Florida rapper XXXTentacion is perhaps the most interesting character in this new generation of hip-hop artists. Coming from SoundCloud success to being at the forefront of hip-hop, X is not afraid to engage in a beef, speak his mind or wear his emotions on his sleeve. Some of those characteristics may seem to be a detriment to his career and public perception, but what those who write him off as another “attention seeking rapper” are missing is that he is immensely talented and quite possibly the future of the genre.
X’s debut album “17” was a huge departure from what he was first known for. Gone were the heavily distorted, bass injected bangers and the offensive, hyper-sexualized lyrics that made him so popular. The album was a deeply personal and intimate look into X’s personal struggles with depression, suicide and heartbreak. The production was ethereal and melodic in one moment and then ominous and acoustic in the next. He was no longer the “juvenile punk” he had gotten a reputation as, but a human being experiencing pain and confusion. After receiving co-signs from hip-hop heavyweights Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole, the narrative around X changed, and his music became the center of conversation surrounding him.
On X’s oddly titled new album “?,” the second installment of a trilogy X has been working on, he dives further into his sonic palette and aspirations for personal growth. There is absolutely no cohesion on this album whatsoever. Much like X himself, this album is all over the place musically and emotionally. On songs like “SAD!” a melancholic pop song, X further explores his issues with suicidal thoughts and confesses to being aware of his sadness and struggles with a heartbreak.
Moments later on “Floor 555” we’re immediately transported into this abrasive and hazy instrumental that sounds like the soundtrack to a manic episode. X’s aggressive delivery matches the song perfectly as he spits violent imagery filled bars on the first half of the track and then screams the rest. The collaboration with Joey Bada$$ on “infinity (888)” is absolutely fantastic, as their lyricism, flow and delivery complement each other perfectly over a dark smoky jazz beat.
We see the aspirational side of X on tracks like “changes” where he details his confusion and pain from trying to be a better person, and how the female protagonist in all of his music makes it difficult for him to move on. Although X’s crooning on this track is not my favorite, his ability to convey emotion and sincerity on the song won me over and made it a highlight on the track-list. On “Hope” X dedicates his sentiments of envisioning a better life for the future to the victims of the Parkland shooting in his home-state of Florida.
The weakest part of “?” is the song structures. Most of X’s songs rarely have more than one chorus or verse from him, sometimes leaving more to be desired from the listener. On tracks like the Travis Barker assisted “Pain=BESTFRIEND” it feels like a crime that the lead guitar melody is cut off in less than two minutes and the track ends with X screaming over some aggressive drums. The track “$$$” has one of the best beats on the album and a earworm auto-tune heavy chorus from Matt Ox, but it barely exceeds two minutes as well.
Despite my small gripes with the album,I am extremely curious to see what X will do next.