A professor has knowledge, and an M.C. has the audience. The Xfactor is no different than other Professor A.L.I. albums in its construction and interwoven song structure, but it represents a sophistication in lyricism, an advanced rhythmic cadence and an evolution of this M.C. from a spoken word poet into an instrument who marries the rich imagery of his narrative to ebb and flow of the music like never before. Add to this album iconic features like Blitz the Ambassador, Dead Prez, Chino XL, Blak Madeen, Raekwon, Brand Nubian and Canibus and it elevates what is Professor A.L.I.’s best work into an instant classic. Finally, the inclusion of a recorded interview between the late Malcolm Shabazz and Professor A.L.I., truly makes this album worthy of a title that clearly pays homage to the legacy of Malcolm X in Hip-Hop as a kulture.
“Professor ALI and I have been collaborators, conspirators and brothers for 7 years. We seem an unlikely pair – I am an ecological educator and queer activist, he is a devout Muslim hip-hop artist. But we are united by how our spirits express our reverence for creation – through our deep dedication to generating a vibrant world of justice and creativity. We found each other through education, teaching together at the same high school. At the heart of our teaching is a faith in the intelligence and leadership of youth. We collaborate with our students, creating experiences that help them find their own vision and moral compass, and then work with them to create the world we can all thrive in, in our classrooms and out in our communities.
This album is a new chapter in that work. It is an experience for kids of learning that is both ancient and futuristic. They are learning through the oral tradition, as humans did from Griots and Druids, with all of its poetry, rhythmic intelligence, and multiple subjectivities. They are also stepping into the future where the production of knowledge is decentralized, where the ability of social authorities to dictate the content of our knowledge by controlling the flow of information has already been broken by information technology and the cultural impact of movements like Hip Hop (as Chuck D said “the Black Man’s CNN”). So this album, a journey through the history and impact of Hip Hop, has kids in the 2010’s getting a true, deeply historical education through a form created by 80s teenagers in the Bronx. They will not just receive, because Hip Hop has always been call and response and a battle. They have to step up into the production of knowledge, cutting their own tracks and spoken word slams — gathering information from multiple communities through social media, communicating their political philosophies and aspirational visions through information technology, and using everything from pop culture references to the knowledge they learn in their history classes. It is a wild future these kids are heading into. In my mind, Professor ALI is guiding them well by introducing them to a relevant reverence of our ancestral past while putting the tools of the future in their hands.” –Will Grant, educator, activist and consultant for experiential education.
This album is the first ever to be constructed for and accepted and approved for use in curriculum. Recently approved by the University of California system and interwoven in curriculum to be offered at 5 elite Bay Area prep schools in 2015 (Athenian, CPS, Marin Academy, Urban and Lick Wilmerding) as well as already used in part with U.C. Berkeley’s EAOP program, it has caught the spirit of the classic albums of the late 1980’s and 1990’s where Hip-Hop was synonymous with knowledge.
Songs like “Karavan from Karbala”, remind one of X-Clan and the robust diction of Brother J, while “Blackness” could have been ripped from the catalogue of Paris or Chuck D, and “Eulogies” invokes memories of the late Tupac Shakur–and that’s just Disk 1.
This musically rich exploration of Hip-Hop is both entertaining, work-out music on one end of the spectrum and deeply reflective music to chill and ride to. Its definitely West Coast in its production, but its lyrical delivery and style often feels like its out of Queens, New York.
Disk 2 sees collaborations from Dead Prez and Planet Asia that hearken back to the political revival in Hip-Hop in the late 90’s and while it pays homage to luminaries like the late Gil Scott Heron and Ralph Ellison, it pushes the metaphor to question the economic structures that surround Hip-Hop as a musical genre, one that is exploited for profit and then proceeds to provoke the powers that be with powerful narratives around polarizing themes like the N Word, the idea that Hip-Hop is dead and the role of social media.
Produced by 12 Recordz; Engineered and Mixed by Deegan Mack Adam; Beats produced by Arun-Trax, Sychogast and AJ Udom; Acoustic accompaniments by Stephen Herrick (Sax, Flute) and Khalil Abdullah (Guitar); Scratches by THCLF; Mixed at Smashmouth Studios and Mastered by Glenn Schick Mastering; Cover Art by Adam Thorman; Cover Set Design Mark Mendelsohn.
The Xfactor is authentic, lyrical, and intelligent– it is real, vibrant and alive and as a result it is vulnerable–it is human. It belongs on a short list of the best art that has been produced by independent music since the turn of the century. #Xfactor #HipHopEd