Artist Spotlight : Xavier Wulf

By Oliviero Zanalda

Every so often, an artist or group of artists will emerge and immediately cause an impact, becoming widely acknowledged by the public as influential. While certain artists have been fully credited for their music and influence, as they should be, many artists haven’t received the full recognition they should get. This series is meant to highlight artists that haven’t been fully credited for their experimentation, artistic capabilities, and influence on music. 

Xavier Wulf is by far one of my favorite artists of the past decade. The Memphis born, LA based rapper is one of the pioneers (along with Bones, Chris Travis, and Black Smurf) of the dark, underground Memphis rap scene that created the “trap-metal” subgenre of hip hop. Some of the most notable current mainstream artists include $uicideboy$, City Morgue, 6ix9ine (in sound, not persona), and XXXTentacion. This sub-genre utilizes loud, often vulgar, and in-your-face lyrics, dark trap production, and reckless personas that aren’t focused on money and fame like many mainstream trap artists. In its birth in the early 2010s, trap-metal was highlighted by its rejection of the mainstream and its embrace of skate and BMX culture. While many of these artists have changed and conformed to current trap standards, Xavier Wulf has always been the self-proclaimed king of the underground, which we hear in “Request Refused”, where he states, “I’m an underground king and I ain’t gonna drop the belt”, and that’s why he has such a loyal fan base. 

Biography and Early Career

Xavier Wulf, whose real name is Xavier Beard, was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1992. He started rapping in his late teens around 2011, originally going by the name Ethelwulf as a part of the rap group RaiderKlan, which included rappers such as Spaceghostpurrp and Denzel Curry. He released his debut mixtape The Wolf Gang’s Rodolphe in March of 2012, before leaving RaiderKlan to pursue a solo career. RaiderKlan’s importance can’t be understated as they were one of the first rap groups to exclusively release music through free streaming services, being cited as early pioneers of the 2016 Soundcloud movement. Wulf’s early work was heavily inspired by Memphis legends Three-Six Mafia with absurdly violent lyrics and rudimentary production (listen to “Who the F**k is You” and “Help Yo Self” for early examples of Wulf’s solo work). It wasn’t until the release of Blood Shore Season 1 in 2014 that Wulf started to develop the sound that he’s so well known for. His breakthrough mixtape Blood Shore Season 2, released the same year as the first mixtape in the series included “Psycho Pass”, which blew up on the now non-existent social media app, Vine. This is how I was introduced to his work. 

How I Discovered Him

When I discovered Xavier Wulf, I was a moody 7th grader in late 2015, the era of hoverboards, Fetty Wap, and Vine. I was coming off a three year long Eminem phase and I was searching for rappers who broke the lyricism mold that I had become so accustomed to. When I first heard “Psycho Pass”, I only heard seven seconds of the song, which was only the beat drop, but I was immediately hooked. The song’s repetitive, submarine-radar-like beeping accompanied by the rapid 808s and slow bass, which are all introduced separately, counter Wulf’s pugnacious voice and lyrics. His lyrics in this song are simple and almost as aggressive as his delivery, with the topics consisting of infidelity, smoking weed, ridding himself of his opponents by any means necessary, and burning incense for some reason. One of the best parts of the song is when Wulf says, “I’m standing on a boat finna set the damn sail/I burn incense because my brain likes the smell/She get a whiff and thought that it was a spell/I ain’t say, ‘Come,’ but she at the hotel” which he spits right before the aggressive beat drop where the production finally matches his energy. I continued to listen to the rest of Blood Shore Season 2, which is widely considered as his best project by critics and fans alike. Following the success of the mixtape, he continued to drop similar two Tundra Boy Season projects and Project X, which includes the song “Akina Speed Star”, another breakthrough song for Wulf which includes an intro sampled from the anime Initial D.

