XXXTentacion is a multi-faceted artist. All at once, he manages to be a provocateur yet also a talented maverick, a profound poet whilst brash and brutish; X is a 19-year-old troubled soul but he is also an unexpected beacon of light. Controversy sticks to him like glue and in all honesty, he courts the infamy. Yet 17 is different, it is not the same mischievous fun as that which inhabits his hit ‘Look at Me’ that guides this album. No, 17 according to ‘The Explanation’, the album intro, is designed to “cure or at least, numb your depression.” This 11-track composition is an entirely new creation of X’s and touches on various elements of vulnerability, anger, depression and unlikely as it may seem, hope. And it is that which distinguishes 17 as an album and by extension, XXXTentacion from the SoundCloud generation of rappers he emerged from. His authenticity is unquestioned.
From his abundance of Soundcloud tracks to his EP Revenge and now 17, X uses experimentation to highlight his uniqueness as an artist. The album length is far from the norm, only 21 minutes long in total. The harsher stereotypical trap beats of his contemporaries, Kodak Black, Lil Pump, Playboi Carti and Ski Mask The Slump God are present on one song. But even so, F**k Love (Feat.Trippie Redd) is far from the usual capitalistic adoration of money or having sex with various women or even drugs, none of said staples of trap music even appear on the track. Instead, this is a love song of sorts with an alternative rock tone, ‘Please bae, don’t go switchin’ sides, switchin’ sides’ is Trippie Redd’s contribution with X following with “Lost it, riots, Gunfire inside my head.” With the whirlwind of a rough bringing and now allegations against XXXTentacion of domestic abuse, violence, and robbery, though all would vehemently condemn this behaviour, this song does provide some insight into the trauma such an experience creates.
17 Album Cover
The album cover is much like the music within, a clutter of various sheets of paper defined with a black and bold scrawl of writing. Symbolising the whole aura of the project is the quote ‘There is no end to the pain. You must be numb,’ capitalised while polaroids of X trapped in his own embrace adorn the cover. There exists a lonely respite from the melancholy, ‘You are not alone’ written in the corner.
Listening to the first song immediately engulfs the listener within the centrality of death and depression in XXXTentacion’s experience. Jocelyn Flores, arguably the best song on the album, is an ode to a friend of X’s, who committed suicide earlier this year whilst visiting him in Florida. A sample of Shiloh Dynasty’s ‘I Knew You So Well’ is the intro and bridge to the track and has an almost haunting element when X adds his own voice to faintly sing ‘I know you’re somewhere, somewhere…’ Suddenly and with visceral lyricism, the tempo switches and we hear the angry side of pain; ‘picture this, in bed, get a phone call, girl that you f**ked with killed herself, that was this summer and nobody helped, and ever since then, man, I hate myself,’ The storytelling on this song, like the rest of the album is impeccable, I do wish it was long enough to fully immerse oneself in.
Everybody Dies in Their Nightmares is not a rap song, at least I cannot envision this in the same category that so dominates our charts. X is a non-conformist, existing partially in a space where I can see hints of Isaiah Rashad’s fusion of rapping, singing and unorthodox beats, with Lil Uzi Vert’s alternative rock sort of sound. But completely different. The simplicity and contrasting mellow Shiloh Dynasty vocals with his fast-paced chorus lyrics, ‘Tired of feelin’ like my life is a damn game, Nigga really wanna die in the night time’ was a fascinating move. However, one line defined the experience of the song, ‘Only time I’m in my mind, when I’m all alone.’ Depression can feel like the most unimaginable isolation and this song forces one to look inwards and to explore our own mental state.
‘I’ve dug two graves for us my dear,’ is the introductory line to Revenge, the Confucian inspired 4th track on the album. Legend has it, Confucius, an ancient oriental philosopher stated that ‘before embarking on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.’ The implication being that both parties are killed in the act of revenge, one losing their life and the other, their soul. This tune is a unique take on a classic rock style with a plausibly country influence, with the acoustic guitar and simple beats. It has a skeletal feel as a song and yet for this reason can communicate a different message to the rest of the album. Not quite hope, but a self-satirical tone plays a part, ‘oh man, what a world the things I hear, If I act on my revenge oh would I?’ X definitely knows what’s up in the world and as he searches his, likely busy, social media he plays with those thoughts of casting reason to the birds.
XXXTentacion At a Concert
Shiloh Dynasty vocals with XXXTentacion’s blunt but accessible flow create a harmony on their shared tracks. Carry On is the 9th track, an anti-love song that seethes with anguish, despair and hate and yet delivered a message of existence against all odds. His feelings for his former girlfriend, whom it is alleged he strangled while pregnant, are blurred with ‘Bitch, I’m hoping you f**king rest in peace… I f**king hate that I love you still.’ The oxymoronic position of vulgarity with love is not lost on anyone and yet it is the repeated last lyric that provides the clarity in this fog of emotion. ‘Got no choice but to carry on,’ Life is inevitably a battle, moreso for some than others, but surrendering to the forces around you should never be the answer.
All in all, an unorthodox, unusual and a complete break with the concept of the conventional rap album. XXXTentacion is still young and reckless, but his talent and versatility have an incredible potential and despite the despair he has in his heart, I cannot wait to witness him carry on revolutionising the music world.