X. Kubrick may be a new name to readers of this site, but his work prior to the beginning of this project is likely at least somewhat familiar.
The Delaware-based rapper/producer, born Xavier Wilson, also has his feet firmly planted in the region’s hardcore scene, playing guitar for Simulakra and Vicious Embrace and at one point for Delaware flagbearers Year of the Knife.
His design work has also graced album covers for Rain of Salvation, Constrict, and a split release by Dying Wish and Serration.
X.Kubrick’s debut offering, an EP entitled The Seven Levels of Happiness, is a solo effort in every sense of the word. The entire release was written, produced, recorded, and had its artwork designed by Wilson himself. Having just recently celebrated his 23rd birthday,
Wilson looks back on '90s rap through a reverential archival lens. Asked about his early experiences with hip-hop, he said:
“I remember being a kid and hearing 'In Da Club' by 50 Cent all over radio and 'Gold Digger' by Kanye too, eventually I discovered Eminem from songs like 'Lose Yourself' and 'The Real Slim Shady,' which are my earliest memories with it.
"I got truly introduced to it by my mom when she showed me shit like 2Pac, Biggie, Warren G, Nate Dogg, and Snoop. My appreciation for it grew more and more as I got older.”
Mixing in influences from both east and west coast, Wilson cites as influences “[Lyrically]…Biggie, Eminem, Big Pun, Nas, and Jay-Z specifically (along with members of Wu-Tang like Raekwon and GZA, DMX, and Ice Cube).
"As far as producers I gotta say Dr. Dre, Havoc from Mobb Deep, RZA, Alchemist, and probably DJ Premier too.” Other sources of sonic inspiration for Wilson’s new project include Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt, Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, and Dr. Dre’s 2001.
Wilson recommends these classic albums to any hardcore kid listening to his music who may not have ever done a deep dive on '90s rap.
The Seven Levels of Happiness opens with the track “No Sun (Intro),” leading off with a minor-key keyboard sample that sets an ominous tone for what’s to come. X. Kubrick introduces himself to the world with the couplet “The world is fucked and everybody sees it/Evidence is everywhere, but it’s evident everyone chooses not to believe it.”
Throughout the EP, X. Kubrick weaves in dexterous bars over his own grim-sounding production to create a listening experience comparable to being enveloped on all sides by a dark cloud.
Tracks like lead single “Welcome to the Darkside” and EP closer “Happy Thoughts” make repeated allusions to Wilson’s own intrusive thoughts and how he uses writing as a way of getting out his worst feelings.
Wilson’s struggles with mental health permeate the lyrics of the EP and it is clear both from the tone and content that rapping is his therapy and outlet.
“The whole project and me rapping in general was born out of severe depression,” says Wilson. “I’ve dealt with that and anxiety for as long as I can remember, my life definitely hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows.
"I felt like the darker themes were representative of my influences and my personal life, as well as my love for music and media that doesn’t give you ‘nice’feelings. I’ve always felt darker, more uncomfortable music can strike a greater visceral chord with people.”
A stand-out track is the politically charged “By Any Means Necessary,” written during the Black Lives Matter protests that began to take off over the summer following the murder of George Floyd.
The 5-minute lyrical marathon that never relents for a hook and delivers a scathing indictment of the police and racism in the United States. “I purposely didn’t write a chorus or anything like that because my goal wasn’t to make a catchy song,” expands Wilson.
“The goal was to make some shit that would force people to listen to what I had to say and take everything in. Just fueled by anger and sadness about the [George Floyd] situation and others like them before.”
Though the project was initially conceived as a way for Wilson to keep himself busy during COVID lockdown, honing his craft while sitting alone in his bedroom, this is not a stand-alone release. Wilson says, ““I got all the songs [for a follow-up] written and most of em produced,” so we will luckily be hearing more from X. Kubrick in 2021.
The Seven Levels of Happiness is available now on Bandcamp.
*Quotes have been edited for length and clarity