Audio Mixer: Peter Mokran.
Photographer: Matt Alonzo.
Starting his first album in six years with a track called "State of Hip Hop vs. Xzibit" is a bold statement from the former host of Pimp My Ride who spent much of his time between albums focusing on his acting career. Luckily the song is more of a braggadocios lark than a bitter tone-setting manifesto, and the album focuses mostly on what have always been Xzibit's strengths; heavy west coast beats, party-friendly production, and beastly, rugged rhymes. The album's 18 tracks don't sound like a years-in-the-making masterpiece as much as they do the type of grimy jams Xzibit was turning out on albums every couple years before dipping out for acting. There are the gangster anthems such as "Forever a G," featuring help on the chorus by Wiz Khalifa, and the triumphant telling off of the haters on "Stand Tall," with plenty of sex, partying, money, and of course, pimped-out cars making it into the rhymes. The most interesting moments on Napalm are the ones you don't see coming. The beatless rhymes of 1983 see Xzibit confessing hard times and distance from family and friends over menacing string arrangements and spoken word samples. Title track "Napalm" is based around an aggressive, live-metal backing track with brutal guitars and an inexplicable ghostly organ high in the mix. There are some "what does it all mean" segments here, as on the straightforward "Meaning of Life," which ponders war, mortality, and the usual existential territory. As refreshing as it can be to hear these unexpected sentiments, it's equally refreshing when they end and party bangers like the no-holds-barred "Enjoy the Night" or the Dr. Dre-produced "Louis XIII" roll around, more or less like drink menus disguised as midtempo jammers. Napalm took a while to arrive, but sounds like a slightly updated, slightly cleaner extension of the same styles he's been working in from the start. No new ground is broken, but Xzibit isn't working from stock footage, either. What's delivered is another robust collection of business as usual, with the surprising diversions adding just enough dimension to the album to even it out. ~ Fred Thomas