Many hip-hop listeners were introduced to Uptown XO through the Oddisee-lead trio Diamond District, but he is more than a group member. The Washington D.C. lyricist has held his own through his agile rhymes and detailed storytelling about his hometown, compiling a collection of critically-heralded solo albums and mixtapes under his belt. His latest, Colour de Grey, continues his winning streak with the same combination of talent, attentiveness and principle.
XO’s lyrics are still Ginsu sharp, his observation just as perceptive, and his beliefs remain opinionated. Most of his rhymes examine the conditions that prevent his crime-ridden, impoverished stomping grounds from improving, and his relationships with that environment and the people inside of it. He uses “Finding My Way” to narrate the process of maintaining a sense of self among a league of violence, drug dealing and fake friends, and “Reflection Eternal” gives props to his elders for helping instill such character despite his time in the streets. On “They Say,” he encourages his listeners to have similar convictions, while warning them as well. “It amazes me how you all are scared to lead / While you’re waiting for your savior / He lives in me / While you’re waiting on your savior he lives in you / But know that they crucify those who speak the truth.”
Listeners visiting the album after hearing Oddisee’s robust production for Diamond District may be disappointed by a lack of appearances on Colour de Grey. But for the most part, AB the Pro holds his own for 13 of the record’s 14 cuts. The Washington DC producer’s sound is acoustic, giving a live feel to the album. “Spread Love” starts the album off well with an ambient backdrop that helps bind together XO’s imagery and adage-laden bars, and he uses a smooth sample on “Needs And Wants” to back XO’s tales of intimate moments and the eventual break-up with a significant other. One of the album’s highlights, “Everyday” benefits from energetic bass plucks fueling the first two verses before whispered percussion takes over for the final minute.
Occasionally, some of the album’s beats depend on subtleties so much that they fail to convey the strength behind XO’s rhymes. Otherwise, Colour de Grey is another candid, conscientious effort by one of the DMV area’s fledgling young talents.