 

Anime

Another aspect that sets Wulf apart from many rappers of the genre is his love of anime. In many of his songs, including “Akina Speed Star”, he references anime characters and settings. In “Tis the Season” he states, “Princess Mononoke chiefing chee out with Chiyoko”, Princess Mononoke is a reference to the 1997 anime Princess Mononoke from anime legend Hayao Miyazaki and Chiyoko is from the 1998 anime Akira, which is also referenced in the title “Akira Speed Star”. On “Tokyo Drift”, he remixes the Japanese hip hop group, Teriyaki Boyz iconic song “テリヤキ・ボーイズ TOKYO DRIFT (FAST & FURIOUS)”. These days, the fusion of hip hop and anime is common in the industry as Rappers have adopted the Japanese art style to design album covers, merch, music videos, and public persona. Rapper Lil Uzi Vert’s Instagram bio makes the controversial claim that he’s “Asian on the inside”. In 2018, Kanye West claimed that Akira “is not only the greatest animation achievement in history, the subject matter is so relevant to the current state of the world” on Twitter. Some fans even claimed that his outfit at the first Donda listening event was inspired by the film. What Xavier Wulf does differently from these artists is how he is (relatively) subtle about his passion for Japanese culture. He doesn’t have wrapped cars like Uzi and doesn’t go on rants about anime on Twitter like Kanye, but instead makes references to characters in his music and collaborates with Japanese artists (listen to “Riding Shotgun in Japan”, Xavier Wulf’s collaboration with Japanese rapper KOHH). His merchandise doesn’t contain anime characters and most of his album covers lack any reference to his love for anime. I appreciate this because I think that the way Lil Uzi uses anime is borderline cultural appropriation, a theme that I’ve noticed is emerging in hip hop.

Fashion and Public Persona

Another aspect that makes him stand out from other rappers is his taste in fashion. Wulf and his collaborators often choose dark clothing and baggy hoodies over designer pieces and overwhelming chains. While Wulf’s main focus is hip hop, he also collaborates with many independent clothing designers and owns his own brand, Hollowsquad. His concerts are as loud and aggressive as his music, reminiscent of underground punk-rock concerts with mosh pits, stage diving, and injuries being a common theme at most of them. His ability to create this kind of energy without assistance from technology is astounding, with reporter Boom from The Knockturnal declaring, “his energy is felt like an atomic bomb with the wave of excitement that passed through the crowd the entire show. No major light show, no pyrotechnics, or star-studded surprises”. Wulf is also known for his passion for refurbished cars, with his BMW E46 m3 making several appearances at his car meet ups around southern California. He recently refurbished another BMW m3 and seems to be working on another BMW. Before becoming a passionate gearhead, Wulf was a BMX enthusiast, however, his keenness for the sport has faded away in the past few years.

Collaborators and Next Steps

Wulf isn’t known for collaborating with bigger rappers, with his most mainstream collaborations being a 2016 feature on Lil Peep’s “drive by” and a 2017 feature on “F**k a Swisher” by Smokepurpp. Wulf’s main collaborators include Bones, Eddy Baker, idontknowjeffery, and, until recently, Chris Travis. What all these rappers have in common is that they hail from East Memphis and blew up around the same time, which is probably why Wulf chooses to collaborate with them instead of branching out. He’s released two mixtapes with Bones, a mixtape with idontknowjeffery, and countless features including the same array of East Memphis rappers. What’s next for Wulf is up in the air as the last project he released, Rude Dog, wasn’t received well by fans. This was due to the fact that he swapped his iconic, aggressive delivery for a lazier flow with mundane lyrics over mediocre production. Since then he’s only dropped a few singles and hinted at Blood Shore Season 3 but hasn’t followed up on the project since. Xavier Wulf’s been in the game for about 10 years and has been dropping projects relatively consistently since he began, so I don’t blame him for wanting to take a break if that’s his plan. If the next project is the third installment in the Blood Shore series, I’m excited to see whether or not he ditches this new flow for his classic delivery. Regardless of this, Xavier Wulf’s impact on hip hop won’t be forgotten. As the genre continues to evolve, his influence will adapt with it and always allow for an alternative sub-genre that one can look for when seeking a harder, darker sound than what mainstream trap can provide.

Recommended Albums:

Blood Shore Season 2

Project X

Tundra Boy Season 2

East Memphis Maniac

Brace

Recommended Songs:

Video of Xavier Wulf performing his 2015 song “Fort Woe”:

Interview with Xavier Wulf from 2014:

On Top of the World: Louisville, White Reaper, and I

My old Kentucky home is the land of many of the world’s superlatives. The world’s greatest horse racing, the world’s best bourbon, the world’s most influential boxer, the world’s largest baseball bat, and also the World’s Best American Band, White Reaper. Both White Reaper and I hail from the same city, Louisville, unknowingly frequenting the same restaurants and music venues for years before I discovered them. They put out their first EP in 2014, three years before I would first register hearing their music, and four before I would meet them and grow to be a huge fan. I must admit that I have not been a fan of White Reaper’s for long, but nonetheless, their music has grown to become a significant part of my life.

