One look at the cover of XV’s latest mixtape Popular Culture (which couldn’t have been designed any better by graphic artist Mina Kwon), and it’s clear that the Wichita, Kansas emcee is preparing a nostalgic expedition down memory lane for his peers and listeners.

All references aside (and there are many), XV is in lyrical mode right from the beginning. Recounting his achievements after being included in last years’ BET cypher lineup on “Andy Warhol,” XV makes it clear that his sights are set on glory over financial success (“The money was finally talking and often I heard what it was saying / But I was more ‘bout making history than conversation”). Similar sentiment is met on the retrospective “One Of One,” in which he quips, “See everything you do, you do for yellow meets with blue / I do for him, her, me and you, ‘til I’m the three subtract from two.”

Whereas his most recent projects displayed an impressive alliance with veteran Midwest producer Seven, XV switches up the formula here, giving his cousin/tour deejay The Awesome Sound the reins. A tough assignment to undertake, The Awesome Sound does a commendable job in composing the audible landscapes for XV’s narratives. This is spearheaded by tracks like “Wonkavator,” which fittingly bounces throughout, and “Aaahh! Real Monsters,” a laid back cut that pits XV alongside ScHoolboy Q and B.o.B. Though the concept of the latter record is predictable (yes, they’re all monsters in the recording booth), the trio of emcees lyrically validate themselves as Hip Hop’s new guard.

Surprisingly, that bevy of talent on a single track doesn’t even take the cake as the album’s highlight. That goes to “Her Favorite Song,” an affectionate ode to XV’s significant other. Backed by a radiant performance by up-and-coming singer Raja, a dedicated Donavan declares, “I always said my first love would get my last name / But I know this long road drives you insane / But just know, I will never go from Tin Man to Scarecrow / Trading in my heart just to get brain.” Slightly awkward granted XV’s usual lyrical bravado yet sincere in execution, “Her Favorite Song” delivers the perfect blend of R&B and Hip Hop, which is no small feat in today’s scene.

As solid as Popular Culture is, it doesn’t possess the polished depth that Zero Heroes exhibited last year. This is due in large part to a handful of tracks that slow the mixtapes’ momentum, such as “Mary Kate & Ashley” (all bark and no bite), “Jedi Knight” (two words: synth overload) and the jaded musings of “Zombieland Rule 32.” Still, given the freebies that Vizzy has released, anticipation for his Warner Brothers debut The Kid With The Green Backpack is at an all-time high. Squarians everywhere are throwing their L-7’s up, as you should too. 

DX Consensus: "EP-worthy"

Listen to Popular Culture by XV