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When I first spoke to XL Middleton during an interview in 2016, I asked if he ever worried about running out of time. The question referenced the various projects that he juggles at any given time, from running his own record label and store, his solo work, his alter-ego projects, as well as collaborations. But he replied coolly: “There’s time for everything,” he said. Three years later, the Pasadena funk pioneer returns with 2 Minutes Till Midnight, which drops June 7th on MoFunk Records.
The project isn’t that far a shift from Middleton’s formative years, which saw him releasing rap projects, like the rare Big China Mack project. Having stepped away from rap heavy releases for a few years, Middleton is back with his most well-rounded work yet. As he remarks, “it feels like it’s been a cool minute, but it really hasn’t been that long at all.” At just under 60 minutes, 2 Minutes Till Midnight is a carefully crafted extension of Middleton’s long standing catalog. Tracks like “Love When It Comes Down To It” or “Cool Minute” offer sonic touch points to earlier albums, like Tap Water and Things Are Happening. In keeping tradition tight, this album’s cover was designed by Joe Cool, who famously rendered that red brick wall to read “Doggystyle” for Snoop’s artwork.
Middleton always managers to pepper in hypnotic instrumental cuts that sounds perfect for a roller skating rink. “Wintertime in Cali” glide along on a lead synth and is reminiscent of the track, “Ice Level,” from Things Are Happening. Even with the familiar sounds, 2 Minutes Till Midnight is structured around much more lyrical content. For Middleton, a longtime pioneer of L.A.’s modern funk scene, this album is a direct bridge to some of his early influences.
This record sees him rapping more, with features from g-funk legend Domino. “Gentched Up,” examines increasing gentrification while also acknowledging car culture and its impact on climate change, contrasted with the days Middleton pushed a Brougham d’Elegance down Los Robles. “Thank U Slick” is a standout that illustrates rich tapestry of influence. The chorus, sung by Kokane, whose voice holds a George Clinton timelessness in its timbre. Other songs on the album are shaped around the familiar-to-funk theme of love. “What She Sounds Like” featuring I, Ced, is the narrates what can happen when you surrender judgment to romantic interests, regardless of the result. Middleton plays the laid back and wise orator, refuting the playeristic tendencies of younger years.
Like previous MoFunk projects, this album shines most heavily around Middleton’s ability as both player and arranger. The drums still knock like an engine backfire. He narrates, raps, and sings in addition to the stellar production itself, which holds the quality of a live band. 2 Minutes Till Midnight sees Middleton doubling-down on his g-funk and hip hop origins. This music celebrates ice cubes in your Crown Royale, the comedic genius of Bernie Mack, and the enthusiasm surrounding a fresh relationship. It’s less about the night commencing than it is about the morning that follows.
Catch XL Middleton along with the labelmates like Zackey Force Funk and Moniquea at Modern Funk Fest and Record Fair June 28th at The Echoplex.