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A few things are apparent when listening to X.O.: He loves D.C. (Northwest and Georgia Avenue, specifically); he doesn’t dismiss his tumultuous upbringing, in which he sold drugs to help his mother pay bills; he’s not at all satisfied with local acclaim. Just like a certain throne-watching Brooklyn MC, he wants national recognition as a dynamic rapper and successful entrepreneur. That urgency is abundant throughout the Monumental II mixtape, X.O.’s much-anticipated follow-up to 2009’s Monumental, and his first project since last year’s One.One.Ten album. Unlike those recordings—in which X.O. sounded not merely confident, but outright cocky—he’s assertive throughout Monumental II, filling the bars with insistent rhymes about his childhood and current place in hip-hop. X.O. raps with a chip on his shoulder, but it doesn’t weigh him down.
More than most rappers, X.O. is able to toe the line between two very distinct worlds. As a member of the esteemed Diamond District trio, he’s a full-fledged backpacker, saturating an array of percussive beats with stories of struggle and perseverance within the nation’s capital. When left to his own devices, however, X.O. swells with personality, trading in Oddisee’s more traditional boom-bap for AB The Pro’s methodical, bass-heavy instrumentals. The results are equally impressive, and X.O.’s all-inclusive approach to music makes him a central figure in the DMV hip-hop scene.
This recording has a more cooperative feel than his previous projects. In years past, X.O. typically reserved guest MC slots for his Studio 43 label mates. Here, the young rapper gathers more of his peers, some of whom might not have rhymed together otherwise. On “Told You So,” for instance, hardcore rapper Fat Trel teams with the full Diamond District to chastise naysayers for doubting their dreams. “Even Michael Jackson was white before he became king/Fuck that, I ain’t doin’ the same thing,” X.O. raps. The same goes for the posse cut, “Write a Song,” which features a plethora of local MCs, including Benji, Tragic, and Tony Night. Guest appearances aside, X.O. proves he works best on his own: The offbeat “B.A.M.N.,” carried by a sporadic whistle and stuttering percussion, is authoritative and quickly demonstrates his maturation as a lyricist. Here, X.O. raps, “A smart trip would be not walking down a dark strip/This is still the ’hood, fuck your new apartment/I’m the crack on the sidewalk on Georgia Avenue.”
Monumental II not only showcases X.O.’s growth as an MC, it showcases his growth as a man. Throughout this extensive mixtape, he reflects upon mistakes he’s made, discussing them with nonchalant candor as a way to learn from them. He recalls times when he was a little too boisterous, and perhaps a little too temperamental. Throughout Monumental II, however, he foreshadows a more sophisticated existence as an adult and solo artist. It’s clear that he wants the crown, and this tape certainly puts him on a short list for the local throne.