The X-Ecutioners Bring Rare Art to Hip-Hop’s ‘Ice Age’

In a hip-hop industry dominated by high-profile MCs and big-name producers, the DJ has become almost non-existent in the minds of hip-hop listeners.

Nowadays, the superstars behind rappers are mainly producers, keyboard masters and switchboard technicians, many of whom have completely abandoned the once-prominent DJ element of hip hop. Producers such as the Neptunes and Timbaland create hit after hit by relying on catchy hooks, fancy sound effects and bass-heavy beats. In the minds of many hip-hop purists, the music is lacking without the scratching and juggling of such legendary disc jockeys as DJ Premier, Pete Rock and Marley Marl. While many underground acts, including Dilated Peoples and the High and Mighty, still utilize the DJ in their music, these skils seem to be a lost artform in hip-hop music.

Here to change all of that is the X-Ecutioners, four highly skilled DJs hailing from New York City. With their amazing sophomore release, “Built from Scratch,” the quartet formerly known as the X-Men aim to reintroduce the world to the complex art of the DJ.

The X-Ecutioners are: Roc Raida, Rob Swift, Total Eclipse and Mista Sinista, all seasoned veterans in the game of hip-hop. The Beatnuts, the late Big L, Inspektah Deck, Large Professor and the late Big Pun are among those who have used the talents of the individual X-Ecutioners in the past. Once the hip-hop community hears “Built From Scratch,” you can be sure that list will increase. This album is 20 tracks of 100 percent, pure hip-hop music, touching on every element and featuring artists who will appeal to all fans of rap music.

What separates this release from the flurry of rap albums populating your local record store is that half of the tracks feature no MC or rhyming. The X-Ecutioners display their mesmerizing DJ skills without holding back, scratching up classic rap songs relentlessly over tight basslines and simple drum loops. They provide old school hip-hop nostalgia on “X-Ecutioners Scratch,” while matching dizzying sound effects with Kenny Muhammed’s oral beat box skills on “A Journey into Sound.” “3 Boroughs” is the X-Ecutioners’ ode to New York City, featuring vocal samples shouting out the boroughs they hail from. The pounding bassline in “Feel The Bass” will sound perfect in any car system, and “X-Ecution Of A Bum Rush” is an amazing collaboration with fellow all-DJ group, The Beat Junkies, that every aspiring DJ should hear.

Two all-DJ tracks stand out from the rest. The first is “X-Ecutioners (Theme) Song,” produced by the always innovative Dan the Automator. It pairs the X-Ecutioners with a fast-paced, cinematic backdrop, which leads into a sick-scratching demonstration of the Wu Tang Clan’s classic “Triumph.”

The X-Ecutioners collaborate with the legendary DJ Premier of GangStarr on “Premiers X-Ecution,” resulting in pure ear candy for any hip-hop fan. I had this song on repeat for hours. Take appreciation as you listen to this gem, you may be hearing the most creative fifty fingers in hip hop.

The remainder of the album features an all-star lineup of guest MCs rhyming over the complex sounds of the X-Ecutioners. The highly underrated veteran, Large Professor, effortlessly flows over his own acoustic-driven production on “XL.” Hip-hop greats Kool G Rap and the late Big Pun aggressively attack the previously released “Dramacyde,” while hip-hop’s rowdiest duo, M.O.P., provide pure adrenaline over a pounding, metal-tinged beat on “Let it Bang.” More star power is shown on “The X (Y’all Know The Name),” which features Pharaohe Monch, Xzibit, Skillz and Inspectah Deck, skillfully rhyming over a funky soundscape. DJ Hahn and Mike Shinoda of the rock group Linkin Park join forces with the X-Ecutioners on “Its Going Down,” a neck-breaking track that bridges rap and rock music can blend together successfully, altough not always seamlessly as this track shows.

Despite two sub-par tracks (“Genius of Love 2002” with the Tom Tom Club and Biz Markie, and “B-Boy Punk Rock 2001” featuring Everlast), “Built From Scratch” is the year’s best hip hop album to date. Die-hard rap fans will enjoy trying to figure out what songs each vocal sample is from and the overall quality of the album, while music fans in general will fully appreciate the art of the DJ. The X-Ecutioners have delivered a major label album that is a rarity in commercial hip hop today: one that goes against the grain to show how truly creative and entertaining the art of hip hop is and, despite what the radio might tell you, still can be.