Review Summary: Nice, promising debut from the dysfunctional member of the Likwit Family!
At the Speed of Life is the debut album from Xzibit. The title mainly refers to the commercialization of the rap game that was beginning to take place at the time. Born Alvin Joiner in Detroit during the mid 70’s, Xzibit had made his way out to LA by the time he was in his teen years, and had linked up with King T and the Likwit crew. Tha Alkaholiks members Tash and E-Swift also had roots in the Midwest, and they quickly bonded. X had appeared on Likwit albums and on the Wake Up Show as well (LA based radio station), so there was already buzz around his impending release. The lead single, “Paparazzi”, was released in the summer of 1996 and became a huge hit, putting him in a great position to succeed.
“Paparazzi” is an orchestral track that discusses the “CB4” phenomenon, of rappers appropriating a certain character type to appear authentic in order to sell records. I’m guessing the strings on the track are all samples, but producer Thayod Asuar does a great job creating the atmosphere. Xzibit laments on the hook: “It’s a shame/you’re only in the rap game/only for the money and the fame”. Some of the song’s lyrics could possibly have applied to 2Pac at the time. The hook and Xzibit himself are questioned by EDI on 2Pac’s “Bomb First”, which came out just a few months later basically asking “why be in it, if not for the money?” Had EDI ever heard a pre 1996 2Pac song? Xzibit preemptively answers that question anyways, on the very next track, “The Foundation”, which is a touching letter to his newborn son. The young father shows some solid parenting skills, plus it’s gotta be cool to have a hit song written about you. The piano ballad is surprisingly produced by DJ Muggs, and I dare you to find a Cypress song that sounds like this. It’s all the more meaningful after hearing “Carry the Weight” later in the album. Xzibit discusses his traumatic childhood with ice cold grit, but also shows how he’s grown from it, and how he’s trying to get past it.
The album’s production is a bit dull outside of the 2 singles, which is common on plenty of lyrically focused rappers albums. E-Swift is doing beats a bit harder than what you would hear on an Alkaholiks album, and they’re a bit too subdued and grayish in order to be effective. A few other producers provide weaker beats too. Diamond D (from NY based DITC crew) stands out with his production on “Bird’s Eye View”, which features excellent performances from Tash & J-Ro from Tha Liks. The other guest rappers are excellent on here as well. “Positively Negative” shows King T in top form and Hurricane G (another New York collaborator) sounds like Cardi B’s more lyrical mother on “Just Maintain”. And although I can’t stand the beat on “Plastic Surgery”, I’ve got to admit it’s a great concept (X, Saafir and Ras Kass are doctors who can give wannabes surgery to look the part of a “rapper”). Saafir is offended: “That's imposterous/plus I never cloned a microphone/What type of *** you on?/I hope you got insurance before I sit you on my gurney/And lead you to an anesthetic breather”, Ras “dates fat girls that weigh 215/with low self esteem/because it’s easier to get the pussy” and Xzibit displays some less than sanitary medical practices: “I like to malpractice, complicate a surgery/Intoxicated, smoke cigarettes, drop ashes in your open gases/Feel the utensil, knife is dull like a pencil”).
As a rapper, Xzibit is impressive for a rookie, but he still showed some signs of immaturity on the mic, especially since he relies so heavily on weak metaphors in many of his verses. He has a gruff, intimidating voice, but is still comes off approachable and relatable. X has a good sense of humor as well, and that would come out more as he progressed through his career from underground rap star to actor (“Empire”) and iconic TV show host (“Pimp my Ride”). It’s even nicer to think about when you realize how rough he had it growing up with so little stability in life.