The comeback of Brooklyn’s legendary X-Clan may be one of the most unlikely in the history of hip hop. 2007’s Return from Mecca was the group’s first release in fifteen years, and their first since the tragic deaths of core members Sugar Shaft and Professor X. But comeback they did and two years later they are back with their second post-reunion album, Mainstream Outlawz.
Considering the massive personnel changes the group has undergone, it should come as no surprise that the current incarnation of X-Clan bears little sonic resemblance to the original. The laid-back, jazzy beats have been traded in for the harder street-ready sound that dominates the current underground. Artistically speaking, this is regrettable. Still, it is always refreshing to see a Tongues-era group willing to break from its traditional format. It’s the type of thinking that has kept De La Soul in the spotlight long after most of their peers retired to wine about modern rap behind closed doors.
Unfortunately, along with a more modern sound comes a more modern lyrical message. X-Clan can still safely be labeled Afro-centric, but they are also increasingly focused on the whole “real vs. fake” hip hop battle. This doesn’t make them any worse than anyone else out there; we’ve sort of gotten to the point where you have to just roll your eyes at all the “rapping about rapping” and go back to enjoying the music. But it’s rather regrettable to see a group who once pushed creative limits thematically sink to this type of rap snobbishness.
To be fair, the album’s lyrical content is not always uninteresting. “Wiz Degrees” is a tribute to womankind, a welcome message amidst the Rihanna / Chris Brown hype that has dominated discussion the last few weeks. “Thru My Eyez” is a descriptive journey through the streets of Houston, featuring another speak-for-the-ghetto verse from Bun B, further solidifying my opinion that he may just be the most intriguing voice in underground rap right now. Songs like these are a reminder that X-Clan, like most artists, are at their best when more focused.
Still, despite its shortcomings, Mainstream Outlawz is a solid, if unspectacular, record. Tracks like “The Lord Spits” and album opener “Down by Law” are downright enjoyable. This album isn’t going to change the world. But not every album needs to change the world. Sometimes its just nice to see a legendary group return to doing what they love, picking up new fans along the way. Let’s just hope that those new fans go back and check out the original albums that made X-Clan such a unique and underrated group. Vanglorious!
“They Wanna Know”