Reviews August 7, 2015
The Xyclone LP

Xyclone sounds pissed off, and for good reason. Last year, when he released the Almost There mixtape, Xyclone seemed primed for a rapid ascendancy to dancehall stardom. At that point, it had already been three years since Xyclone caught his first big break, when the veteran DJ Spragga Benz discovered him at a show in Hartford, CT, and signed him to his Red Square Productions label. In spite of co-signs from the likes of Spragga, and his tremendous natural talent, Xyclone hasn’t enjoyed the same breakthrough success as someone like Popcaan, who was famously sampled by Kanye and recently appeared on the new album by British electronic producer Jamie XX.

Xyclone’s debut album, simply titled The Xyclone LP (available from RSQTHP Music Group / VPAL Music for pre-order on iTunes and Amazon), begins with a beat so stripped down that he’s almost rapping a cappella, unleashing frustrated bars about doubters and haters. The song, called “In the Industry,” is a stark, stern warning to all those without faith in Xyclone, who threatens to squash someone like a mosquito and ends the track by exclaiming, “It’s hard to find reals in this industry.”

An album of nothing but bitterness would be hard to endure, and luckily, the Xyclone LP offers some variety. Beenie Man, who guests on both “Mind on You” and “Back Pocket Rag (Remix)” is, as always, a delight. Though it has been nearly a decade since Beenie's last album dropped, he has been remarkably active lately, appearing everywhere from a single with Young Jeezy to M.I Abaga’s recent Afrobeats album The Chairman. The only other guest with multiple appearances on the album is the much lesser-known Cee Gee, who puts in an impressive verse on “The Journey.” That song, which actually first appeared way back in March of last year, is one of the album’s best moments, with Xyclone rapping in rapid-fire over a minimal piano loop, almost reminiscent of Atlanta trap production master Zaytoven. That trap comparison is perhaps less intentional than the drum ‘n’ bass/jungle style that the loops transition to, as Cee Gee complements Xyclone’s clear and direct style with melodic patois inflections.

Xyclone has moments of sounding positively upbeat, as on the patriotic anthem “Jamaica Nice” and ganja ode “Smoking,” but many of the album’s most compelling moments are also its most vitriolic. “Shut Up” begins with a spoken-word introduction: “A lot of these people, they go off of what they hear… That’s why we Jamaicans can’t really be better. Instead of we try for uplift and encourage each other, we always try to break them down.” The track, which features Red Rat, rides on a throbbing beat that sounds positively sinister as it builds. Xyclone calmly scolds his opponents, while Red Rat’s more high-pitched inflection pushes the song into the realm of cartoonishly contemptuous greatness.

Like “The Journey,” the “Back Pocket Rag” remix dates back to over a year ago, and the original version of that track came out way back in 2013. Perhaps some of Xyclone’s frustration is due to the length of time he has had to wait for these songs to get officially released. The remix, which features both Cee Gee and Beenie Man, is Xyclone’s biggest hit to date. Its catchy chipmunk-voiced chorus and lightning-quick spitting make it a clear winner, and indicate that Xyclone is capable of attaining the success that has so far eluded him. By and large, the most jovial moments on the album come from years past, such as the rather irritatingly whistle-filled “Wo!!! (Woiii).” In the video for the song, Xyclone referees a volleyball "match" between bikini-clad girls who don’t appear to actually have a volleyball anywhere in sight.

The album alternates between earlier and more recent material, producing some abrupt shifts in mood, such as when “Informa” follows “Wo!!!.” This year's Xyclone doesn’t sound like he’s in any kind of mood for goofy, light-hearted material, and “Informa,” which features British dancehall artist Gappy Ranks, is downright bleak and menacing. Perhaps the track that seems the most in tune with Xyclone’s current mood is “Mi Nuh Deserve That.” In the song, Xyclone describes oversleeping a court date. Its video shows him flustered, dropping a shoe, as he rushes down some stairs, but his lyrics make it hard to truly sympathize. He raps, “To be honest, I fucked my best friend’s bitch last night.” Judging by that line, Xyclone might actually deserve some of the trouble he has faced over the past couple years. Nevertheless, the song has a huge impact for its short length (less than two minutes) and basic synth-laden production.

While the album is rather uneven due to its alternation between old and new songs, there is plenty that is compelling about Xyclone, especially in his moments of sounding angry, disheartened and annoyed at the industry.

Afropop Continue to