The author’s signed White Reaper album. Image Credit: Jane Harris.

My relationship with White Reaper’s music started on Record Store Day a year ago, when I was lucky enough to stumble upon a DJ set by the Wilkerson brothers, twins Sam and Nick, who make up the rhythmic section of the band. They play bass and drums, respectively and amazingly. That day I also met Tony Esposito, lead vocals and guitar, and Ryan Hater, who rocks harder than any other keyboard player I’ve seen live. (This experience left out Hunter Thompson, an incredibly talented guitarist who ironically has the same name as a Louisville icon though he is the only band member who is not from Louisville). At the record store I remember picking up one of their records from the “W” artist section, looking at the picture of the band on the sleeve, holding the record up to my face right next to the band members in real life, and doing a double-take. Within five minutes the record was purchased, I already had their signatures, and was engaged in conversation with the boys. From multiple interactions with the band members it is with ease and certainty that I can say they are some of the most genuine guys I’ve met in the music scene today. I acknowledge my bias as a fellow Louisvillian, but their onstage charm translates offstage as well. Their fan base is so dedicated partly because of how personable they are. They’re cool guys making cool music.

(from left) Ryan Hater, Tony Esposito, Nick Wilkerson, and Hunter Thompson rocking out at Louisville’s Forecastle Festival 2018. Image Credit: Jane Harris.

“The World’s Best…” is a title I would readily give them if they hadn’t already given it to themselves. Their second studio album, The World’s Best American Band, cements their self-fulfilling prophecy as one of the new, upcoming “greats” with tracks that rock, and don’t stop. Listening to the album I was immediately seduced by “Judy French,” as all other listeners are. Soon my favorite off their sophomore album became “Daises,” and before I had exhausted The World’s Best… I was already deep into their earlier tracks: first album “White Reaper Does It Again” (funny, right?) and self-titled EP. Fast forward a few weeks from the day I met them and all my “Spotify heavy rotation” tracks belonged to White Reaper—some personal favorites are still “Alone Tonight,” “I Don’t Think She Cares,” and “Tell Me.” Go a couple more weeks into the future and I’m getting whiplash in the front row at their concert.

Ryan Hater, Tony Esposito, Sam Wilkerson, and I at Forecastle Festival 2018. Image Credit: Jane Harris.

Headbanging and moshing to White Reaper’s music is easy with their catchy guitar riffs, strong rhythm, and especially Esposito’s piercing and unique vocals. You can listen to any White Reaper track once and then be able to pick out Esposito’s voice again, that’s how unique and profound in a strange, ambiguous way he sounds. In combination with their recognizable sound, their stage-presence as some sort of self-proclaimed rock gods also entices and draws in a dedicated audience and fan base. Their energy is pure and contagious. They easily bring everyone to their feet—with songs like “The Stack” it’s impossible not to dance. In this song Esposito sings the truth, “If you make the girls dance, the boys will dance with them,” but White Reaper doesn’t need to make people move because the audience is already dancing. The songs on White Reaper Does It Again, though the production can sound fuzzy at times (something I think adds to the character of some of the more eccentric tracks, like “Friday the 13th”), end as strong as they start. Listening all the way from their first EP to The World’s Best… it’s fun to watch the band grow, gain members, and develop a sound that has potential to fluctuate, develop, and continue to excite. Saying I’m excited to hear new tracks from them in the future would be an understatement—their music makes me feel at home.

(from left) Nick Wilkerson, Hunter Thompson, and Sam Wilkerson during their Forecastle set. Image Credit: Jane Harris.

Strangely enough, of all the things to be proud of about my city and state, White Reaper is at the top of my list. I’ll never forget the first time I saw them live in Louisville—how genuinely proud I was to be a fan of their music, proud of the great Louisville music scene they’re helping to develop, and proud of them being great, compassionate people. From my new, small room in Colorado Springs, listening to White Reaper takes me back to Kentucky in the fall. While blasting White Reaper I’m driving fast around Louisville at night, hanging out with my friends, and feeling like I’m strong, opinionated, and on top of the world.


You can listen to White Reaper’s discography on this handy playlist I’ve made of all their songs on Spotify: