|Album Review: Uptown XO - Culture Over Corporate, vol. 3|
Culture Over Corporate, vol. 3
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Even with gentrification on the rise in the nation’s capital, Washington DC’s own Uptown XO has remained a dedicated champion and spokesman for the cultural heritage of his city. Whether it has been his solo work or his offerings with the groups Diamond District and EALU, he has always used his shifting-sand flow to show love for the city that he calls home. His latest solo set, the Culture Over Corporate, vol. 3 album, keeps that same referential energy alive as it touches on issues of identity, community, growth, perseverance, and more. And to top things off, celebrated producer, emcee, and band-mate Oddisee adds his own DC-dipped sound to the project by providing nine soulful beats for audiences to vibe to.
XO opens up the album with a slow-burning "the king is back” styled gem called “I’m Home.” Subtly referencing the way that the character Frank White (from the film King of New York) reclaimed his spot at the top of the game after a stint in prison, XO uses his laid-back baritone and exacting flow to create an opening theme that proudly announces the emcee’s return to form. No words are wasted and his rhymes zigzag over the beat effortlessly. Oddisee matches the rapper’s cool-cut demeanour with a beat that slinks with bluesy energy one minute then explodes into a rush of drum fills and rumbling bass notes the next.
Follow up track “Iman” is written in a semi-autobiographical perspective and features XO looking back on moments in his life where having faith in something bigger and better kept him from ending up dead or in jail. Featured emcee Tragyk speaks from this same semi-autobiographical perspective, but whereas XO sounds like a seasoned vet looking back on trying times from years ago, Tragyk’s lyrics paints a picture of a man that’s still on the front lines trying to survive. With this track, XO explores the dynamics of black life in DC from a personal point of view and he makes this same impact with songs like “The Fog” (which features his other Diamond District partner yU), “Last Days” (which makes a statement about hope in the face of uncertainty), and the album standout “Dreams” ( which finds both XO and Oddisee bringing an enthusiastic Go-Go influenced energy to the stage).
One of the first instances where the album takes time to speak on broader issues related to culture and identity is the spirited single “The Great Debate” – a critically honest number where the fluidly flowing emcee addresses the tension that builds up between different generations in hip-hop. His take is refreshing because, instead of simply criticizing newer acts from not living up to the expectations from OGs in the rap game, he recognizes the good and the bad that each rap era brings to the table.
The ideas in the song work on a grassroots, DC-focused level as well as on a broader scale. “It’s a young man’s game...n*gga’s just getting started/ Can you lead by example? Can’t do it by talking/ Just stop it/ It ain’t good if it ain’t honest/Just rock with/ the fact that n*gga’s ain’t cooking’ rocks” the wordsmith says with a relatable practicality in his voice. Other examples of some well-spit social commentary can also be found on “Song For CC” (which finds XO and guest emcee MASSARTIBLACC addressing DC’s gentrification problem in a manner similar to Common’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.”), the confessional “Love Addict”, and a stirring album closer titled “Bar Nun Alumni”.
There is a bittersweet yet soulful thread that connects the tracks on Culture Over Corporate, vol 3. In the same way that JAY-Z can touch on a mixed bag of serious topics without weighing down the energy in his music, Uptown XO displays deftness when turning his message into music. The rhythm of his rhymes fall in hard-to-predict patterns, yet his bars never feel crowded. There’s a lot that you can unpack from this album, but that doesn’t keep it from being an enjoyable listen. With this record, XO and Oddisee have put together a piece that should be on many critic’s “Best Album’s of the Year” lists - regardless of what corporate says.
You can check out Culture Over Corporate, vol. 3 right now courtesy of One Force United Records.