After the fizzling-out of his last full-length album, Weapons Of Mass Destruction, Alvin "Xzibit" Joyner found himself without a label home, since record companies are prone to dropping artists once they stop being profitable. Never one to let the open marketplace dictate his career goals, he quickly found himself in the offices of the Koch graveyard, where he signed a distribution deal to record and release his sixth album, Full Circle, through his vanity imprint, Open Bar. The fact that Koch had its hands in the process will help you make sense of the fact that you two most likely didn't realize Full Circle even existed until today. Thanks to their lack of an adequate marketing budget, albums released on Koch tend to fly so far under peoples' radars that they may as well be underneath the surface of the fucking planet.
That terrible album cover art probably tipped you off, though.
That terrible album cover art probably tipped you off, though.
Xzibit may have set himself up with the hip hop world's imminent also-ran label, but he didn't pull any punches with Full Circle. For starters, he signed up Keith Shocklee, one-half of the legendary production group The Bomb Squad, to help executive-produce the motherfucker. Beat-wise, he called upon familiar names such as Rick Rock, Jelly Roll, and DJ Quik, while asking lyrical favors from the likes of Quik, Too $hort, both halves of Tha Dogg Pound, and The Game (but not any of the members of his former Shady/Aftermath alliance, nor anyone affiliated with his Strong Arm Steady team or his Golden State comrades Ras Kass and Saafir). Xzibit even extended an olive branch to his old Likwit Crew buddies in the form of a cameo by King Tee, marking the first time anyone from his original crew (who helped Xzibit secure his first deal with Loud Records) shows up on his solo albums since Restless, which had dropped six years prior.
Full Circle, naturally, came and went at record stores, failing to leave much of an imprint. Although two singles were released, and the inclusion of one member of The Bomb Squad behind the scenes should have drummed up some interest from the older hip hop heads at least, lack of awareness essentially doomed Xzibit from the start, and it would take him six additional years before he would release a follow-up full-length. But does that mean that this album is awful? Not necessarily, although I feel that, if it were a diamond in the rough, I would have probably brought it up sooner.
1. INVADE MY SPACE (FEAT. JELLY ROLL)
After quite a bit of crooning from producer Jelly Roll that could legitimately cause you to believe that you accidentally put on the wrong album, a surprisingly dope-as-fuck beat kicks in, setting Alvin off for the duration of three hard verses. Xzibit's bars are sprinkled with a proclamation of his dominance, and over this instrumental, you're prone to believe him: it appears that the co-sign from King Tee and Tha Alkaholiks has ultimately paid off. To be fair, our host doesn't really say anything memorable on here: you're liable to walk away from this merely singing along to the hook, which isn't great, but it'll do. But, still not a bad way to kick things off.
2. ROLLIN' (FEAT. JELLY ROLL)
Jelly Roll's production punches listeners in the fucking face with something that actually sounds like what you would hear when cruising around in your automobile, at least if you live in a rap video from the 1990s. But Jelly Roll's crooning, which bookends the piece, clashes with the music, as he presents a relatively short paranoid narrative that doesn't mesh at all with the bombast Alvin brought to the party. Trim his high-pitched, polarizing vocals off of this steak and you'd end up with a decent, but not really filling anyway so why even go through the trouble, track.
3. RAM PART DIVISION
I liked this one a lot, actually. Over DJ Quik's booming production, Xzibit distorts his vocals and tackles the role of a crooked cop assigned to the Rampart Division, the team that works the west side of Los Angeles. He comes across as utterly despicable, which is the fucking point, but he still skillfully manages the three verses like a champ. Alvin has obviously done his homework: his attention to detail makes "Ram Part Division" (not sure why the first word is split up like that, but okay) sound like How To Be A Crooked Cop 101, and it will incite a response in you, especially in the current climate. Not bad, Alvin.
