It’s not a very rewarding feeling as a fan to listen to an entire album from a veteran Hip Hop act, and the first words that come to mind are “boring,” “ho-hum,” “drags,” “bland,” and “yawn-inducing.” Unfortunately, those are likely to be the immediate impressions most listeners will have upon absorbing X Clan‘s latest long-player, Mainstream Outlawz.

Listeners may remember the Clan resurfacing in 2006–shortly after the passing of artist/activist leader Professor X, who provided signature ad-libs “Vanglorious” and “Sissy!”–for their first album since 1992’s Xodus. Sadly, the group’s senior outing is even less fulfilling than their 14-year delayed junior offering, Return From Mecca [click to read].  Mainstream is listenable, save for DJ Slip‘s cheesy synthetic string and electric guitar concoction “They Wanna Know.” But the album never rises above average, in both sound and substance.

Also, it should be noted that none of the producers or guests that contributed to Return From Mecca return for Mainstream Outlawz. So it’s difficult to know who’s actually in the ’09 incarnation of X Clan. The album appears to be essentially a Brother J solo project, as J appears on nine of the disc’s 14 tracks all by his lonely.

And that’s not necessarily a good thing.

While the Grand Verbalizer‘s commanding baritone feels impressive, his oftentimes directionless, rarely quotable rhymes often veer off into what can only be described as generic gibberish. These shortcomings maybe most painfully obvious on the ironically titled “Prime Time Lyrics,” when J nonsensically spits, “Using methods uncommon, when I grace battlefields agnostin/With the sword, comin’ through with the lords/Double dose my chord, and flame retardan/Keep the Martian on stand-by, we just gettin’ started.” Huh? He does however show slight glimpses of competency on the mic, as he attempts a double-time flow on the otherwise dull “The Lord Spits” and when flipping Snoop Dogg‘s classic “follow me, follow me, follow me, follow me, but don’t lose your grip” line for the chorus to the tolerable “Pipers Poetry.” Not surprisingly, J is easily overshadowed by Bun B on the album’s apex, “Thru My Eyez,” which sports a surprisingly southern vibe with its Sunday service church organs and bluesy guitars.

For a group that 20 years ago survived on a steady supply of Zapp and Parliament samples (see their two biggest hits, “Heed The Word Of The Brother” and “Funkin’ Lesson”), their over-usage of organs on roughly half the album’s tracks is somewhat of a surprise. When not appropriating Pimp C‘s sonic signature on the aforementioned “Thru My Eyez,” the Brooklyn-based Clan is constructing a cheap imitation of Just Blaze‘s pipe organ “PSA” production not once (“Orientation”), but twice (“Do It Like You?!”). Thankfully, there are a few head-bobbing beats on Mainstream, including the bouncy bassline-driven “Still Up In The Game,” upon which J lets loose on the lackluster rhymers of today while claiming his own O.G. status: “I been in this game for like 16 plus/Blood, sweat and tears, from van to tour bus/Before Myspace, before online stores/Before gangsta rappin’ was the soup du jour.”

Unfortunately, they go to great pains to let the listener know they’re “anti candy rap” and despise “corporate emcees” on the album opener. But they don’t offer an attractive alternative to what’s currently playing on your radio. Without a single standout song (ala the trumpet-powered “Prison” that anchored Return From Mecca), X Clan‘s latest proves to be as far from slow-cooked soul food as any of today’s microwave music, putting these self-described outlawz comfortably in the company of the mainstream they claim to be apart from.

UPDATE: Brother J’s response to this review: “It is obvious to see a hater who labels themselves as a fan.  X Clan Mil Cipher is not a 1990s group trying to prove we fit in.  We create music
that requires thought and imagination, this column review shows neither.

Bonus points about our album:

1. No profanity. In a game where a curse word on every line defines your
street edge.  We smash that backwards rule off the gate.

2. Lyrical content. Our album does not promote the norm.  I see I am
misquoted in this article, He quotes, “Keep the Martian on on standby “
and tries to posture on me like I am a first grade rapper. The line
actually goes “Double dose my cord in flame retardant, keep the (fire)
marshall on standby we are just getting started, let’s go. ” If you use
common sense and right reasoning you can figure out the lines. Are you
lost because I didn’t bring a new dance or rim song for you? Maybe I can
dumb myself down further and do the ABC rap on a “Lord Spits” remix.
Maybe you should listen to “Do It like you?!” again.

3. Guest appearances. I have been blessed to work with elite lyricists
and writers on Mecca and on Mainstream Outlawz. I am glad homie is
feeling Bun B, thats why I invited him. DJ Slip is a legend in the game,
as are many of the producers that I work with. Why must I be stuck to
work with the producers from Mecca. I am independent and I can do what I
choose to do as an artist.  I choose music that offers the hump, so I
can deliver a different groove. I can’t apologize for being out of the
box, but I am sorry that the people have to witness criticism from a
sheltered mind.

You ain’t never seen the likes of me, I AM the Outlaw! Read the cover! I
don’t care about these candy ass, overworked article writers who allow
so much BS to touch the people.  My mission is different as is my music.

listen and then make judgement.  I am an ambassador of conscious music,
if I take 10 years away from this game or a hundred, I will always
deliver the frequency of the people. Freedom, justice , equality.

X Clan is not a four member group anymore . How can someone outside of
my circle tell me who is in my camp?  Who are you anyway?

I know its hard to digest that real hip-hop.  You are going through
withdrawal.  Stay tuned.

X Clan will continue to put the therapy down. There is an audience that
gravitates toward positive music don’t spoil their ride.

Bro. J”