A couple of days ago controversial upstart XXXTENTACION posted a disturbing video to his Instagram. The clip showed the rapper appearing to hang himself, and while brief in length, those couple of seconds were all that was needed to get people talking. While the recording was later revealed to be part of a video shoot, the damage had already been done. Some folks believed he had really hanged himself, while others denounced the rapper for using suicide as a means of promotion. “if you thought I would “pretend” to kill myself for a publicity stunt you’re fucking stupid,” the Florida native clarified in a subsequent post. Being that the wave for today’s newer generation of rappers is owning your depression and anxiety, it’s understandable to dismiss X’s visuals as nothing more than a gimmick; a stunt for the sole purpose of advancing his career. ’17,’ his debut album, quickly puts that notion to bed, revealing a man who’s turned his inner demons into a hauntingly beautiful collection of music.
X gained traction earlier this year for his breakout hit ‘Look At Me!’ a bass-boosted screamo rap banger that flooded forums and clubs. ’17’ however leaves any trace of energy or even fun behind. Acoustic guitars and pianos dominate the project, and while some trap drums and hi hats are present, it’s clear that X wants his lyrics to shine rather than a beat. With 11 songs in only 22 minutes, he has to.
Each song is roughly two minutes of quick confessional bursts, almost as if X is saying how he truly feels before closing himself up again. He touches on suicide, depression, loneliness and the pain of being judged by people who don’t know him. His lyrics are blunt yet filled with pain, like a bandaid being ripped off, or in this case, when you finally get that thing you’ve been dying to say off your mind. ‘Save me before I fall,’ he begs on ‘Save Me.’ The album is uncomfortable in many ways, as the lyrics depict a man who appears to be close to the breaking point. However, sonically the album has a eerie-yet-hauntingly beautiful vibe to it. It’d be too easy to compare the album to Kid Cudi’s ‘Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven,’ as it comes from another sadboy rapper who’d rather strum the guitar than spit bars. Rather the album is reminiscent of emo acts like The Exploration and Empire! Empire! (I Was A Lonely Estate). Even The Fray, who X has stated is one his biggest inspirations, shows up in spirit on this album via the many piano-laced tracks that encompass it.
Recently Kendrick Lamar tweeted that he was a fan of the album, and at the time was on his 5th listen. While the homage seems confusing at first, it’s not that surprising. An artist like Kendrick, who isn’t afraid to tell you how he feels, could easily connect with ’17.’ The vulnerability and honest storytelling is something that any artist who makes a living telling you how they really feel can relate to. Perhaps it’s the reputation X has built as a rowdy shouter-of-nonsense that makes listening to this album nothing short of an enormous wake up call to anyone who only listened to his cuts with Ski Mask the Slump God and not the alt-tinged work he’s done since the beginning. If ’17’ teaches us anything, it’s that depression doesn’t always show up at every waking hour. Often times it lurks deep inside, only coming out when you’re at your most defenseless and weak – when the flashing lights of budding stardom are off and you’re alone with your thoughts.
It’s difficult to make purposefully sad music without sounding hackneyed or trite. While X hiccups here and there, his originality and genre-splicing of 2000s emo and lofi hip hop is worthy of praise. His talent was always apparent from the beginning – it was just a matter of execution. In his own way he hit the mark, creating an album that will resonate with today’s youth who need something they can relate to. At just 19 years old, X may have created a sound for a generation.
17 is available now via EMPIRE and Bad Vibes Forever