Tuesday, March 10, 2009

RealMATIC review in The Washington Post

X.O.'s 'Realmatic' Marks the Spot

D.C. native X.O. has something for every fan.

The realest mix tape ever? That's the tag line D.C. rapper X.O. has given his latest project, "Realmatic." It's a gutsy move, as is giving the mix tape a title inspired by Nas's 1994 classic, "Illmatic." X.O. certainly doesn't seem to be plagued by self-doubt, but he's not just launching egotistical boasts: "Realmatic," a free download on the artist's MySpace page, works hard to live up to every lofty claim.

The Georgia Avenue rapper documents street life without glorifying it, digs into social issues without turning tracks into preachy lessons, and delivers smart, agile lyrics over inspired production. "Realmatic" is that rare work that has something for every hip-hop fan, whether their tastes tend toward hard-core street rap or a more socially conscious style. "Hands Up" sounds like a party, right down to its DJ Kool sample, but X.O. also delves into other situations where one may find himself with his hands in the air -- as when getting arrested. "I Made It" offers a subtle indictment of D.C. public schools, with the rapper recounting lessons learned and successes gained that had nothing to do with time spent in a classroom.

The tracks are expertly produced, with help from veteran beatmakers such as Judah ("I Made It"), along with up-and-comers Best Kept Secret and a production crew that has worked with everyone from Wale to Rhymefest. Best Kept Secret has a unique talent for building tracks around small snippets of go-go percussion that manage to be both subtle enough for ears unaccustomed by D.C.'s favored sound, yet substantial enough to appease true go-go fans.

It's a skill most evident on "Food 4 Thought," where the laid-back go-go groove highlights X.O. lines such as, "Find myself getting full/Gotta eat to live/Still giving food off my plate/That's where my weakness is."

Some of the rapper's most interesting efforts involve paying homage to classic hip-hop tracks while adding his own slant. "1 of Those Dayz," with its go-go drums and sharp horns, is like a D.C. version of Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day." "On the Creep" is a melancholy take on Biggie Smalls's "Gimme the Loot," with X.O. using two different voices to have a conversation about a robbery over a haunting track from Nex and Rio. It's a brilliant idea that's executed flawlessly -- just one indication that X.O. is on his way to becoming one of the city's top-rated MCs.

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Hands Up," "On the Creep," "Food 4 Thought"

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