Xzibit . House of Blues . Sunday, October 15
“Hey, you look like Xzibit.”
“Ya, just waiting on my food.”
“You look like a baller, you a baller?”
“Hey, man, I don’t really want to talk right now ’cause I’m tired.”
“Well this is my fuckin’ neighborhood, and I say what the fuck I want to!”
“Fuck you, fuck your neighborhood, and fuck what you’re trying to say!”
In his distinctive husky rasp, rapper Xzibit is re-enacting his conversation with a cholo at a Universal CityWalk restaurant a couple of years back. Sporting his signature cornrows, an oversize white T-shirt (exposing his huge “X”- and “Z”-tatted arms), black Dickies pants and a fresh pair of white custom Nike Scarface Air Force Ones, X leans back in his office suite overlooking the Sherman Oaks skyline.
“So he gets up and starts for the door,” he continues. “Now, I’m not a dumb-ass, I’m not going to let him get his shit and dust me off. So I get up and walk behind him. I’m not even four feet, and as soon as we hit the door, I don’t know if he had it in his pants, I don’t know if he had it in his jacket, because he had his back to me.” X is off his chair now, reliving the scene animatedly. “But he came out with the beer bottle” — X hurls a full water bottle across the office, smack into the wall — “and hits me right in the fuckin’ face! Like a baseball! I tried to move my teeth” — he tightens up his jaw — “and there’s glass all in the back of my jaw. I felt my face flappin’ down. You see the scar right there?” He points to an area below his lip. “All I saw was blood pouring down on my shirt, spittin’ glass. That’s where that song came from.”
That song is “Black & Brown,” the West Coast unity declaration off Xzibit’s new Full Circle: “I love Los Angeles, you can hear it in my music,” goes the first line, “plus I got the scars to prove it.”
“A lot of what I’m saying on that song is a reflection of what I really go through,” says X. “But this is bigger than just me. That’s why we need to sit down and talk about the black and the brown.” X’s most original work to date, Full Circle captures the feeling of a decade that’s meant a lot to the man.
For the past five seasons, Xzibit has hosted MTV’s Pimp My Ride, the worldwide phenomenon (translated in 100-plus countries) about restoring and customizing cars. At heart, though, he’s a music man. His first hit single was “Paparazzi,” off his 1996 debut, At the Speed of Life. His big break came when he joined Snoop Dogg on the Dr. Dre production “Bitch Please,” then appeared on Dre’s 1999 multiplatinum Chronic 2001 and crisscrossed America with the Doctor on the supersuccessful “Up In Smoke” tour. Four more acclaimed Xzibit albums followed, including 2000’s double-platinum Restless (executive- produced by Dre). X made his move to Hollywood with a cameo alongside Dre and Snoop Dogg in DJ Pooh’s comedy The Wash (2001); he just debuted as a major co-star alongside Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in Gridiron Gang. On top, yes. But getting there was a struggle.
Alvin Nathaniel Joiner was born in Detroit September 18, 1974. When he was 9, his mother, Trena, passed away. (“R.I.P. Trena” is tatted on his forearm.) His father remarried, and Xzibit’s family — one blood sister, one stepbrother and two stepsisters — would be raised along the cactus-lined mesa of Albuquerque.
The desert heat was tough, but the home front was tougher. “My father was a Marine,” says X, pulling down the neck of his T-shirt to show off an Old English–style “Semper Fidelis” tat. “I was raised like a soldier. My pops wasn’t the kind of pops that would embrace you. His love was discipline.”
Both father and stepmother were Jehovah’s Witnesses. But at the age of 13, Xzibit began listening to rap and writing lyrics, a talent he learned from his mother, a writer. “My parents hated rap music, so they would take my tapes and break them. I was listening to everything — L.L. Cool J, Ice Cube, Kool G Rap. Anything I would get my hands on, they would break it.” But they couldn’t break his spirit.
“Not getting what you need from your parents, what do you do? You go to the streets.” From age 14 to 17, Xzibit was getting into trouble slanging drugs; he was expelled from most of the high schools in Albuquerque. “I got caught with guns in school, dumb shit,” he says. Although Xzibit has always been an avid reader — “When you read, it builds your vocabulary” — he used school mainly to hone his MC skills and promote his rap name. “While I battled at lunch, I just said it: ‘I’m Exhibit A/On display.’ Back then I used to spell it regular like a museum exhibit. Then I dropped the A” (for Alvin).
The next thing Xzibit needed was peace, as street life was getting dangerous: “My friends started dying, and I damn nearly got killed in Albuquerque.”
He set his sights on, of all places, California. “I saw the riots on TV, and I was like, ‘That’s where I need to be’?” — his raspy laugh erupts. So in 1992, at age 17, he packed everything he owned into his black-and-purple Geo Tracker. (There was no Pimp My Ride back then.) With $3,000 cash and a highlighted road map marked by his father, Xzibit was on his way to Los Angeles. He had one local contact and no Plan B. “I spent my first night with all my shit in the car, homeless on Venice Beach.”
But Xzibit’s survival skills kicked in. Heeding his father’s advice about procrastination, he got his hustle on — rapping, even a cappella, at L.A. clubs including Ballistics, founded by Married With Children’s David Faustino.
“King Tee and Tha Alkaholiks were the first rappers I knew with real record deals,” says X. “Rollin’ with them, I felt, ‘This is where I need to be.’ I didn’t have no money, but I was happy.”
Xzibit was featured on the King Tee track “Free Style Ghetto,” off 1995’s IV Life album. He also killed onstage with King Tee and Tha Alkaholiks. It was at one of those shows where Steve Rifkind of the hip-hop label Loud took notice of X’s raw street talents and signed him without even a demo, soon after inking New York’s Wu-Tang Clan.
With more than 3 million units already sold, X is making an aggressive return with Full Circle. “People just see me as a host of Pimp My Ride,” says X, “but there was a whole life before this. Now my job on Full Circle is to connect those dots.”
Full Circle was partly recorded in Manhattan at Planet to Planet, a.k.a. “the Dungeon,” with executive producers Keith Shocklee of the rap-production group the Bomb Squad (Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back; Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted) and Jelly Roll. Fourteen tracks of heavy volume, rich sound and lyrics that, like X’s career, veer from gangsta to laughta. Classic cuts include the first single, “Concentrate,” produced by Rick Rock.
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As the song’s King Kong bass bumps from his JBL speakers, Xzibit dances freely, throwing up his hands. “That’s in the club, baby,” he declares with a huge grin, and plays some more tracks. “On Bail” is a bangin’ gangsta cut produced by DJ Felli Fel and featuring Daz, Kurupt, the Game and T-Pain. X passionately acts out every line of the amped-up “Family Values”: “?’Cause you my baby girl,” he mimes, then wipes the sweat off his forehead and swigs some water. Finally he puts on “Thank You,” a deep, reflective jam (“Without you, there can be no me”) that sums up Full Circle. Xzibit sits down and closes his eyes, looking as if he’s in a state of deep meditation.
“Two words,” he breathes out. “Just listen. ’Cause you gonna hear where my heart is at.”?
XZIBIT | Full Circle | Open Bar Entertainment/Koch Records
Xzibit plays House of Blues, Sunday, October 15.