Lil Xan’s singsong flow, for all its perceived faults and flaws, is the thing that sets him apart in a seemingly endlessly sea of same-sounding Soundcloud rappers, and it’s the driving force of his debut album, Total Xanarchy. While his troll-like demeanor has certainly rubbed many the wrong way, with Total Xanarchy, the Redlands, CA rapper born Diego Leanos declares his intention of being taken seriously as a real rapper, even if his execution is still a little lopsided.
The biggest issue here is the inconsistency between the messaging in the choruses, which are thoroughly catchy and often contradictory to his stage name, with the sort of generic subject matter of his rapped verses. While I wasn’t expecting any lyrical miracles from the “Betrayed” rapper, he does step up a bit in terms of his rhyme construction without actually making a commiserate jump in content.
For instance, on the above-mentioned lead single, “Betrayed” — incidentally, the song that initially put him on the mainstream radar after it took Soundcloud by storm — the hook warns of the dangers of the prescription drug when taken recreationally. However, the verses are Stunting 101 for young rappers who have a tendency to ape their more established faves while casting about for their own identity.
This happens to Xan a number of times on Total Xanarchy. A prime example is on the otherwise enjoyable Rae Sremmurd-featuring “Shine Hard.” Over a crystalline synth lead with requisite bellowing 808s, Xan and the brothers Sremm hit cruise control early, gliding through a standard flexing track that may yet become a club staple with the right label push. However, he’s pretty nearly indistinguishable from Swae Lee in terms of cadence and delivery, making him sound like a guest on his own song.
The song that immediately succeeds it, “Round Here,” is even less believable coming from the same rapper who pacifistically plead out of a recent altercation sparked off by his earlier Tupac comments. But when you’re on a hard-driving, threat-filled song with YG, you adapt to survive. His menacing boasts are serviceable, but sound less like something he came up with on his own and more like the result of having one of LA’s more outspoken gangsta rappers shoehorned onto his debut.
Oddly, he sounds more comfortable himself on the older tracks, which generally clock in at shorter runtimes of around 90 seconds or so. “Basically,” “Deceived,” “Slingshot,” and “Betrayed” give him spacier beats to rap over, allowing his flow a little more room to breathe. While this has the unfortunate side effect of highlighting some of his lyrical crutches, it also allows him to prove that he’s more than a mumble rapper. “Deceived” especially allows him to elbow out a more measured, but peculiar pocket that might be where he needs to spend a little more time on future cuts.
The EDM-washed “Color Blind” might be the biggest misstep here, as the beat overwhelms anything Xan can do to it and the final product ends up sounding like it belongs to another project entirely. One of the strongest tracks is the Charli XCX-featuring “Moonlight,” which covers the well-worn trope of stunting on an ex, but it’s also where Xan sounds most lyrically confident and here the hook and verses find the most synergy on the album. “Tick Tock,” with 2 Chainz may end up being one of the fan favorites as 2 Chainz turns in yet another scene-stealer of a verse that will be fun as hell to rap along too under the influence at 2 AM.
Total Xanarchy isn’t a mind-blower by any means, but it does establish that Xan isn’t just a one-hit wonder and is at least dedicated to improving at his craft, even as it lacks a real direction and meanders a bit in the middle. It also proves that he stands best on his own, especially when he has the room to experiment and begin to carve out his own musical identity free of label-sponsored, synergy-seeking features. He may not be a finished product yet, but his debut album is a fun enough project and gives plenty of reasons to be excited for a possible future where he is one.
Total Xanarchy is out now via Columbia Records. Get it here.