4. SAY IT TO MY FACE (FEAT. DON BLAZE & KURUPT)
Don't panic, everyone: Kurupt only provides ad-libs and a small fraction of the hook. He still manages to display his weakened writing and communication skills in that short period of time, of course, but he barely registers. "Say It To My Face", on which our host explains calmly that he isn't afraid of you motherfuckers, is a The Big Beat Maker production handled by X and Young Gotti, with Don Blaze on chorus duties with some light crooning. Xzibit's flow slows to a crawl so that the listener can understand every syllable of his various threats, and it works for the dude. The beat was okay enough, but our host's performance elevates it just a tad bit.
5. THE DONNELL RAWLINGS SHOW (SKIT) (FEAT. DONNELL RAWLINGS)
Even though this skit is a riff on Maury Povich's daytime talk show, comedian Darnell Rawlings can't manage to make any of this funny. In fact, the guy hasn't really been funny since Chappelle's Show. Agree or disagree? Discuss.
6. SCANDALOUS BITCHES
Xzibit launches into a single verse that is misogynistic, obviously, didn't you read that song title?, but less so than one would imagine, as our host tells a story about falling for a woman who just so happens to be one of the "Scandalous Bitches" in question. In the process, Alvin hilariously offers a backhanded compliment in R&B star Usher's general direction (in a bit of a tip of the hat to Kanye West's "Gold Digger"), but otherwise brushes off the situation as par for the course. The Fyre Dept.'s instrumental is simple and booming, and our host gets what he has to say off of his chest quickly. Not all that bad, really, but you probably won't be bumping this one in your car. Donnell Rawlings pops up at the very end as a coda to the previous skit.
Annoying in the same way INXS's "Mediate" is. Those of you who are familiar with that particular song will know exactly what I'm talking about. At least Alvin throws in a few more words than the late Michael Hutchence, but still, bleh. The Rick Rock beat was kind of catchy, though, thanks to its occasional old-school feel.
8. ON BAIL (FEAT. DAZ DILLINGER, THE GAME, & T-PAIN)
Three rappers with previously-established relationships with Dr. Dre and his two labels (Death Row Records and Aftermath) team up for the surprisingly-weak "On Bail", a monotonous DJ Felli Fel production with a lame-ass T-Pain hook that barely even takes advantage of Auto-Tune, which begs the question: exactly why was T-Pain invited? Daz Dillinger, always the Havoc to Kurupt's Prodigy, turns in a serviceable verse, and Alvin manages to sound like he's enjoying himself on this posse cut, but the inclusion of The Game undermines the track, and I say that even though I'm generally alright with the guy: Jayceon's tendency to name-drop rappers and brands steers the ship into a bridge. It''s not that Game's contribution was especially bad: it just doesn't really fit the proceedings. What, was RBX too busy washing my car to participate, Alvin?
9.. FAMILY VALUES
Fairly embarrassing, really. X to the Z's specialty does not lie with creating songs for the ladies, as his general gruff tone behind the microphone makes him sound insincere when speaking to the opposite sex. So "Family Values" worked about as well as you would expect. A miss.
10. BLACK & BROWN (FEAT. JELLY ROLL)
There was no reason that this fucking track needed to run for longer than five minutes. The idea was a good one overall: Alvin points out that the majority of people locked up in California (and the country, ultimately) are of African and Hispanic descent (hence, "Black & Brown") and how significant reform is necessary to level the playing field (read: get rid of the racist-ass cops). Xzibit's flow switches to one of an orator speaking at a TED Talk, but this beat from The Arkitects crawls by like a baby in quicksand, causing a dull throb behind your eyes that will ultimately cause listeners to turn this shit off. Sigh. Good concept, though.
11. THE WHOLE WORLD
If Alvin really does "cop a house and a car" every week, as he boasts on "The Whole World", then no wonder he's hurting for cash right now. This Jelly Roll production sounds like the listener is dropped into a song already in progress, as our host shouts out his Strong Arm Steady crew before not inviting any of them to participate, essentially driving in the same direction as the OutKast Killer Mike-featured collaboration "The Whole World", but with more aggression and tact. It wasn't technically bad, but it isn't particularly memorable, either.
