I’ve been blessed to see some of hip-hop’s greatest artists in concert: a reunited Wu-Tang, including ODB, at Hammerstein Ballroom; Jay-Z’s final dance at Madison Square Garden; the Roots live and direct in Central Park; OutKast tearing up SOB’s months before Stankonia dropped. But it was only after seeing the X-Ecutioners and Jam Master Jay perform in Washington Square Park that I felt I could finally die a happy man.
The X-Ecutioners are Roc Raida, Total Eclipse and Rob Swift, three of the world’s most skilled and acclaimed selectors. The deejay crew rode its 2002 full-length, Built from Scratch, to a new audience on the strength of a rap/rock collabo with Linkin Park called “It’s Goin Down.” In previous efforts, the X-Ecutioners were able to successfully replicate their live show on record. But with Revolutions, the crew caters to more of a mainstream audience, leaving purists scratching their heads for more.
For Revolutions, the X-Men (which was the crew’s original name, apparently changed for legal reasons after signing to Asphodel Records) recruited an A-list cast of emcees to spit over their cuts and scratches. The crew plays alchemist, creating an unconventional combination of Ghostface, Trife and Black Thought on “Live from the PJ’s.” The Bronx is fully represented on “The Truth,” where Fat Joe reminisces on one of the greatest: “They say the truth shall set you free/ I think not/ Because niggas be ignoring the Squad like we ain’t hot/ Like we ain’t got the Bronx on lock/ Like Pun wasn’t as nice as Biggie and Pac.” Truer words have never been spoken.
Revolutions loses steam on the ill-conceived rap/rock joints “Let Me Rock,” “Like This” and “Get With It,” featuring the stone raiders Cypress Hill. Even a phenomenal performance from Slug can’t save the X-Men’s remake of Rob Zombie’s “More Human than Human.” With these tracks, the X-Men attempt to capitalize on previous success with Linkin Park but fail to innovate, instead relying on dated formulas.
In many ways Revolutions is feast or famine. The album has two distinct sections: traditional hip-hop and experimental rap/rock tracks. Neither are overly impressive. Those looking for the X-Men of ole should skip Revolutions and catch them the way they were meant to be seen: live on stage.