Return From Mecca
For those of us who've been around to witness the majority of the ups and downs of Hip Hop's 30-year evolution, the most amazing thing about Dave Chappelle's Block Party wasn't so much the performances themselves (though they were undeniably blazin' hot), or even the long-rumored but unexpected Fugees and Blackstar reunions. No, the best part of this who's-who-in-Hip Hop was seeing guiding lights such as Common, Kanye, Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Jill Scott, dead prez and The Roots coming together in a spirit of socio-political consciousness.
I mention this because the last time there were so many progressive Hip Hop artists united by a common cause was probably the late '80s and early '90s, when New York groups like Public Enemy, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and the Jungle Brothers gave props to Afrika Bambaataa's Zulu Nation and spread powerful messages of positivity. Arguably the most politically active band of this era was X-Clan, the Brooklyn collective whose potent 1990 debut, To the East, Blackwards, made them one of the most prominent acts on the Afrocentric Hip Hop scene. As well-known for their red, black and green garb and African medallions as they were for their powerful pro-black lyricism, the group released only two albums (though Professor X and associated MC Isis each released solo albums) before breaking up in 1993, and seemed destined to remain a footnote in Hip Hop history after original members Sugar Shaft and Professor X passed away (of AIDS-related causes and spinal meningitis, respectively).
But now the group is back, though their legitimate claim to the X-Clan name is questionable, given the fact that Brother J is the only remaining original member. This time around he's surrounded himself with a new generation of relatively unknown Clan members (Ultraman Ra Hanna, ACL, DJ FatJack, Kumu M. Haynes and Master China), as well as an eclectic assortment of guest artists. The results are surprisingly strong, all things considered; a little behind the times, perhaps, but certainly unlike most of the same ol' BS clogging up radio waves these days. Songs like the P-funky "Voodoo" reinvent the group's original style for 2006 ears, while the densely packed lyrical science of "Why U Doin That?" calls out today's black youth for "pissin' on our culture" and holding it back. Not every track here packs such a potent sociopolitical punch, but guest emcees like Jurassic 5's Chali 2Na and Abstract Rude drop rhymes that help establish the ol' school/true school connection.
The highlight of the album comes with banger "Weapon X." Built over the same baseline that D-Nice used to tell you what his name was, Brother J lays it down like was it was 1991; "I'm not known for the singing or the common man's grammar/J from the Clan but I'm not a Wu-Tanger/concrete gorilla and I'm still spittin' bananas/we set the foundation by swingin' a new hammer/glitz and the glamour come secondary/to my timeless jewels and street knowledge degree/weapon X haters down on your knees/throw your rhymes in the flame and repent to the east." Return From Mecca is a solid outing but not a great album by any means - but certainly not bad for a group who's been outta the game for 13 years.