12. POPPIN' OFF (FEAT. DJ QUIK & KING TEE)
Nope. Not even that guest list can save this clunker.
13. MOVIN' IN YOUR CHUCKS (FEAT. KURUPT & TOO $HORT)
This one is also terrible. Man, Full Circle sure is falling the fuck apart, isn't it? The Jelly Roll instrumental is so lazy that you'll be tempted to kick it off of your couch unless it starts paying you some rent. Everyone, in turn, sounds pretty awful over it, but Kurupt Young Gotti, unsurprisingly, does the worst of them all: he should be court-ordered to remain fifty yards away from all live microphones at all times. Too $hort also comes across as not giving a shit, but that's merely because he doesn't, so.
14. THANK YOU
The sentiment is sweet: Alvin uses the final track on Full Circle to thank both the universe and his fans for the direction his life has taken. He's fully aware that he could just as easily be dead and/or in jail, and he sounds genuinely grateful for his blessings. The final verse, apparently written after the funeral for D-12's late Proof (R.I.P.), hits especially hard. Xzibit has always been good with showcasing his personal feelings on wax, but "Thank You" works because he cares enough to make it work. The Warryn Campbell beat was also alright. The perfect way to end a highly-imperfect album.
If you purchased Full Circle at Best Buy, then good on you for supporting big box stores. You were also gifted a bonus disc featuring three additional tracks.
1. CONCENTRATE (SAN QUINN REMIX) (FEAT. SAN QUINN)
Uses the same Rick Rock beat as the original "Concentrate" and is otherwise the exact same track, except San Francisco-based rapper San Quinn pops up to lend a guest verse. He sounds okay. Still annoyed me in the same fashion as the first time around, though.
2. ROLLIN' (WEST SIDE REMIX) (FEAT. JELLY ROLL)
Same song as before, but rolls much slower through the hood than the first version. The original's instrumental is catchier, but this alternate version wasn't bad. But I wouldn't go so far as to call it required listening or anything.
3. A MINUTE TO PRAY
The final bonus track of the evening is a skippable affair that, nevertheless, may be worth a single listen just to hear Alvin once again abandoning his excitable self in favor of a cold, sinister hush, delivering his verses (but not his hook) in such a calm, matter-of-fact manner that you'll be forced to pay attention to his words, not unlike what Busta Rhymes accomplished during his cameo on Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II. Yes, the chorus does play up the intentional correlation to Scarface's "A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die", but the song isn't enticing enough to revisit. The Rick Rock production also kind of passes you by in autopilot, there was that much effort put into it. Oh well. At least Xzibit didn't include this shit on the regular program.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Full Circle is an overall misfire. Xzibit's rhymes are, for the most part, pretty good: he's never had a problem with his pen. But what hurts the project the most is his reliance on subpar beats: just because a name-brand producer created it doesn't automatically make it a banger, Alvin. He explores some fascinating subject matter, but also succumbs to hip hop tropes that he is unable to transcend: was "Scandalous Bitches" a song that ever really needed to exist? And was there a reason why he couldn't coerce better verses from his many guests? Maybe Xzibit just didn't have the clout to demand greatness in 2006, or maybe the Koch budget only allowed for crappy cameos, I don't know. But after the previous five albums in the man's catalog, each with some incredible high points (and laughable lows, obviously), Full Circle lives up to its name by bringing our host back down to Earth. It's easily the worst Xzibit album up to this point. I know he's all about the West Coast gangsta shit, but Alvin could significantly benefit from looking outside of his comfort zone for beats next time around.
BUY OR BURN? A burn is more than sufficient here.
BEST TRACKS: "Ram Part Division"; maybe "Invade My Space"
There's some more to read about Xzibit on the blog. Click here to learn more.