By Pendarvis Harshaw
It was around the time Cash Money took over for the ‘99 and the 2000, back when Jay-Z decided to create a dynasty like no other and Outkast humbly apologized to Ms. Jackson, that’s when it all happened. Out on the West Coast, we were still mourning the death of Mr. Shakur, but we weren’t to be overshadowed by the progress of other regions. Ice Cube was knee-deep in thespian-ism, and had just dropped Next Friday. E-40 was (and still is) the ambassador to the Bay and Too $hort was, uh, Too $hort (and still is). Dre’s “Chronic 2001” was as dope as the stuff they warned you about in after school specials and Snoop was on the verge of dropping “The Last Meal”, which proved to be certified G-shit.
The faces of the West Coast Rap Mt. Rushmore were still making influential media.
But there’s one person who I was heavily influenced by during that time period. One person who probably wouldn’t appear on any major monument dedicated to West Coast rappers. One person, who to this day, continues to produce media: Xzibit.
(Note: Xzibit is originally from Detroit, but 1. he repped the West Coast hard and 2. Who isn’t originally from somewhere else?)
Now, keep in mind: we’re talking about 2001. It was a (read: much!) simpler time. Downloading music was a new thing, CD burners were a (read: very!) relevant invention, and putting songs on your house phone’s voicemail was cool (read: no, it wasn’t).
One way or another, I had secured an illegally downloaded and burned copy of Xzibit’s “Restless” album. I don’t even think I knew anything about this dude. I mean, I knew him from a feature on the “Chronic 2001” album and might’ve seen a video of his on The Box; you know, the one video where he’s walking to the store and all hell breaks out. Other than that, I hadn’t heard much about him.
Some people might know Xzibit, aka Alvin Nathaniel Joiner, from his current role as Shyne Johnson in the show Empire. Or from his role in the movie Gridiron Gang. Or even his role in 8 Mile, when he was rapping outside of a factory. Others might know him from his work with Tha Alkaholiks, a solid 90’s Hip Hop group. And if you don’t know Xzibit from anywhere else, you’ve got to know him from the show Pimp My Ride. I mean, even if you never saw the show that was, in short, an overly ambitious rendition of chop shop, you’ve got to be familiar with the Xzibit memes.
But prior to the memes and long before his role on Empire, I knew him from when I was 14, and he dropped “Restless”, one of my favorite albums of all time.
Yea, I said it: a mXthfXckXn Xzibit album is on my top album list.
See, with Xzibit, it wasn’t his bars. Wasn’t his delivery. Wasn’t his “cool” appeal. He had a couple of cold lines:
“I ain’t goin to the pen for shit,
except to snatch up my loved ones to get loose and hop the fence.”
“I can drink a whole Hennessy fifth, some call that a problem, but I call it a gift.”
Na, It was the fact that he simply made a solid product. Man, that album was so good, I’d listen in completion, font to back. Including the song “Front 2 Back”! It had guest appearances by Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, DJ Quick and Suga Free (another West Coast artist who deserves more recognition). King Tee, Erick Sermon and KRS-One made it a “Hip-Hop” album, Kokane, Goldie Loc and Butch Cassidy made it extra Wet Coast and Eminem’s verse made it XCEPTIONAL. Plus he had production by folks like by Rick Rock and Dr. Dre. He had skits, which were utterly dehumanizing to women– and I was teenager going to middle school in East Oakland—thus, I gravitated to that BS like young liberal white people to inner-cities.
And then there was this one track, “Sorry I’m Away So Much.” I used to have this song on my voicemail. Not my cellphone voicemail, my house phone. Not for the whole house, but for my mailbox line. Not my line, but option two when they ask where do you want to leave a voicemail. (I had to explain that for those of us out there who’ve never used a phone with a dial tone.)
In retrospect, this album dates the technology of the time and my (learned) appreciation of overtly-graphic-gangsta-axx lyrics that push for the sexual exploitation of women. All the shxt they wanted us teenagers to soak up. Man, I loved it.
I recently gave the album a full listen, and was taken back. Man, I remember the janky headphones I had with the short in the cord. I remember the Sony Discman with the batteries taped in the back. I remember how the CD skipped after it got scratched, but I still listened!
I never would’ve said Xzibit was one of my favorite rappers, pwahahaah… Not even in the running. But man, looking back at that time, and where I was in my development: when I was still afraid to get out the car before a Tupac song ended because I thought the Ghost of Makaveli would haunt me (that is, if he really is dead). Back when I was first learning about this thing called love, and how act like I didn’t want it. Back when I was learning about the hood; both, how to navigate it and how to understand the socioeconomic situation that caused it to develop. And, at 14, how being over-masculinized was a good thing.
This album was perfect for me.
Loud Records, you had a product! Middle School wouldn’t have been the same without it.
Hip Hop had sunken its teeth in me. And when I found Xzibit, I thought he’d be the next big thing. This album had the attitude, the sound, the featured names and was from the West Coast, so I soaked it up and listened to it more than I did my teachers—evidenced by the fact that I sometimes listened to those janky headphones during class.
His follow up album, “Man Vs. Machine” wasn’t nearly as captivating. And I don’t recall checking for any other music of his thereafter, especially once I saw the show about pimping motor vehicles. But when I caught a glimpse of Xzibit on Empire, it got me to thinking: he doesn’t get enough recognition. He’s come a long way, and I’ve got to salute that.
And although he’s had a rollercoaster ride of a career, that “Restless” album is a time capsule. It X-splains who I was at the time. It X-zemplifies the culture and technology that was being pushed upon us. It was X-tra, over the top with lyrics. And I soaked it all in, for I was the target audience. Yeah, I was an X and that Xzibit album hit the spot.