Man Vs. Machine
Man Vs. Machine opens with the viciousness that is sedentary to the raspy vocals and impeccable cadence of Xzibit. Over an insinuating beat and menacing hook, he confidently espouses: "Yo, we so far ahead of our time/If you could stop life and press rewind, you still wouldn't catch up until 2K and a dime." On "Multiply," Xzibit declares, "I gotta get a grip while the getting is good, before the game is ten percent skill, ninety percent Hollywood/I don't need that. . . Flirt with the idea of leaving the game/Nah, I'm gonna evolve, continue to change." Such aplomb is further evinced on subsequent tracks, many of which are buttressed with guest appearances by Eminem, Ras Kass, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Nate Dogg. While it has become almost expected for hip hop releases to included so many guest performers that it makes one wonder whether "Various Artists" should emblazon the album-jacket's spine, the present album seems less like an incongruous compendium of greatest hits and more like a cohesive amalgamation of style and thought. Particularly engaging is the tour de force "BK to LA," featuring M.O.P. With utter ferocity, lyrics are spit, rapid-fire style, over an infectious beat. Similarly, "My Name" testifies to Eminem's dexterity as an emcee, as well as a producer. (Say what you want, but he is undoubtedly one of the most interesting rappers out there.)
As a whole, Man Vs. Machine signifies a dialectic vacillation between lyrics and beats that are refreshingly intelligent, without being pretentious, and themes (manifested sonically and ideologically) that are recycled and uninspired. "Heart Of Man," which makes ingenious use of the Toto hit "Africa," is erudite and poignant as Xzibit spits: "It's a shame/Graduated to the rap game, only to find out crack and rap is the same thang." Yet, such introspection is supplanted with the misogynist license of "Choke Me, Spank Me (Pull My Hair)," a song whose title speaks for itself. Perhaps Xzibit is merely trying to be ironic and failing.
Xzibit has long been an ambiguous presence in the rap game. Straddling the gap between the underground and the mainstream, he is neither a glock-toting thug nor a backpack wearing pedant. At times he is the "Man" (gender connotations aside) to which the album's title alludes. That is, he's intelligent and creative, allowing both his mind and the mind of the listener to expand with each beat dropped. At other moments he occupies the "Machine" side of the dichotomy. Predictable and formulaic, he panders to the depravity that has long undermined hip hop in an attempt to break into the mainstream. Xzibit seems uncomfortable with his nebulous persona. The result is a schizophrenic album that is concomitantly insightful and lamentable -- a far cry from his intuitive debut At the Speed of Life.