A Season of Songs, day 23: In the Ways of the Scales

A Season of Songs is a type of Fun-A-Day project that I plan to do throughout this spring.  I’ll hit shuffle on the ol’ iPod and see what comes up.  I’ll then write a bit about that song, the band, the record, whatever.  Enjoy!

Today’s song is “In the Ways of the Scales” by X Clan from their 1990 debut album “To The East, Blackwards”.

Awaken Osiris, it’s time for war
Mount your chariot, I can’t take no more
Life or death, it doesn’t matter I come again
There’s no beginning and there is no end
Popped the stage, turn the page
Coming of Isis, Queen Mother Rage
Witness the sex Overseer the X
Verbalizer funkin lesson give a taste, what’s next

Much like Poor Righteous Teachers, I discovered X-Clan by watching the hip-hop TV show “Pump It Up”.  While many hip hop artists were sporting some level of afro-centric clothing and imagery at that time, X Clan was full in.  As a white teenage kid from Pennsylvania, I wasn’t sure about the authenticity of it all, but they sported what I saw as “traditional” African garb – Ankh, staffs, all of that.  Mixed with the militant, black power, Afro-centric lyrics, it was like nothing I ever heard or seen before.

The lyrics really challenged my vision of both what it meant to be black as well as what it meant to be white.  Lyrics like “Once again, now it comes in the trend, I said “Free South Africa!” – you went to Berlin / Now there’s the problem, I stand firm, beating my chest / You think a silly polar bear could ever put this to rest?” really put into perspective the ways in which white causes got large public attention while issues relevant to people of color were ignored.

Aside from the lyrics, the music and style of the album is just really great.  Super funky tracks and powerful lyrical delivery.  The songs are peppered  with spoken word declarations by Professor X, most of which end in some combination of “protected by the red, the black and the green”, “at the crossroads…”, “…with a key…” and finally “SISSIES!” (not really sure why things always ended in sissies. I don’t think it has anything to do with the gay slur, but ???)  Their follow-up album “Xodus” in 1992 was decent but not as good as their debut.

Both Professor X and producer Sugar Shaft have since passed away.  Paradise the Architect, the other main producer on the album, now lives in Pittsburgh. (My chance to meet Paradise was under not the best circumstances when some Roboto promoter made a kinda racist flyer.  The Roboto board of directors had to meet with a group of understandably upset community members which included Paradise.  It was awkward but it was nice to be able to express my affinity for this album to him).  Since 2006 a new version of X Clan has existed.  I haven’t heard any of this new version’s material.

It always surprises me how many people who were into older hip hop never listened to X Clan.  If that’s you, I highly recommend hunting down “To the East, Blackwards” and giving it a listen.


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