From the late 1980’s through mid-1990’s the hip-hop press was the vanguard of the music and culture, expanding their outward reach while simultaneously keeping a critical eye on the quality of the artists who represented it. Those were the days when “five mics” for an album was unheard of and four or more meant it was a must own. In fact I have fond memories of how controversial it was Tim Dog’s “Penicillin on Wax” achieved the lofty four mic review status in The Source – arguably the starting point of the East coast vs. West coast rap wars in the 1990’s. Fortunately for us readers the success of The Source brought on a lot of healthy competition. 4080, RapPages, Vibe all got into the act – hell even High Times put Redman on the cover. Unfortunately one by one these magazines have all fallen off or folded, and what hip-hop magazines you see on newsstands today will leave you feeling sad and disappointed. There are only three magazines left today covering the hip-hop scene I can respect: URB, Elemental and XXL. I wanted to include Murder Dog on that list since I appreciate what they do for the West and the Third coast, but the editing on their interviews makes the articles hard to read and invariably pisses me off every time.
I was therefore surprised and pleased to see that XXL had finally released their own compilation album: “XXL Raps Volume 1.” The Source has been releasing albums for years, but like their magazine itself the quality of their compilations has gotten shittier over time. In fact these days a “Hip-Hop Hits” album usually feels like an excuse to hide another lame Benzino track that nobody wanted on a compilation of otherwise good songs, just to make sure he gets a few more pennies worth of royalties from the sales. For me the fact there is no Benzino song on “XXL Raps Volume 1” instantly gives it more credibility. The list of artists included is also fairly impressive in scope: 50 Cent, Lil Jon, Common, Trick Daddy, Paul Wall, T.I. and Obie Trice among others. That’s impressive regional representation: East, Southeast, South and even Chicago get love. This album may provoke the same kind of debate that The Source did over a decade ago with their Tim Dog review though, because quite frankly regardless of what you say about the magazine the album itself is showing NO LOVE to the West coast. How about at least one track from the late great Mac Dre? Okay maybe not all of XXL’s readers would appreciate it, but surely they’d get down with some Snoop Dogg or Too $hort, both of whom have been featured in XXL before. It’s startling and a bit eerie that XXL would let the first six tracks of this album in a row set such a heavy East coast tone (G-Unit in particular) and yet have no West coast representation WHATSOEVER anywhere on the album. If that’s not controversial to you, it should be. I hope that “Volume 2” rectifies this problem.
Let’s give XXL props where they are due though, and compliment them on their choice of songs for the artists who are included. Even though these are big name artists, their tracks are not necessarily the ones you would have heard on radio or TV. Eminem’s “Evil Deeds” is just a little too sinister for that kind of exposure, and the title of 50 Cent’s “Ski Mask Way” is self-explanatory even though the phrase is liberally borrowed from a famous Biggie rap. (To this day even his cameos still have foes “shaking in their boots.”) If any of the songs on this album came close to pop stardom, it would be Lloyd Banks’ “On Fire,” Lil Jon’s “Get Crunk,” and perhaps Obie Trice’s “Wanna Know” – it got exposure thanks to being used in an episode of HBO’s “Entourage.” Speaking of which the rapper Turtle “manages” on that show also gets some play here, as Saigon is included on the bonus track “Come Again,” which still manages to be dope despite inexplicably being censored:
“My team will come through; pop you in the head
Them sixteens shot you now you up and dead
You act like you can’t get hit with hot lead
I pop you in your cornrows; pop ’em in the dreads
Even niggaz with waves could get some of this – seeeeen?
Come again; got niggaz in the state pen, niggaz in the pen
Y’all niggaz only hatin cause I’m gettin bread
And now I got to chase them with the infrared – seeeen?”
Some songs on this album are far hotter than their respective counterparts which came out as singles. I’ll take Fat Joe’s “Safe 2 Say” over “So Much More” any day, and I’m glad to see XXL agrees. The song selection is mostly from commercially known artists though, and since XXL is the home of Chairman Mao it would have been nice to see some representation from One.Be.Lo or the CunninLynguists. Still as compilation albums go “XXL Raps Volume 1” is a lot like their magazine – I don’t agree with every single thing in it from beginning to end, but I can still respect their hustle overall.