Review Summary: Musical bliss can be monotonous too.
Biggie Smalls and The XX are complete opposites in terms of music and the attitude that comes associated with each artists' material. But looking beyond Biggie's cinematic tales of hustling and street life, there was always a deeper feeling in his material. Throughout albums like Ready To Die
and Life After Death
, Biggie was always leaving small hints of sensitivity and regret, to contrast the braggadocious musical portrayal of crime life on the streets. Even his more graphic, thug-side managed to portray a sense of struggle, in which listeners could relate to while still appreciating the confidence and flow of his raps. The XX, on the other hand, hold a completely different image. Made up of seventeen year olds from London, they craft dreary indie pop that portrays the band through a held-back, introspective light. In other words, while The XX portray an image of introversion and innocence, Biggie's music was more outward and filled with brutal specificity concerning his life and his feelings.
Smashing the two together in an unadulterated mashup, in other words, is a risky business. However the producer behind the project, a rather unknown artist called Wait What, manages to blend the two artists physically and conceptually well. While the XX have an obscure style of indie rock, there is a very present sense of pop sensibility within the repetitive guitar hooks and programmed beats. For each track, Wait What takes the perfect snapshot of every emotive, yet simplistic hook that symbolizes every bit of innocence and atmosphere in The XX's music, loops it, and places one of The Notorious B.I.G.'s raps over it. Through this process, the common similarity between Biggie Smalls and The XX is always rhythmic; In other words, The XX make music in 4/4 and Biggie Smalls always raps in 4/4. Granted, most music is in 4/4, but the sparseness and straight-forward melodic guitar hooks in The XX's music match up perfectly with rapping, and this works brilliantly with Biggie's lyrical abilities. So while the two artists' music matches up in a linear sense, their is also a subtle, yet beautiful concept underlying the album.
And this is due to the gentle, lush atmosphere present in The XX's music and Biggie's hidden, yet present sense of sensitivity and feeling. This is summed up perfectly by Juicy-R
, a mix of Xx track VCR and the famous Biggie Small's single Juicy(creative title, eh?)
. The production loops the chimey programming of VCR and the 3-note guitar hook, which allows Biggie's reflections on fame and his past life of dealing with the struggles of being lower class and living in the ghettos to flow over it. As each verse ends on a positive, nostalgic note, the chorus of VCR comes in to counter Biggie's feelings with an abstract, yet dreamy hook, creating a tight, yet beautiful hip-hop track. And the pattern works regardless of lyrical content. Dead Wrong(Intro)
sets a cinematic, dreamy backdrop as Biggie muses on maniacal acts of violence and sexual deviance. It's All About The Crystalizebeths
and Infinite Victory
set murky guitar loops as Big and various guests boast of their street prowess. The most beautiful moment belongs to Everyday Shelter
, as Biggie Smalls releases all his emotion and thoughts concerning the problems and negative associations of being a mid-level hustler over the lone guitar and bass of Shelter:
I know how it feels to wake up ***ed up. Pockets broke as hell, another rock to sell. People look at you like you're the user. Selling drugs to all the losers, mad Buddha abuser.
While there are undoubtedly hard-hitting moments, every track works fine(besides the glitched-up, f*cked-up track that is "Suicidal Fantasy"). Each track follows the same pattern, every XX loop creating an emotive atmosphere, while leaving rhythmic space for Biggie to fill in. After listening to 6 songs in a row, one comes to realize this mash-up must've been very simple for Wait What to producce. There's not much depth in terms of assembling the loops, rather just letting Biggie's raps flow over the same repetitive guitar or key hook, occasionally inserting the chorus from the featured XX song. The initial reaction found in the listener by the time the album reaches "The Curious Incident of Big Poppa In The Nighttime", is "The rapping works over The xx's music. It works. Again". On it's own, it's a very pleasant track, but The Notorious XX is a monotonous failure in terms of progressing as an album and in terms of diversity. And while the blame could be put on Wait What, but the mash-ups flaws only reflect on the flaw of The XX's own self-titled album. The music is beautiful, creating a dreamy, perfect moment, but every track triggers the same feelings and the constant dreary, flow brings it down as an album.
Perhaps this album's flaws pose the question of whether mash-up albums can be as grand and diverse as traditional musical releases. Perhaps there's a reason DJ Earworm releases one pop-based mash-up a year. Maybe there's a reason Girl Talk's live shows get more hype than any of his albums. Of course The Grey Album
questioned this standard, but there is still much space to be filled. Does The Notorious XX have anything to offer in terms of diversity and musical-depth? No. But regardless, download this album and listen as Wait What mashes The XX and Biggie Smalls together, to create a perfect, musical moment.