According to many an attention-starved up-and-comer, hip-hop is in need of saving. Exactly who “stole” it and when remains uncertain, but “bringing it back” looks to be of higher priority than ever. Even Nasty Nas has come to the conclusion that it’s long “dead,” making the predicament at least SEEM more official. The validity of hip-hop’s supposed demise is, of course, debatable, but I’ll say it again and again: if anyone’s saving anything it’ll be coming from the Midwest. America’s own melting pot and the last major region to receive significant nationwide shine, they eat up everything hipâ€“hop has to offer, and spit it back out with as much street soul and wit as any other locale.
The latest in a line of recently impressive Midwestern hip-hoppers, Kansas’ XV looks to grab the mic and run. Truly sponge-like, he borrows from far and wide to create a balanced attack; there’s a tad of Game (read: name dropping), a dash of Lupe just with the calm tone of voice, and with an impressive hand behind the boards, he’s the closest thing to Kanye without being a “College Dropout.” XV knows this, and acknowledges it on “You Got Me,” telling us to “take “Illmatic,” “Stillmatic,” “Ready To Die,”” adding up the influences that supposedly shape his style. It isn’t that XV sees himself at that level; he’s merely showing you where he comes from.
“Complex” is a people-friendly album, and X is a people-friendly character. If there’s one thing rap fans love, it’s an emcee with half of his swagger. Arrogant? Maybe a little, but he sounds more confident than egotistic. It’s with this charm XV is able to make the most well-rounded Midwest release of the year. By all means, “Complex” is a more cohesive affair than “Food & Liquor;” Where Lupe showcases his ability to write a mind-bending verse, XV is superior in the art of crafting a song. With a familiar flow and production that flat out beats nearly anything this year, mainstream success would seem inevitable.
XV tries to make the most of his musical exposure, but when he’s on his game, he’s decidedly very Kanye. “Give You Everything,” while a great song, consists entirely of your essential K. West elements. The beat (courtesy of Michael Summers): sped-up soul, cheerful horns, and the widely bitten Kanye snare/clap. The rhymes: about a sexy, covetous, and overly demanding female (hmm…), all through a delivery that shifts from cool flow to near-whisper. What’s more, “When I Dream” is the conceptual equivalent to “Family Business,” even closing out the album. At least X raps about HIS own family.
As a lyricist he’s fairly concise and rarely loses you, but in getting caught up in himself, he can get aggravating. Contrary to what he might have you believe, he’s producer first and rapper second, but he might be too far ahead of himself to admit it. His bombastic air results in songs like “Boy From Kansas:” part braggadocio, part life summary, all blah. Putting himself on ever higher pedestals, he questions, “let em know, yo, who flow like X?” But like he clearly stated before, lots of dudes do. It isn’t like he’s counting Grammy’s before the nominations, but he crosses lines that Kanye never would. While West calls black America into question, XV is “hoppin’ on the track” and “turnin’ his hat to the side.” While Kanye laughs at his shortcomings to empathize with his audience, XV talks about how “humble and cool” he is. These themes rarely dominate, however, and whatever obstacle he throws in front of himself, XV still runs away with quite possibly the most fun, no-strings-attached record of 2006.
If XV farted into the mic for 48 minutes there would always be the highly skilled production team, who clearly listen to a great deal of Kanye and Just Blaze. X is especially tight; quite obviously a fan of 70’s soul, his sampling is superb. His percussion never fights the samples and at least four songs on “Complex” are MTV-worthy.
With Rhymefest and Lupe now at Common and Kanye’s coat tails, the Midwest, while still hopelessly outnumbered, hit the battlefield with what is more than likely the illest weaponry. With XV coming heavily strapped and all of Kansas behind him, things are bound to get ugly. Expect heavy casualties.