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Mace & Crown | February 19, 2018

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XXXtentacion is Putting up his own Personal Numbers With his Freshman Album ‘17’

Aaron Brown | Contributing Writer

Moving beyond his raucous and riot induced hits, Xxxtentacion, an artist known for his heavy metal and screamo inspired hip-hop hits “Look At Me!” and “Sippinteainyohood”  leaves himself emotionally exposed with his debut album, 17. The album is a 22-minute defiance of genre. Xxxtentacion skillfully weaves himself in a no-mans land of influences between hip-hop, R&B and soft rock where X is able to show off both his range as a singer-songwriter and rapper.

The 19-year-old rapper started his career on the music streaming service, Soundcloud, where he’s managed to gain a cult following of supporters. His platinum single “Look At Me! ” which brought X into the public eye, took off while he was still serving time in prison. X is also a member of the “members only” collective, along with “catch me outside” rapper, Ski mask the slump God, who is also gaining traction.

True to his roots as an independent artist with a distribution deal with Empire, X keeps up the constant airs of skilled amateurism. From the sampled snippets X uses featuring the enigmatic underground musician, Shiloh Dynasty, to the blown out sonics that made his early style distinct.

The album is titled “17” as a reference to the tattoo X wears on the side of his face. The album also recounts many of the defining moments and pains that occurred at that age. X describes “17” as his “own personal number.” In his own words on the album cover X writes, “My sanity Left me when I was 17, My heart broke beyond repair when I was 17, I realized the pain is and will always be a cycle when I was 17.”

Although X is known for his emotive and lyrical raps, “17”features only three out of 11 tracks of actual bars. With that being said, when he does take the time to express himself in meter and rhyme, it hits like a brick.

In much the same way that Drake paved the way for romantic vulnerability to have a place in rap, or Kanye made it acceptable to be conscious, Xxxtentacion should be commended for bringing a whole new patina to an aging genre with the way he is able to speak on psychologically darker subjects.  

Specifically, on “Jocelyn Flores,” the first song the album, which is a wake of sorts for a friend and fan of the same name that committed suicide. From the start, his first verse grips the listener with an admission of vulnerability, as X contemplates the unthinkable: “I’m in pain, wanna put ten shots in my brain/ I’ve been trippin’ ’bout some things, can’t change/ Suicidal, same time I’m tame.”

“Depression & Obsession” is a Dirge to X’s relationship with a woman who is left unnamed for the majority of the album. X falls further down the rabbit hole as he talks about his fears of being alone and his use of vapid sex and materialism to distract him.

The single track, “Revenge,” is an indie guitar ballad of vengeance, as X vows comeuppance to his enemies and the world. This was also another song dedicated on behalf of Jocelyn Flores.

Track six, Save Me” is a warning on the dangers of being stuck in one’s own head. This track is followed by “Dead Inside,” which is an interlude that escalates X’s descent into his personal thoughts of betrayal by the mystery woman.

This distrusts culminates in “F–ck Love,” a new wave trap record featuring up and coming artist Trippie Redd. Redd brings his rock influenced trap soul vocals, in what will definitely be the next single for the album.

“Carry On” is another song featuring the enigmatic artist, Shiloh Dynasty, that finds X confronting the fact that even through betrayal, he is still in love with a woman. “Orlando” is a “Fray/Civil Twilight” inspired track with catchy piano chords, and melancholy songwriting, “So nobody wants death/ ‘Cause nobody wants life to end.”

The album concludes with an outro titled, “Ayala.” “Ayala” is the name of X’s ex-girlfriend, who is finally revealed: “She showed me things love can’t forget.”

Though the album is thematically cohesive the has it’s issues: one being that the project stops short of any real change. “17” is developed by X’s revelation of the situation he finds himself in, and not necessarily of any change in self. This may be annoying to some, but it could also have been completely intentional. Depression doesn’t ever permanently go away, and X knows this from experience. This can be seen on the cover of the album where he describes it as a “cycle. 

In the same way, X doesn’t seem to offer any concrete solutions to depression other than his extreme form of acceptance through confrontation. While his ambitions are admirable, if your prologue states that the purpose of the project is to cure or lessen depression, then one would assume it would actively and clearly make steps to do so.

A much more pressing deficit to the album is its real world context. At the present moment Xxxtentacion, is being investigated on charges of aggravated assault and battery of his pregnant ex, Ayala – the same woman in the outro. X vehemently rejects the allegations, and even makes allusions to being set up in the song “falsely accused/misused, and misled/ I’m hoping you f–cking rest in peace.” 

Although his fan base appears to believe X’s statements, the prosecution allegedly has the sworn testimony of several witnesses, condemning audio recordings and 51 medical records, according to an article by Complex. With this still being an ongoing case, it’s understandable for some readers to give this album a hard pass.

The album has is a commercial success having sold 85k units in its first week with very little marketing. In perspective, 21 Savage, who has had features with artists like Drake, Travis Scott and Gucci Mane, with a cosign from his partner and social media influencer Amber Rose, only managed to sell 77,000 units. This shows the strength of X’s cult following, and the depth of his musical prowess.

In addition, It’s even garnered praise from hip hop legends like Kendrick Lamar who tweeted out “Listen to this album if you feel anything. Raw thoughts,” with a link to “17” under the caption.

In the end, “17” isn’t a traditional mainstream genre album, and moreover, it doesn’t possess the vapidity of a novelty record. There’s just a certain quality to the music and lyrics that give it a sense of timelessness. While it is understandable that some to be hesitant towards listening to the album, it is highly recommended. 

Score: 3.9/ 5