It can be argued that the final frontier for hip hop, at least from an artistic standpoint, would have to be the expansion of the beats beyond just simple loops that build and break down. What if an artist were to create a hip hop album of actual "songs" - Musical creations that have intros, choruses, bridges, breaks, and the like. XL Middleton seeks to answer this question with his latest, The Hedonistic Album.
Eschewing the electronic techno or stripped down drum beats of today's pop-infused hip hop, XL takes it forward by taking it back. Not only does he revive the smooth midtempo feel of 90's G-Funk, he takes it back to the source by drawing his inspiration directly from the smoky soul of the 70's and the synthesized excess of the 80's. Songs like "Cool (feat. Reality Jonez & Mistah FAB)" borrow from the slow-rolling Cadillac funk of Curtis Mayfield, while the uptempo "You Can't Train Me (feat. Moniquea)" sports a slick brass and synth bass loop that would have made Morris Day proud. "Sunny Side Up," the closest thing that Hedonistic... has to a radio track, simultaneously captures the feel of a California sunset, while giving you something upbeat to dance to. Middleton even experiments with a little jazz/R&B fusion on "Cognac Flow (feat. Kokane & Harold Blue)", and subsequently with the bluesy, guitar-heavy sound of Houston hip hop on the narrative "I Don't Give A Fuck About Rap." On "Bright Lights And Palm Trees," XL evokes the feel of the "Quik's Groove" series, laying down a cool instrumental track and showering it with piano and keytar solos.
Considering that XL lays it on so heavy musically, with lush selections of rhodes chords, bouncy basslines, and plucky rhythm guitar lines, it seems par for the course that he would slack in the lyrical department, allowing his instrumentals to carry the project through. This is simply not the case, as his slick verbiage and cool delivery detail the elements of a mature party lifestyle, full of fun and excess (plus women) but without putting any extras on it. On "Ain't No Game Pt. 2," he advises would be love interests to "Just call me Caesar, cuz I'm prone to roamin'." There is an underlying positivity to XL's seemingly shallow subject matter, as he speaks to the dude at every party who came to start trouble on "My Life Is Fun": "I know you a soldier, but me and you ain't at war/ You should locate the thickest bitch you can and get on the floor."
While it is probably true that the commercially-engrossed genre of hip hop will continue to move in the direction that yields the most revenue and least creativity, there is a select tier of artists that XL Middleton falls into - a tier that respects the original blueprint of the artform but expands upon it by delving into other genres too. Any listener, whether brand new to XL or a long time fan, can expect to be surprised by the creativity and musicality to be found in such a simple formula.