INTERVIEW: From "Paparazzi" to the "Up In Smoke Tour," "Restless" to Serial Killers, Xzibit has stories for days.
Xzibit has been a mainstay in the pantheon of hip-hop greats since his arrival in 1996. At The Speed Of Life found a young Los Angeles rapper destined for greatness, with somber hits like "Paparazzi" earning instant acclaim and a coveted Sopranos co-sign. The foundation he laid was expanded on his sophomore drop 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz, which found him towing the lines between underground grit and mainstream accessibility. After a stellar turn on Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg's "Bitch Please," X was entrusted as a crucial member of Dr. Dre's inner circle. The rapper soon found himself contributing to a veritable hip-hop classic, Dre's 2001, notably standing out alongside Dre and Eminem on "What's The Difference," among other selections.
When I first discovered Xzibit's music, he was on the cusp of delivering his third album Restless. By this point, X had already solidified his spot at the table, having emerged from the "Up In Smoke Tour" unscathed, alongside such legends as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Ice Cube, Kurupt, and more. Looking back, it's easy to acknowledge songs like "X" and "Front 2 Back" as formative tracks, playing an integral role in my own discovery of hip-hop culture. I stand alongside many who dub Restless an underrated classic; in that regard, conversing with X to the Z was something of a personal milestone. After nearly eighteen years since initially discovering his music, I finally had the chance.
Though X has experienced his share of ups and downs, experiences in both business and acting ventures, he can ultimately boast something with utmost confidence: longevity. With seven studio albums under his belt, a lengthy dose of film credits, and stories for days, it's easy to imagine a wizened disabledOG sitting quietly back, channeling The Watcher, of 2001 fame.
Yet with his new project, Serial Killers: Day Of The Dead upon us, an upcoming series called Broken Ground premiering next month, and Open Bar Entertainment's Benz Shelton on the verge of a come-up, it seems like the legendary X to the Z is in the midst of a renaissance.
HNHH: How you doing X? This is Mitch from HNHH. First off, how was the Lakers game?
Xzibit: It was fantastic. Me and my little boy went to go check ‘em out. We got a “w” at home, got to see LeBron, got to see all the players, Stevenson. It was dope!
I saw he dapped up your son after the game.
Absolutely man! That was good, I got so many cool dad points from that. My little n***a was like “yeah!”
Does your son have any idea about your musical legacy?
Yeah but he’s not impressed. He’s like “okay, I get it. My dad’s a legend, but where’s the Fortnite?”
Man, I have to say, you played a big role in my discovery of hip-hop. When I was a kid, it was around the time that Restless dropped. “Front 2 Back” and “X” were out, it was mind blowing. It was part of my introduction to the genre.
Thank you man, appreciate it!
“Restless” dropped on December 12th, so almost eighteen years ago. That’s a big milestone. A lot of people think that album is a classic, so I want to, before we really get into the future, take a step back. What was your state of mind going into “Restless?”
Wow. Well, at the time that was my third album. And I was on the brink of going to work with Dre and Snoop and Eminem and all of those guys and I had just come off the “Up in Smoke Tour.” It was like “okay now let me go in, give this album to the fans that I have just accumulated over the last year, working with these guys.”
So I knew that I had an audience I wanted to come with. And finally [Steve Rifkind of Loud Records] saw the light and gave me a real fucking budget, so I was able to go out and make an album that I thought was needed at the time. That was the mind state. Knowing I had played a chess match and had come out the other side with ammunition.
The “Up in Smoke Tour” must have been a pivotal moment.
It was the moment. That was the transition for me. That was going from the minors to the majors.
Do you have any crazy stories from the “Up in Smoke Tour?”
Well I’m married now so I can’t get into that type of shit! But I mean, what didn’t happen on that tour? I think the biggest thing that happened, that sticks out right away, was when Nate Dogg got arrested when we came to do the LA show. Long story short he had like kidnapped somebody and flipped a car, I mean, shit! It was wild shit that he did!
It was some really big deal. it was like a million dollars to get him out. And I mean, Dre wasn’t doing that shit. We started looking for replacements for him for that show. So I remember Tyrese was on stage and he didn’t know the words to the fucking song! And it was like the biggest song on the fucking planet! Who doesn’t know: "hold up-waaait, to my n***as" -- know what I’m sayin’?
Did he at least get “smoke weed everyday?’
No! He would have somebody write out the lyrics and hold it up on a piece of paper. Like on cardboard. Like slides! And so he’s trying to sing this song from the sound booth reading this card. And it’s like, “bro when there’s 20,000 people in here screaming and the lights are going, you’re not gonna be able to see that shit. What are doing? Just go learn the fucking song.”
