Before becoming the face of the once super popular MTV show, Pimp My Ride and making several movie appearances (including 8 Mile and The Wash just to name a few), Xzibit made a name for himself as a platinum selling rapper, thanks largely to the Midas touch of the legendary Dr. Dre. But years before the good doctor would help turn Xzibit’s career to platinum status, I first heard the Southern California transplant and self-proclaimed dysfunctional member of the Alkaholik family (aka The Likwit crew, which included Tha Alkaholiks and King Tee) rhyme on Tha Alkaholiks’ “Hit & Run” from their Coast II Coast album, and he would also get off some bars on the Likwit cipher joint, “Free Style Ghetto,” from King Tee’s IV Life album. It would only be a matter of time before Xzibit would sign a deal with Loud/RCA and release his debut album, At The Speed Of Life.
Xzibit would lean on E-Swift, Diamond D and a few others to sonically sculpt ATSOL, which produced two Billboard charting singles and the album itself would peak at number 74 on the Billboard Top 200 and 22 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Album Charts. Upon its release, ATSOL received decent reviews from the popular publications of that era and favorable reception overall.
Although I didn’t buy ATSOL when it came out back in the day, I did like two of the album’s singles (that will discuss in a bit). There was so much new music coming out on a weekly basis back then that naturally, even an avid hip-hip fan like myself was bound to miss a few albums. I found a copy ATSOL in the used CD bins years after its release and this write-up will be my first time listening to the album in its entirety…I think. If not, I’m sure my memory will be jogged once we dive into it.
Grand Opening (Interlude) – ATSOL opens with a short instrumental that sounds like elevator music, which is pleasant enough, but strange to hear as an intro on a Xzibit album.
At The Speed Of Life – This one starts with a short soundbite taken from the 1976 Robert De Niro flick, Taxi Driver, then Thayod Ausar serves up some dusty boom-bap with a touch of gloom for Xzibt to warm up for the evening and claims to go from “underrated to most anticipated,” which the underrated part I found to be an interesting take, considering this is his debut album. On the third verse, X rhymes: “Before hip-hop was all about drama, anything for a dollar, before Kane fucked Madonna.” Even though we’ve seen the pics of Kane and Madonna naked and tangled up in the pages of her 1992 book, simply titled, Sex (if you haven’t seen the pics, they’re readily available on the net), Kane has always maintained that he didn’t have sex with Madonna, though he has admitted to slipping a finger or two inside her vagina. Look, I understand that Kane was once associated with the Nation of Islam and sleeping with white women was strictly forbidden by the Nation, but Madonna was a sexy chick in ‘92, so I completely understand how Kane fell into her clutches…if he did. I wonder how Kane felt about X’s line, and would X have said that bar five years prior when Kane was still on the throne? Hmm…
Just Maintain – Def Squad affiliate, Hurricane G, and one-third of Tha Alkaholiks, J-Ro, join X over an instrumental that’s loaded with good energy for a good old fashion trash talking session. Hurricane G has always been a bit of an enigma to me: her lackadaisical flow is annoying, but I’m secretly in love with her thick Puerto Rican accent and voice…but I digress. This is a fun record that makes for quality filler material, but I don’t know if that’s a good sign, considering this is only the second song on the album.
Eyes May Shine – This was the second single released from ATSOL. E-Swift crafts a dark backdrop accented by a ridged guitar loop, eerie wah-wah guitar chords and bellowing violins that match the raw quality of Xzibit’s voice, as he continues to spew strong battle-ready bars (I love his “Teflon, napalm, homicide scenes, these are a few of my favorite things” line). This version is cool, but the Mobb Deep assisted remix is stellar.
Positively Negative – King Tee swings by to join X on this drunken duet. As much as I love King Tee, everything about this song was positively mid.
Don’t Hate Me (Interlude) – Over a snobbishly mellow instrumental, X gives shoutouts and then…claims not to have anyone to give shoutouts too??
Paparazzi – This was the lead single from ATSOL. X uses the symphonic canvas, laced with soothing opera notes from a female voice to bark at and call out all rappers who get in the rap game for fame and money instead of for the love of the art: “That’s why Xzibit only roll with a chosen few, you ain’t really real, I can tell when I look at you, so ease off the killer talk you ain’t killin’ shit, it’s not affecting me or the niggas that I’m chillin’ with, I don’t believe the hype or buy wolf tickets, nigga, you make a gang of noise and never seen, like crickets.” I love the darkly sophisticated feel of Thayod Ausar’s production paired with Xzibit’s raspy voice. This is an underground classic.
