Uptown X.O. used to rap for the sake of rapping. While D.C. rapidly gentrified, the MC chose to overlook the socioeconomic changes sweeping his hometown, opting for a romanticized view of his city—-and himself.
So X.O.’s music sounded relaxed, carried by an air of cool confidence. With an offbeat flow, he sloughed off negative energy with charismatic charm and affability, growing into one of D.C.’s best lyricists with the help of his longtime producer AB the Pro. His magnetic flair served him well as centerpiece of the once-formidable Studio43 imprint.
After the label folded, though, X.O. had to quickly find a new identity. There could be no more rapping about haters: Everyone did that. He had to talk about issues that actually mattered. Maybe that’s why X.O. finally opened up on 2011’s Monumental II mixtape. “Fell back, had to regroup, get my dough on,” he rhymed. “Show-off mode, so long jo, hold on.”
Now X.O. has just released Colour de Grey, a brooding continuation of last year’s Color Grey mixtape, though on this one, the production lets him down. He’s got legitimate beefs: He criticizes mainstream media, shady politics, and false prophets, but he spits his fire over a sullen mix of downtempo compositions.
X.O. blames the federal government for the plight of poor people and compares his views to those of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. On “Salaam,” he raps: “Government job, no insurance after retiring, but 401 AKs on my block, they still firin’ them.” On “They Say”: “These niggas are followers, followin’ other followers/street account unverified, should block all of ya.”
It’s clear X.O. is pissed about the state of urban America, but the album’s soundtrack—-AB produced 13 of the 14 songs—-doesn’t do enough to bolster the rapper’s sociopolitical messages. These sounds don’t crackle; they plod and drag, barely withstanding the cut of X.O’s pointed words.
That all makes for one inconsistent and disappointing album. X.O. should be propped up with clattering percussion. Yet much of Colour feels muddy and underproduced—-not the best platform for an MC who’s clearly stretching himself lyrically.
Listen to Colour de Grey below.