So they tried a couple different guys and long story short, man, Dre bailed [Nate Dogg] out. And he bailed him out just in time for the fucking show. He paid a million dollars to get that n***a out of jail. And so [Nate] came into the arena at the last minute, right before that song. The show had just started. When he walked out, everybody knew he was in jail, and they knew how much the bail was. When he walked out on that stage, dude, that motherfucking arena just blew up. It just blew up. It was like sounds of people screaming for Nate. And he stood there for a long time without saying nothing. And so when he put that mic up and started singing, dude, it was over. It was over. That was one of the highlights of the whole fucking tour.
Rest In Peace, Nate Dogg.
I get goosebumps right now thinking of it!
Xzibit, Snoop Dogg, & Nate Dogg - "Bitch Please", Up In Smoke Tour
I wish I could have seen it. That sounds legendary. I recently heard Anderson .Paak talking about working with Dre as a producer. That some artists found it was difficult because he was such a meticulous perfectionist. So I was just wondering, what was the relationship like working with Dre on Restless? Did you learn anything going forward?
It’s true. Everything Anderson said is facts. That shit is still true to this day. You bring your A-game when you go step in the studio with Dre. Nothing less.
Fair enough. Correct me if I’m wrong, but these albums, Restless, Man vs. Machine, they were all coming out around during a big change in the industry, when file sharing started. Changing the game in a way that wasn’t necessarily beneficial to artists. Do you think that was having an impact on the industry at the time? Did it have any impact on you?
As far as file sharing and actual royalties and album sales, I mean, the biggest difference is, when CD’s were selling, let’s look at the numbers. Coming out and selling 500,000, 800,000 was the norm. It was normal. So when everything started dwindling down, and a 100,000 sales became number one on Billboard, it was a different time. It was a whole different situation. All we could do was just power through it and continue to make music that we felt was good at the time. We didn’t really understand it.
In my original contract there was no language about digital rights, there was no language about online sales. Because it didn’t exist. This was a brand-new platform that everybody was gonna get used to. What really killed the industry at that time was that the big major labels were so arrogant about CD sales. Dude, we’re selling albums for $18, $19 bucks a pop. You know, $15 bucks at the lowest. So you do the math. They thought it was gonna last forever. So when the computer guys came in and said “look this is gonna be the future” they were like “nah fuck that.” They were on the late train, and so the industry kinda moved on without them. And then there was a time of catching up.
So did it hurt me? I don’t know, because I never really looked at it like “oh I need to make money off this.” I never looked at it like this until later on when the money wasn't there. I was like “oh shit this is not working the way I thought it was gonna work!” It was a learning curve, but we got through it. Because longevity is the key.
The times are just so different. I still vividly remember I used to go to Blockbuster Video and read The Source magazine there and I would get news about your music. You know, "Best new track: Symphony in X Major." And I’d never heard of that track but after seeing that write-up I was so excited for it. Nowadays people get music so easily.
They get it, and the way they digest the music...I think their attention span is very short.
Going back to a song like “Symphony in X Major,” when you dropped that was a big deal. You had to watch the video on BET, or for me in Canada it was Much Vibe. And you sit there and you were so excited to see this video. And now everything is so fast.
Yeah it comes and goes. It’s crazy.
Xzibit & Dr. Dre - Symphony In X Major
Something I feel like I have to ask you, having thought about this many times. You know the Golden State Project with Ras Kass and Saafir? Man, I remember I was super excited for that. I loved “Plastic Surgery,” “3 Card Molly” was a classic. “NBA.” What happened with that album?
Man! Okay so we were all slated to go, everything was ready. Ras was having problems with Priority at the time and he didn’t want it to lead them into a situation that he felt they didn’t have any part of creating. So he just didn’t sign the paperwork. So me and Saafir were just held in limbo for a while. And then the label got mad because we weren’t producing the album, and Ras was just not cooperating with Priority. And Priority wouldn’t sign off on it, they wanted a percentage of the album, so he didn’t do it. And so I had to turn around and use that budget to make an Xzibit record. That’s where Weapons Of Mass Destruction came from.
I guess if it's meant to be, it's meant to be.
We talk about it all the time, man. I tell Ras all the time we family, outside of this rap shit, outside of all that shit. He had to do what’s right for him. And that’s what he felt was right. So I support him wholeheartedly.
I remember he had a whole album that was lost in limbo, Van Gogh. It’s become a hip-hop relic at this point. But now you’re part of another trifecta with “Serial Killers.” We just premiered “How To Get Away With It,” and it reminded me of that old-school X sound. I know you guys linked up years ago but coming back, what was the goal for Day of the Dead?
Well, “Serial Killers” was a B-Real brainchild. This is the second go at it. He did it with a couple of people, I can't remember who he did it with first. It was music that never came out. And he wanted to reincarnate the whole situation with Demrick and I, and from there we did Vol. 1 then we toured off of it. And it was successful so we did Vol. 2. And then we kind of went our separate ways. We were working on our other stuff. I was doing Empire and a couple other things.
