, the Golden State Project (alongside Ras Kass and Saafir), on Weapons Of Mass Destruction is X's most recent obsession, the group Strong Arm Steady. Made up of rappers Krondon, Phil Da Agony, and Mitchy Slick, it represents X's last remaining tie to the hip hop underground, and as such, he gives them a showcase on this project. Over DJ Khalil's beat, two thirds of SAS (Mitchy wasn't available, apparently) spit alongside our host (and his goofy hook), and the result is entertaining enough. There's no replacing Tha Liks, but as I could care less about Saafir and Ras Kass on any Xzibit album these days, SAS make for a suitable replacement. Not bad.
7. JUDGEMENT DAY
Xzibit misspells the first word in the song title the exact same way Method Man did on his sophomore release, Tical 2000: Judgement Day. Which shouldn't be a big deal: rappers have been making up their own spellings and defying convention and Spellcheck since the dawn of time. But it's such a weird and egregious error, adding an additional letter instead of truncating the entire word or replacing “-ers” with “-az” or some shit. So it's obvious that someone was actively trying to spell the word correctly and failed. Have they not heard of the Internet? Clearly I'm obsessing over this because I found the actual song to be boring as hell. Read between the lines, people.
8. CRIMINAL SET (FEAT. KRONDON)
Battlecat's instrumental successfully captures the feel of mid-1990s West Coast hip hop, feeling warm and threatening all at once. The Ice Cube vocal sample (from "AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted") probably helps greatly in this respect. So it's too bad that the song itself is fairly blah: Alvin sounds fine over the beat, but he doesn't really say anything of importance, rendering “Criminal Set” to be a diversionary tactic and nothing more. Maybe he could have involved some guest rappers on here: that could have certainly made this shit much more interesting. A shame.
9. HEY NOW (MEAN MUGGIN') (FEAT. KERI HILSON)
Taking a break from all of the war rhetoric that only sporadically appears on Weapons Of Mass Destruction anyway, because even our host appears to have a short attention span, Xzibit takes aim at mainstream radio, recruiting cutie Keri Hilson (in one of her earliest cameos, if I'm not mistaken) and producers Timbaland and Danja (well, probably more so Danja than Timbo) for a joint written specifically for the masses. Alvin isn't the most obvious choice for a Tim Mosely beat, but he works at it well enough, and the hook isn't terrible (although it is a bit wordy). However, the instrumental isn't up to the high standards Timmy has set for himself with his past work, so there's little wonder why “Hey Now (Mean Muggin')” kind of fell by the wayside.
10. RIDE OR DIE (FEAT. MITCHY SLICK & TONE)
Mr. Porter and J.R. Rotem's fake-ass Dr. Dre beat is the foundation that holds “Ride Or Die”, yet another rap song with a clever-as-fuck song title, together. It's not awful: the hook, performed by Tone, isn't intrusive, and X's hushed growl delivers the verses with clarity and conciseness. Unfortunately, it isn't memorable until the guest verse from SAS's Mitchy Slick kicks in, not because Slick sounds great or anything (he's alright on here, but nothing special), but because his higher-pitched voice jolts the listener out of their slumber, one induced by “Ride Or Die” in general. In short, kind of dull. So, um, what about that war, Alvin?
11. CRAZY HO (FEAT. STRONG ARM STEADY, SUGA FREE, & BUTCH CASSIDY)
Apparently Xzibit went to hunt down those weapons of mass destruction himself, because he's nowhere to be found on “Crazy Ho” (although his name is dropped by one of the guest stars). Instead, all three members of Strong Arm Steady, along with crooner Butch Cassidy and a pimped-out Suga Free spitting monologues, use DJ Khalil's instrumental to talk shit about the crazy women in their respective lives. As expected, this song doesn't go fucking anywhere, and Alvin's presence is missed greatly. However, it was nice to hear Suga Free pop up on a major label project, even in this limited capacity, so although this shit sucked, it wasn't a total loss.
12. BIG BARKING (SKIT)
13. TOUGH GUY (FEAT. BUSTA RHYMES)
Xzibit returns from participating in a big bicycle race to rap alongside Busta Rhymes in a tone driven by the vague threats thrown around on the previous skit. Weirdly, Trevor's is the first voice you hear, so your expectations are instantly lowered from the first fucking note. He also plays an unconvincing thug on the first verse, at least to me, since I couldn't help but think that this motherfucker, who has rhymed about “dungeon dragons” and released a song with the phrase “Woo-Hah” in the title, was threatening to kill me: as such, this was impossible to take seriously. All X had to do on “Tough Guy” was not completely suck, and he succeeds (relatively speaking) over the Hi-Tek beat. But Busta's dominating nature taints the entire track.
14. SCENT OF A WOMAN
Yeah, I'm not doing this today.
15. KLACK (FEAT. MITCHY SLICK & KRONDON)
So obviously, it makes sense to follow up a song dedicated to the ladies with something named, hilariously, “Klack”. On it, Xzibit and SAS's Krondon use onomatopoeia to describe how they will attack you if they don't feel that you are on their side. Or something. DJ Khalil's beat wasn't bad: it sounded like a cross between a blaxploitation film score and a 1970s gritty cop thriller that doesn't exist. “Klack” is entirely inoffensive and entertaining enough, but it also doesn't stick out in my mind, which doesn't help.
16. BACK 2 THE WAY IT WAS
Weapons Of Mass Destruction ends on yet another serious note, as rappers love to use the final track on any album to reflect on what just happened and what led them to this point. Which makes no sense, as songs are hardly ever recorded in the order that they appear in the tracklisting, but whatever. Over a Thayoud Ausar instrumental that wants to be harder than it really is, Alvin justifies his place in the hip hop pantheon, even going so far as to trash talk an anonymous competitor for disparaging him (and thanks to his choice of wording, it seems like he may be aiming the dis at one of his old friends in Tha Alkaholiks, which would make sense, since J-Ro wasn't Xzibit's biggest fan back in 2004). That's all well and good, but this album ends without any adherence to the alleged theme, which was abandoned long ago, and instead sounds like every other generic rap project out there. A shame.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Weapons Of Mass Destruction proves that Xzibit is only as good as the sum of his parts. He had managed to release some pretty damn fine work without Dr. Dre's influence, so the absence of the good Doctor isn't exactly missed, but without the easygoing vibe coming from Tha Liks, Alvin struggles with not taking hip hop too seriously. A lot of Weapons Of Mass Destruction is angry and paranoid, with only the guest stars bringing any levity to the project. And while it was admirable that he took the opportunity to put his friends on, honestly, he could have waited until the various members of Strong Arm Steady were ready for prime time; their contributions range from fair to middling, and the audience is left wishing for Ras Kass and/or Saafir to suddenly pop up and perform unexpected verses on a project that has already been out for nine fucking years and you know there's no goddamn way that could ever happen but you want it to anyway. While it did some good for his bank account, Xzibit's Weapons Of Mass Destruction is a wash.
BUY OR BURN? While you don't have to do either, if you feel the need to respect Xzibit's attempts at branching out, you can burn this shit, I guess. No need to rush, though. Trust me, this shit isn't going anywhere. Listen to any of his previous four projects instead.
BEST TRACKS: "Cold World", if I'm feeling especially generous