Xzibit: 'I Love What Hip-Hop's Done For My Life, But I Don't Want Hip-Hop To Consume My Life' 

5 June 2024 | 12:16 pm | Cyclone Wehner

Ahead of Xzibit's upcoming 3:Twenty tour with D12 and Obie Trice, the rapper talks acting, the impact of 'Man Vs Machine', and what's next.


Xzibit (Source: Supplied)

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Hip-hop gave Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner a career in Hollywood. But now the former Pimp My Ride host and Empire television star is returning to music, touring to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his blockbuster album Man Vs Machine – and promoting a comeback, King Maker. Only Joiner is already seeking fresh challenges.

After three decades in the entertainment biz, Joiner is at ease with interviews. Zooming from a porch in California, the polymath, sporting a black Detroit Tigers baseball cap and a plain T-shirt, relishes chatting about the craft of acting as much as his come-up – sharing anecdotes worthy of a talk show guest.

"X" first toured Australia with the Big Day Out back in 2003—the Foo Fighters were top-billed—and fan footage on YouTube captures his energy. He most recently visited in 2014. 

This month, the American will embark on his biggest run here yet with Detroit's D12 and Obie Trice – a triple t(h)reat, all 3:Twenty co-headliners marking 20th anniversaries. "I'm excited about coming," Joiner enthuses. "I always have a good time in Australia."

Is hitting the road with peers competitive or like a party? "Well, I mean, we're there to do something important," Joiner replies. "So we have fun doing what we do. But it is about getting that show tuned in to 100 per cent so that the fans come and feel like they're getting their money's worth and feel like they had an experience."

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As a rapper, Joiner is best known for his mid-career albums Restless and Man Vs Machine. Yet his poetic and emotive 1996 debut At The Speed Of Life is a cult classic. 

Born in Detroit, Joiner endured hardship in childhood. When he was nine, his mother passed. Joiner's father shortly remarried, and the family relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Wrestling with grief, rage, and hormones, the teen briefly fell into a life of crime but discovered release in rapping. Resolving to pursue music, Joiner moved to Los Angeles. 

The gruff-voiced MC developed a distinctive, and dynamic, street style – his lyrics exploring hardcore and conscious themes. He was adopted by the underground group Tha Alkaholiks and, loyal, maintains his association with the Likwit Crew.

Though now a West Coaster, Joiner signed to Steve Rifkind's New York-based Loud Records, which famously launched the Wu-Tang Clan. In 1996, the battler premiered with the single Paparazzi, lifting its melody from Gabriel Fauré's Pavane (via Barbra Streisand's '70s rendition), which he still performs.

Does Joiner agree that his debut At The Speed Of Life is overlooked? "No, I think the people that are my real fans, that have been part of my journey, they understand… I was 19 when I made that record – 19-20 years old. I was still coming into my own as an artist as well. So, if you listen to my first album and then you fast-forward to the third album [Restless], the growth in coming into my voice was done on the first two records.

"But it's really good because I feel like I had a chance to grow up with my audience. So they got to see me finding out who I was when I was making these records. 

"I found a safe place coming up from a traumatic childhood and experiences from that. I found a safe place to kick and scream and be angry and tell my story – and without hurting myself or others. It turned out to be really helpful and therapeutic for me to make these records. I put a lot of myself into my music. So I think that's what people are attracted to."

Joiner appreciates that, in the streaming age, listeners can uncover both At The Speed Of Life and its follow-up, 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz. "I'm really happy with people finding me now or finding me then, as long as they find me."

At any rate, that early output piqued the interest of Dr. Dre. The G-funk godfather recruited him for Snoop Dogg's single Bitch Please and his own album 2001. Dre subsequently executive produced Joiner's 2000 breakthrough, Restless, with Snoop and Eminem as guests.

"Working with Dr. Dre was definitely a turning point in my career – being able to be around that level of execution and professionalism really raised the stakes for me," he says. "It gave me an opportunity to get in front of an audience that I had been prepared for [and] for quite some time – and to be accepted and to be in that circle and taken around the world with that music was incredible."

In 2002, Joiner re-emerged with Man Vs Machine, led by the hit Multiply (featuring Nate Dogg)—his mentor Dr. Dre again at the helm. The album became his highest-charting, reaching #3 in the US. Eminem bolstered him on the fierce My Name. The pop-leaning track Heart Of Man interpolates Toto's Africa

"All my records are special to me, but that one was definitely important. It was coming off the Restless album and really expanded my career; expanded my audience. It just was a great time – and it still allows me to do music to this day."

However, Joiner was disappointed that Man Vs Machine wasn't better promoted by Sony Music, which had then subsumed Loud. As such, he went independent following 2004's Weapons Of Mass Destruction. Joiner last ventured out with 2012's Napalm, his seventh LP – among its producers, the Aussie M-Phazes.

Joiner has reunited sporadically with Dr. Dre. He graced the legend's "final" album Compton, a tie-in with F Gary Gray's NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton – rapping on Loose Cannons alongside Above The Law's Cold 187um. "It's always good to get a call from Dr. Dre," he laughs.

The rapper largely devoted the 2000s to establishing a profile in Hollywood after becoming the presenter of MTV's reality TV smash Pimp My Ride – although he'd made his silver screen debut in 1999's comedy The Breaks

The star has shown a flair for choosing varied projects. Joiner cameo-ed in Eminem's vehicle 8 Mile (as did Obie), but he's had substantial roles in the Hitchcockian crime thriller Derailed (opposite Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston), The X-Files: I Want To Believe and Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans (with Jennifer Coolidge, no less).

At least initially, pivoting was tricky. "Actually, acting is something I really have to work at," Joiner divulges. 