About four weeks ago me and Demrick were in the studio and we called B on FaceTime and we were like "hey man Halloween’s coming up let’s put out a Serial Killers EP." And it just started like that. A few weeks ago we banged it out and here it is. It was very spontaneous the way this came together, but its a standalone project Day of the Dead. It’s an EP, seven songs. And then Vol. 3 of Serial Killers will be probably next year.
So you got inspired by Halloween?
No, we got inspired by 1942, the tequila! It was fucking awesome. We were hammered. It was like ‘hey everybody let's do a fucking record.” Hell yeah!
I would expect nothing less from the man who brought us “Alkaholik” from Restless.
Yes, the anthem!
For sure. And I just wanted to ask...you have Serial Killers the group. Songs like “Killer's Remorse” and your work on Dre’s “Loose Cannon,” the voice acting, the skits at the end of the record. Super creepy, unsettling. Really visceral stuff. Is there something in particular about serial killer imagery that speaks to you on a creative level?
No, there’s some science behind the way we do Serial Killers music. Because of the appetite for that type of music isn’t the mainstream now, we felt as though dressing it and putting it in a Halloween-type atmosphere and only dropping it around that date kind of gave it its lane. And didn’t make it seem out of place. So that’s why we are able to take the creative freedom of doing that kind of imagery and giving our own angle of how we see Halloween, or how we see that dark side of hip-hop that doesn’t exist.
We didn’t want to do that horrorcore, like Gravediggaz or something like that. It’s not like that. We wanted to do “serial rhyme killers.” We just wanted to drop a rhyme out like some serial killers. So we focused on killing the rhymes and having that edgy, dark side of hip-hop, which is what attracted us in the first place. The remnants of gangster rap and stirring it together and giving our twist on it. That’s how it came about.
I feel like your music has always had, I don’t want to say a darker element per-se, but there’s a lot of minor key production. I guess that’s from working with Dre, but even before that you had songs like “3 Card Molly.” That’s a dark beat. I think it’s cool to see you retained that quality in your music.
I love my music to have dark overtones to it, but I also like to have a message in the Xzibit records that I make. I like to have that kind of freedom to be able to kick and scream and air all my frustrations and what-not. I love being able to drop that in my music and be able to get that out of my system in a positive way.
For sure. This might seem random, but the first thing I thought when I saw you and Be-Real were once again collaborating was, this is gonna sound crazy, but the rapper edition of “The Weakest Link.” I still watch that every once in a while, because that’s pure comedy.
Yeah man!!! [Laughter] I told B-Real to not go smoke before we did the show and he went and smoked anyway!!!
"The Weakest Link - Rapper Edition" - Comedic gold
You had some heavy-hitters there, so many people!
Then Nate Dogg said he had his hands his pockets so he didn’t steal nothing!
Was that during the height of the feud with Jermaine? Did that start the feud with Jermaine, “The Weakest Link?” Could it be?
Nah, Jermaine started that. He started that by talking recklessly about Dr. Dre. And we just happened to be in the studio when we saw it, so that’s why that happened.
I imagine he swiftly regretted his words after that.
Yeah, I still don’t think he likes me to this day.
I guess old wounds take a while to heal. It’s not everyday that you'll say something and have Eminem and Xzibit at your throat the next morning.
Yeah, I mean I don’t hate the guy. Hopefully later on we’ll have some type of positive discourse.
Absolutely. Lastly, I wanted to talk about fatherhood because I feel like you’re setting a good example out there, and we don’t always see that in hip-hop. I think it's very refreshing to see you putting forth a positive message. Do you have any advice for any fathers or aspiring fathers who might be reading this when it's published?
I’ve been a father since I was nineteen, twenty years old. So I think that being a father is one of the most important things you can ever do as a human being. Especially just being accountable and responsible for the life of somebody who did not ask to be brought here. That’s number one, man. My job is to make sure that my child is a responsible human being who is going to be let into society to make a difference. That is my goal, that is my number one before any kind of rapping or anything. You must take care of your family.
A lot of people don’t see it that way, but I’m not here to degrade them or tell them they’re doing something wrong. Just to me, if I can’t look at myself in the mirror, and my children can’t look at me as something that is positive in their life, or someone that is a great role model, then I’m failing as a man. That’s just the way I feel about it. Nothing is more rewarding - not a career or a plaque - than seeing your child turn around and say they love you. That’s it.
I respect that. I want to congratulate you on everything man, you got a long list of accomplishments behind you, and now you continue making the music you want to make. Not everyone can say they have longevity. I think you’re setting a good example out there.
Thank you man. Thanks for being so knowledgeable about the catalog, and the steps I’ve taken. I appreciate that.