Uptown XO – Colour De Grey
Mello Music Group: 2013
If Lupe Fiasco getting thrown off stage at President Obama’s inaugural event has taught us anything it’s that social critique can be its own worst enemy (and that Obama’s cultural staff doesn’t spend enough time screening talent―I mean, had they never heard the man call the POTUS a terrorist?). The point is not to call for a complete divorce of social criticality from music, or even from the Lupe Fiascos of the world, but to realize that to constantly moan about the world’s problems wears thin on folks.
When hip-hop heads call a particular brand of hip-hop “conscious,” they tend to praise themselves in the process. “I listen to conscious hip-hop, so alternatively, I am conscious.” People say that as if expecting a third eye to grow from the center of their beanie hat-wearing noggins.
Fiasco has a right to criticize, and a right to bemoan Obama’s gravest atrocities, but there’s a point after so many years of praising lambos and taking on a self-righteous vibe of political animosity that people wonder when you’re going to move past the sermonizing, and you know, actually do something. The corner ain’t no place for 11-year-olds, any more than Afghanistan is a place for American interests. We get that. But, it’s not like it hasn’t been said before.
Behind their prodigious output and sonically rich music―produced by some of the game’s most currently talented beatmakers―Mello Music Group seems to have weighed the perfect dose of social critique in everything they churn. Like a dime bag, you get enough to be consumed appropriately, and perhaps knowingly, without overextending the commitment.
After signing Diamond District’s Uptown XO, MMG continued the trend as it acquired a talent that loves to shout his own name “XO, baby!” as much as he likes rapping about spiritual upheaval. Did I mention that he likes belting out his name? While that might sound like something else to wear thin on listeners, XO does it with the right type of flair to suggest it’s a sign of his enthusiasm for making his craft (and it always seems to compliment the music, above all else). Not before long, you might be joining the D.C. native in his repeated announcements to the world that XO’s here, baby! It’s up to the world to do itself a favor, and heed the advice.
Of course, a few name drops (in this case, his own) isn’t enough to carry a whole album. And Uptown doesn’t settle for gimmicks. This is a studied, emotional, and musically experimental project. From the reflective “Spread Love” to “Reflection Eternal”, there’s the feeling that the music was woven around XO’s emotional core. A core that can value his grandmother Gloria, praise the universal source from which he was born, and that realizes that rapping “fuck the government, “ on the infectious “They Say”, holds more power than the tired industry adage “fuck the police.”
The world Upton XO lives in might be grey, but it’s where he’s from, and what has formed him. He realizes that the global maladies Lupe seems intent on taking on are “bigger than your block, boy.” But, you can take on a richer approach, and, perhaps, ultimately be more effective, if you give the power to the people in short bursts rather than 2-part concept albums. And, that plugging some exotic colour into the grey tones around you, is what hip-hop is ultimately about.