Joiner recollects his first major movie, 2005's XXX: State Of The Union, with Ice Cube as lead – unusually, he didn't even audition. "When I watched the film, I was like, 'Oh, this is horrible! This is really not good.' The film was great, but my performance, I felt like it was very flat and very dry and very one-note and just didn't have any personality to it. So that's when I found my acting coach, and I started taking this seriously. 

"Now, every time I get a script or something that I accept, I go to her, and we sit down, we make it very personable, we give it layers, we give it texture – and then I'm ready to work. 

"So I really had to put myself through 'acting school' in order to really know what I wanted to achieve in acting."

Joiner has many a tale from sets. "I really enjoyed filming Derailed," he recalls. Still, getting into character as the strong-armer in an elaborate con proved difficult. On the first day, Joiner had to pretend to "rough up" his castmate Aniston – her then-real-life husband, Brad Pitt, observing from the sidelines. "I've never touched a woman like that in my life," he shudders. "She's being really professional, so she's crying at the time, but it's really freaking me out! I'm like, 'I really don't wanna do this,' right?"

The Swedish director Mikael Håfström guided him. "That was the entrance of me coming from music into [acting] – 'cause the realism of what music is and how much of myself I have to put into it, acting is totally different. So I had to kind of groom myself into being able to be in another person and not make it a reflection of me." 

Joiner flew his father to London's Elstree Studios – "where they film Star Wars" – and sat in on a dramatic scene where Owen shoots him. "My dad out of nowhere screams, 'Oh my God – how unfortunate,'" Joiner chuckles. "[The] director yells, 'Cut! Who the fuck was that? Who was that?' 'That's Xzibit's dad.' 

"[The] shot was ruined. They had to spend a whole 'nother hour setting these [special effects blood] squibs up. I went to talk to my dad. I was like, 'Hey, you know, it's not real. I'm okay,' He's like, 'Alvin, it looked so real, I'm sorry…'" 

Joiner mollified Håfström. "[He] wanted to cut somebody's head off. But, when he found out it was my dad, he saw his son get shot, it looked really real, he was like, 'Oh, well, okay. All right. We'll let that one slide.'" 

It's now myth. "We had a really good laugh about that. I saw Clive Owen out – he reminded me of that. So that was really cool."

Another movie Joiner enjoyed making was 2006's inspiring sports drama Gridiron Gang, in which he co-starred with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. "Being able to find roles that take me out of what people already try to perceive me as is very important to me," he explains. "I'll take things that challenge me as an actor, not necessarily something that I could just do – you know, 'Thug Number One' – in the film roles."

In later years, Joiner has been equated with his stand-out portrayal of producer Leslie "Shyne" Johnson in Empire – an adjustment for the thespian as network television operates at a faster pace. "You have to come prepared," he notes. "You get to do one table read, and then they're shooting the next day."

Mind you, Joiner never abandoned music, rather expanding his repertoire. He contributed to Def Jam's innovative '90s hip-hop era compilation The Rapsody Overture: Hip Hop Meets Classic and has featured on LPs from Limp Bizkit and Alice Cooper. 

Today, Joiner is prioritising hip-hop. In recent years, the rapper has teased a new album, King Maker (he aired a possible single, Elevator, in 2019). And it's due "soon", he assures fans.

"It is coming! It's mixed, mastered and ready to go. We're gonna start visuals up now. I've really taken a real focus on this record. I feel like it's some of my best work. 

"People haven't seen me put a record out since 2012. So it's important for me to make sure that this lands the way it's supposed to.

"There's some big announcements coming out about it that I can't reveal here just yet. But I will be performing new music on this tour that I'm on. So, if you wanna get a glimpse of what that new music sounds like, come to these shows."

Hip-hop was once regarded as youth culture but, defying generationalism, the Wu-Tang Clan are performing critically-acclaimed shows with a Las Vegas residency. Joiner admits that, like Slim Shady, he's contemplated quitting, with King Maker conceivably his finale.

"I've been told by my team I gotta stop telling people I'm gonna retire," he laughs. "Yeah, I don't know about retirement… But I'll do music as I feel it. I think that's where it has to happen. I love what hip-hop's done for my life, but I don't want hip-hop to consume my life. 

"There's other things that I'd like to get into; there's other things that I'd like to accomplish in life. But hip-hop is a huge part of that – and I will continue to make music as long as I feel it."

Joiner is attuned to contemporary rap – especially valuing the opportunities it provides disadvantaged kids. "I think hip-hop is always in a good place, even when I don't agree with it, or I may not find the creative path that I like to see." 

Inevitably, media outlets like TMZ have probed this hip-hop statesman about the feud between Drake and Kendrick Lamar, his homeboy. "It was like a boxer going up against a lacrosse player – two different sports," Joiner jokes. "They don't play well against each other. But it was good to see that, at the end of the day, popularity still did not take over the content and the music and the conceptual delivery of what Kendrick did."

An instinctive storyteller, Joiner intends to pen an autobiography—and he has a title: Can You Take A Punch? "But," he says, "I haven't started it yet because I still feel like there’s some chapters that need to be lived out."

Xzibit will tour Australia and New Zealand with D12 and Obie Trice this month. Tickets are available via Destroy All Lines.



Featuring Xzibit, D12 and Obie Trice

Thursday 20 June - Hindley Street Music Hall, Adelaide (Kaurna)

Friday 21 June - Eatons Hill, Brisbane (Meanjin)

Sunday 23 June - Forum Theatre, Melbourne (Naarm)

Tuesday 25 June - Enmore Theatre, Sydney (Eora)

Friday 28 June - Wolfbank Arena, Christchurch (Ōtautahi)

Saturday 29 June - Trusts Arena, Auckland (Tāmaki Makaurau)