With the recent domestic-abuse allegations, “17” album, a place on the 2017 XXL-freshmen list, and now a new music video for “Look At Me”; Florida-state rapper – XXXTentacion – has been placed firmly into the limelight of today’s Hip Hop. In fact, just last week his debut-album – 17 – sold 86,000 units on its first week, with streaming-services accounting for 85% of its sales alone (1,500 streams = 1 album sale. Do the math), thus outselling fellow XXL-Freshman Lil Yachty and his debut album – Teenage Emotions – by almost twice as much on its first week, all as an independent-artist too, while Lil Yachty is signed to QC and Capitol (a major label). Therefore, it’s safe to assume that XXXtentacion does have “star” power comparatively better than that of his contemporaries, and he will be here to stay in the industry until proven otherwise; but just what makes X so appealing to others? I just don’t get it.
Sure, X has got a couple of songs that “slaps in the whip” like “Look At Me”, and he has a plethora of songs that dwell in raw youthful-emotions like “I Don’t Wanna Do This Anymore” and “I spoke to the devil in miami, he said everything would be fine” – I get it, and I understand how people could connect with these songs or just find it appealing. But as an artist; is X really all that? Does he really deserve to transcend all his contemporaries in the rap-game?
17: X’s debut album, was a project he said was marketed to an audience of “those who suffer from Depression”; but did the music deliver what X intended it to? I don’t think so. Firstly, I think the album was heavily restricted by its 22-minute run time to really explore the many ideas about depression or dissect it from multiple lenses – it’s just such an intense topic with many layers of contexts, and it’s something that differs with each person’s experience, that I don’t think 20 minutes – or even 1 hour – of music is enough for listeners to feel “satisfied” or feel as if they left the record with much more understanding of depression as a whole.
Secondly, I don’t think some of the sonics of this album are very good, nor did I personally enjoy them. Some of the instrumentals just don’t sound polished enough for a studio-effort; “Fuck Love” ft. Trippie Redd sounds like something straight out of SoundCloud, “Carry On” sounds like a Lo-Fi Hip Hop beat from SoundCloud too, “Ayala (Outro)” is a weird instrumental, and certain instruments like the pianos on “Dead Inside” and “Orlando” feel out of place for me.
Thirdly, I didn’t really like X’s “singing” nor did I enjoy his songwriting. I thought his rapping and singing were very monotonous too; I know that he’s trying to progress his sound forward and experiment with different textures but I don’t think these attempts really enhanced the songs and their meanings. You could argue that the monotonous delivery in his flow and his singing were used to convey an idea of “dehumanization” in his character due to mental illness and depression – I can acknowledge that, but I don’t think he executed that idea too well anyways.
Finally, I just don’t think there was enough substance to make this album a profound listen. For an album he marketed for “those suffer from depression”, X really made this album all about himself and his bouts with mental-illness/depression. He just tells you his story but he doesn’t do it with any kind of nuance added on to it; there’s nothing for listeners to really deconstruct in the album’s narrative since X just tells us the whole story anyways, therefore removing layers of characterization and songwriting. It’s hard for audiences to relate with X’s complete struggle against depression since most of them weren’t 19-year olds with a bunch of money, hoes, materialistic items and fame when they were in that mental space; instead, audiences can only relate to the simpler narrative of the songs like “I met a girl, we had a one-night stand, I kept avoiding her, her feelings were hurt, she killed herself and now I feel bad” because that’s something that listeners can – more or less – relate to (maybe not the “she killed herself “ part but definitely the “her feelings were hurt and now I feel bad”, or “her feelings were hurt, she made some bad decisions because of those feelings I brought to her, and I now I feel bad”).
All in all: I guess I just consume music differently than today’s generation of audiences. I’ve come to realize that when I listen to music, I also listen to what an artist has to say and I value it very highly when I’m analyzing just how much I personally liked a project. I’m not suggesting that every artist has to drop something socially-aware like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly; I even said that my most personally-significant album this year was Rodeo by Travis Scott. I am, however, just saying that as an artist – you’re given a platform to express yourself, yes, but as listeners – we’re given the powers to critique your expression, analyze it and re-interpret it as our own. I think most artists in today’s mainstream, and most artists I dislike, just don’t have any layers or depth in their self-expression though, so as a listener there’s not much for me to analyze and re-interpret as my own.
This shallowness in an artist’s self-expression determines whether or not I like them, and just how much I really do. For example: compare an artist like Lil Uzi Vert to Travis Scott; both artists play on the same themes of heartbreak, drugs and alcohol, but the thing that separates their music fundamentally, for me anyways, is the depth and layers in their music. Travis Scott’s Rodeo was heavily centered on celebrating a lifestyle money, fame, drugs and alcohol – much like Lil Uzi Vert’s Luv Is Rage – but underneath all of Rodeo‘s songs was a rich narrative of Travis Scott coming to terms with his newfound fame and wealth, and trying to stay true to himself despite being surrounded by distractions and fake friends. This narrative of the album is profound; it’s multi-layered and open for many interpretations from many different angles by listeners. Luv Is Rage however, is just a glorification of the lifestyle of drugs, alcohol, fame and money; Lil Uzi Vert doesn’t give listeners much to deconstruct with the way he wrote his songs – there’s not much characterization, and there’s no substantial metaphors; there’s no layers and there’s no open-to-interpretation concepts.
That same idea can be applied to X’s music. I thought 17 really had little-to-no substance behind its lyrics in the sense that there’s nothing for us to really deconstruct and re-interpret for ourselves since X tells his stories with a very heavy 1st-person perspective, with not much characterization of himself or anyone else, and a lack of open-ended ideas; it’s like “hey, this thing happened, and this is how it happened – all from my perspective though – we won’t even bother discussing or mentioning any other party’s perspective” therefore making his songs declarative and closed-off from re-interpretations. The songwriting is still a bit immature too, and I predict that it won’t age well in the next 5 years, or maybe even 12 months.
However, X’s fanbase and the concept of the album being “for depressed people” were what I think really drove the record’s sales, but sales don’t objectively define a product’s quality – it only objectively defines its demand. So perhaps we can assume that this album only sold well because of the demand for X’s music, and/or the demand for music “for depressed people”. Yet fans have been quick to claim that X’s 22-minute album is already album of the year; beating out Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., Joey Badass’ All Amerikkkan Badass, Brockhampton’s Saturation, Jay Z’s 4:44 and Daniel Caesar’s Freudian. I’m sure I don’t have to compare the depth and layers between those 4 albums and X’s 17; you and I know what’s what.
So what’s with the appeal of XXXTentacion? Is it his aesthetic? Is it his “music for depressed people”? Is it the *sarcastic voice* many layers and depth in his lyrics? or is it just crowd-hype from social media? I don’t know for sure myself, and I’m sure people are attracted to his music for different reasons too, but after listening to his 17 album for a couple of times already, I just don’t get it.