The Foundation – This was the third and final single released from ATSOL. DJ Muggs gets his sole production credit of the evening, as he steps away from his signature dusty blunted bag and breaks X off with somber vibes built around an ill piano loop and a sample of a female voice hitting high haunted notes. Xzibit uses the touching instrumental to feed his son knowledge and words of wisdom: “Take heed when it’s your turn to bring new life, make sure it’s the woman you gonna make your wife, be prepared for the worst but expect the best, no matter where life take you come home to the west, survival takes more than just gats and guns, that’s words to live by from a father to a son.” This is another great record that I’d classify as an unheralded classic.
Mrs. Crabtree – A Hurricane G assisted interlude that after several listens, I still have no idea what purpose it serves.
Bird’s Eye View – Tha Liks stop by to join X and turn this one into an intoxicated cipher session, while Hurricane G assists with the hook, blessing us with her wonderful voice one last time. Diamond D gets credit for the dark backdrop that matches X’s gruff and bully bars but doesn’t quite suit the light-hearted content from J-Ro and Tash, nevertheless, all three emcees entertain. And of course, I have to pick a winner: Tash by a landslide.
Hit & Run (Part II) – As I mentioned in the opening, Part 1 was on Tha Alkaholiks’ sophomore project, Coast II Coast, which paired Xzibit with all three legs of the Liks: Tash, J-Ro and E-Swift, all looking to find a chick to…you know where I’m going with it. This time around, X rolls solo, as a lazy Sunday night quickly turns into an amazing adventure in ass, thanks to a generous man named Ron Hightower, who must run a brothel or something. I wasn’t crazy about the song, but it does provide a hell of a fantasy.
Carry The Weight – Thayod Ausar’s instrumental sets the melancholic mood for our host to share the traumatizing events from his childhood (i.e., his mother’s death at the age of nine and dealing with his physically abusive preaching father and stepmom), which eventually led to him running the streets with thugs and involved in a life of crime. Xzibit adds a heartfelt hook (“Niggas wonder why I sit up in the club and drink, say “what up” to Xzibit and I still don’t speak, I’m tryna contemplate, the next move to make, gotta find some way, to release the hate”) that serves as the perfect framework for his vulnerable verses, and I always find vulnerable hip-hop songs compelling.
Plastic Surgery – The Golden State Warriors (not to be confused with the reigning NBA Champions) were a short-lived super group made up of Xzibit, Ras Kass and Saafir (who will always be Caine’s cousin Harold in my mind). The trio turn their microphones into scalpels and metaphorically perform surgery on fake emcees that bite the next man’s style. They stray off the path a few times (like when X recommends one wack emcee to bring his girl in to get her C cup enhanced to a Double D, or when Ras Kass says he only has sex with girls that weigh 215 pounds, because their low self-esteem makes it easier to get the pussy (a statement that might have gotten him canceled in today’s climate)), but overall the fellas complete the mission and entertain with witty and humorous bars.
Enemies & Friends – The final song of the evening finds Xzibit sounding like a man who’s been burned by so-called friends one too many times, to the point he now can’t separate his foes from his bros. DJ Pen One’s dark and grimy backdrop sounds like the big brother to the instrumental for the title track and works well enough underneath Xzibit’s bitter and callous verses.
Last Words (Interlude) – Contrary to the title, there are no words on this Outro. Just the same random elevator music from the Intro.
The album title would lead you to believe that Xzibit is going to give you an album full of insightful life lessons and sage like wisdom. And he does drop off a few jewels (see “The Foundation” and “Carry The Weight”), but the bulk of At The Speed Of Life finds Xzibit in hungry emcee mode trying to prove to the world that he deserves to be here. X does prove to be a more than capable emcee with a great rapping voice, an adequate deliver and lyrically proficient. And the album’s host of producers provide a quality batch of cohesive dusty boom bap scores, yet after the two stellar singles, the rest of ATSOL sounds pedestrian.
Maybe pedestrian is s a bit harsh, because ATSOL is a respectable debut album from Xzibit. But what better way is there to sum up an album with two strong singles sandwiched in between a bunch of decent filler material? Wait…that’s it. A single sandwich.