After Diamond District member Oddisee made some noise with his rock-solid People Hear What They See LP in 2012, the new year sees the mic being passed to DC crew-mate Uptown XO. Much like Oddisee, XO sounds intelligent and sure of himself on record, without coming off as headstrong or arrogant. This is unmistakeably a working-class, thinking man’s rap record.
Never shying away from touchy subjects (religion, social inequality, politics), XO finds a way to speak on real life problems and still put it all under an umbrella big enough for all types of listeners to find shelter (see “Spread Love,” “Soul Value”). “Finding My Way” is an autobiographical recounting of the struggles XO has had to endure; having to re-locate as a child, disengaging from school, alcohol use and abuse. While this narrative may sound hackneyed or played-out in the rap world, XO again manages to present it in a way that is simultaneously personal and relateable.
A.B. the Pro’s production is unremarkable at some of the album’s low points, or at least it’s not the focal point, due in part to an over-reliance on the formulaic; dark strings-and-piano beats that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Eminem record, or samples whose sample-worthiness is questionable. That being said, Colour de Grey is not without its moments that hit the mark dead on. “Salaam” is one such moment, turning the head-nod switch up a few notches with a stuttering vocal sample and swirling synth tones. “If I Should Die” sees XO dancing over a soulful, horn-driven 6/8 beat that feels challenging yet comfortable.
Following in the tradition of a long line of truth-speaking, introspective MCs before him, Uptown XO’s LP adds another perspective into the mix, albeit a refreshing one that deserves to be heard.