Happy 20th Anniversary to Xzibit’s second studio album 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz, originally released August 25, 1998.
Alvin “Xzibit” Joyner was once a juggernaut in the realm of hip-hop. He was an imposing figure on record, moving with machine-like precision over hardcore hip-hop tracks, radiating power and authority. And nowhere was that more apparent than on 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz, his sophomore album, released 20 years ago.
Xzibit, a.k.a. the Dysfunctional Member of Tha Alkaholiks Family, had one of the more notable vocal presences of the ‘90s, a deep, commanding baritone of a voice that seemingly pulses with authority. The Detroit-born emcee moved to Los Angeles during his late teens and eventually linked up with King Tee and Tha Alkaholiks. After contributing memorable verses on both Tha Alkaholiks’ Coast II Coast (1995) and King Tee’s IV Life (1995), he released his debut album At the Speed of Life in 1996. The album was a fun mix of lyrical braggadocio, drunken escapades, and the occasional serious rumination on topics like the fakeness of the hip-hop game and the birth of his son.
Xzibit shifted to an overall much more aggressive mode on 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz. Throughout the album he seems locked in and ready to command respect. Which isn’t to say that the album is devoid of the humor that frequently came with Likwit Crew releases, but this time around the Big Bad Insane Black John McLain is completely focused. Intent on establishing that he’s “more than an image and a press-kit,” he serves as a survival guide throughout the album, steering the listeners through the streets and corners of his adopted home.
The production on 40 Dayz is a strength. Xzibit utilizes a diverse roster of beat-makers to craft the album’s soundscape, all of whom succeed at creating a unified sound. One of the main contributors is Sir Jinx, a West Coast production veteran who held together the production on album’s like Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990) and WC and the Maad Circle’s Ain’t a Damn Thing Changed (1991). For 40 Dayz, Jinx worked behind the boards on three of the songs, helped craft the skits, and also served as an executive producer. Other producers that Xzibit enlists include Bud’da and Mel-Man (two members of Dr. Dre’s production team at the time) Jesse West, Soopafly, E-Swift, A Kid Called Roots, and others.
All the beat-makers come to together to create a cohesive, unified sound for 40 Dayz. Many of the tracks are built around melodic samples from classical music or mellow jazz-fusion. This melodious soundscape is often paired with hard-hitting drum tracks, generating a sharp musical contrast, especially when factoring in Xzibit’s rugged vocals.
The production style is displayed prominently on the blistering “Chamber Music,” 40 Dayz’ opening track. Here samples of flutes, woodwinds, and brass are juxtaposed with thunderous drums, including stabs of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” Xzibit towers over the track, rhyming like he just swallowed a bucket of nails, rapping, “This is for the ones with stone-face / That catch you at the right time in the wrong place / We unsafe, 151 with no chase and no ice / Take away your life like three strikes.”
“What U See Is What You Get,” the album’s first single, is arguably the album’s most “accessible” track, sonically speaking. Produced by Jesse West, it melds jazz pianos with the scratchy guitar intro to Funkadelic’s “Get Off Your Ass and Jam,” but still moves at a rapid pace. Xzibit remains pensive throughout the song, contemplating his existence and the importance of staying committed to his hustle.
Similarly, much of 40 Dayz is concerned with doing what you have to do to survive on the streets of Los Angeles. Xzibit explores the dichotomy that exists between the “Hollywood” perception of the city and the much darker reality on “Los Angeles Times,” which first appeared on the Soul In the Hole soundtrack (1997).
Xzibit also displays an excellent storytelling ability on 40 Dayz, further investigating facets of the Los Angeles experience for the listeners. “Shroomz” is the album’s most entertaining track, Xzibit’s tale of being introduced to the nominal psychedelic substance and the chaos that ensues. He captures in exquisite detail how a good trip can turn bad on a dime. The song’s distorted mood is aided by the most warped use of the guitar solo from Ohio Players’ “Funky Worm” ever released.
“Inside Job” is another detailed and frenetic story, as Xzibit plays the role of dealer who gets his stash house robbed. Again, the details Xzibit relays while describing the stick-up and the LAPD-filled aftermath are what make the song one of the album’s best.
Even on his “battle” oriented songs, Xzibit raps about his commitment to elevating his game and taking his career seriously. On “Focus” he addresses his single-mindedness towards creating the highest quality music possible, knowing that this career is his best shot at a better life. The violin-centered “Deeper” is a more traditional lyrical display, but there’s still an undercurrent of rawness moving through it.
Xzibit shows he has chemistry working with many different emcees on 40 Dayz, many of whom are members of his immediate crew or homies that he’s formed bonds with. These songs touch on similar themes that echo through the album. Montage One, who’s made a name for himself as a Planet Asia affiliate, appears on two songs. A demand for originality in hip-hop music, the ethereal and shadowy “Nobody Sound Like Me” is one of the album’s strongest songs. It features Xzibit’s best lyrical performance on the album, as he raps, “Burning down your lavish landscape on digital tape / ’Cause everything you rhyming about is actually fake / So make room for the legitimate, nasty inconsiderate / Thinking you ranking top dollar, but really counterfeit.”
Montage also appears on “Recycled Assassins, a poignant exposition of the cycle of seemingly inescapable violence in inner-city Los Angeles. Xzibit’s verse, where he assumes the roles of a killer who inadvertently leads his younger brother down the wrong path, is heart-wrenching.
“3 Card Molly” is the album’s finest song, a collaboration with Carson-native Ras Kass and Saafir, one of the Bay Area’s finest and most underappreciated emcees. The song is one of the few existing tracks by the Golden State Warriors (later renamed the Golden State Project), a super-group made up of the three emcees. The trio first appeared together on “Plastic Surgery” on At the Speed of Life, but “3 Card Molly” is likely the best track that they ever recorded together.
The song is a dark and sinister execution by three lyricists at their peaks. It’s impossible for me to say who had the dopest verse, but I will add that the fact that Saafir sounds even more imposing than Xzibit is impressive. Unfortunately, much of the material that the super-group may have recorded never saw the light of day, as it became another of many projects that were supported by Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Records but were never officially released.
Understandably, some of Xzibit’s best efforts on 40 Dayz come when he teams up with his Likwit Crew cohorts. Mr. X to the Z and Defari move like a well-oiled machine on “Handle Your Business,” a track about the importance of a strong work ethic when pursuing your goals. “Let It Rain,” featuring Tha Liks and King Tipsy himself, rages with pulsing energy, as all four emcees are in attack mode rhyming over a pounding bassline and horn track produced by E-Swift. While Xzibit swears “we haven't been sober since 21 and over,” J-Ro proclaims “You got beef? Then holla / My crew sticks together like Richie and Dollar.”
Though not an overwhelming commercial hit, 40 Dayz was a critical success, and put Xzibit on a path to stardom. He linked up with Dr. Dre soon afterwards, appearing with Snoop Dogg on “Bitch Please” and multiples songs on Dre’s mega-hit 2001, including a memorable verse on “What’s the Difference?” He continued to release albums, which were more commercially accessible and successful than his previous efforts. Eventually he began getting into acting, and became the star of MTV’s Pimp My Ride reality show.
Xzibit doesn’t record full albums much anymore; his last project was Napalm (2011). He remains active in both the music and acting fields, as he appeared on Dre’s Compton (2015) and had a regular acting gig on Empire. But truthfully, he laid out his plan on 40 Dayz and followed through with it, and is currently enjoying the spoils of his hard work and laser-like focus.