As one of the few West Coast hip hop artists still deeply entrenched in the funk sound that California rap is known for, it's clear that XL Middleton is not out to be a mainstream household name. Still, the underground following he has built over the years has continued to grow, even during a virtual two-year hiatus after the release of his last album, "Barliament Drunkadelic". Now XL is back with his latest, "Middle Class Blues", which takes his trademark West Coast funk and blends it with a slow-rolling, live bluesy sound. Imagine DJ Quik meets Devin The Dude, as XL serves up heavy slabs of live bass, smoked-out chords, and even sings most of the album's hooks himself.
As the title suggests, the majority of "Middle Class Blues" deals with weathering harsh economic times. Yet the blues that XL serves up involves a good dose of humor, so the album never gets depressing. "Waitin On A Check" is all about the anxiety when the mailman is on the way with your only hope of getting the bills paid; "Unemployment" is all about what happens when said check arrives. Defying the "Blues" in the album title, the song is basically a party jam - a celebration of government assistance. Profound humor also finds its way into the self-explanatory "Drunk Dialin", while the thought-provoking "We're F***** Anyway" finds XL explaining why he's stopped trying.
Unexpectedly, the album takes a more optimistic direction in its latter third. After lamenting love lost on "Ends Of The Earth", the tides turn on "Single", another party song that's sure to have even the most dedicated family man singing along to the hook. On the hilarious and light-hearted "Now That U Got Thin", XL goes in on women who become bigheaded after losing weight. Finally, on "Closing Credits", Middleton asserts that "these Middle Class Blues are never destroying us".
Don't expect to feel down after listening to this album. If you're having a hard time paying the bills or the rent, "Middle Class Blues" might be the perfect medicine to help you realize that you're not alone in your struggles, and better days are soon to come.