“You are literally entering my mind. And if you are not willing to accept my emotion and hear my words fully, do not listen.”
XXXTentacion delivers those words at the outset of his debut album 17. Beyond all the abhorrent violence, social media beef and other graphic drama, XXXTentacion has fans because of his music, and XXX mostly delivers for them. Though he’s known by casual fans for his frenetic “Look At Me Now,” 17 is a decidedly pensive, subdued expose, rife with laments about his fractured internal dialogue, bad luck with relationships, and guitars that radiate his pain at every pluck.
The acoustic guitar play and earnest vocals on songs like “Jocelyn Flores” feel almost diametrically opposed to the towering tough guy act he’s been known to play in public during conflicts with Drake and Rob Stone. Titles like “Everybody Dies In Their Nightmares,” “Dead Inside,” and “Save Me,” further set the tone as much as the striking album cover, which shows him bare, hiding from the world amidst written affirmations all too familiar to those dealing with depression, such as “you must be numb” and “[pain] will never end.”
Sonically, the 10-track album is a genre-bender that leans way more toward alternative rock than “Look At Me Now” implied his debut album ever would. If the sonics of Lil Uzi’s recent output is sunny, Hot Topic rock via a hip-hop lens, 17 makes a bid to be a canonical marker for a more sullen, existentially conflicted sound. Don’t get me wrong, Uzi is certainly going through it on songs like “XO Tour Life” but compositions like 17’s guitar-driven “Save Me” and the melancholy sample on “Carry On” underscore XXXtentacion’s lyrics and make for truly palpable moments whereas people primarily turn up to Uzi and Future’s pain.
He all out sings for most of the project, intermittently rapping with a choppy, artfully disjointed flow that lends itself less to neat narrative and more of a stream of consciousness. The rapidfire flow packs in self-aware gems like “I’ve been feeling really lost, duckin’ all attachments” and “post traumatic stress got me f—-d up” on the too-brief standout “Everybody Dies In Their Nightmares.”
The album’s main setback is its brevity. Songs like “Revenge” and “F–k Love” would have been better served with longer, more fleshed out tracks — instead they feel like incomplete journal entries. Thematically, the tracks work together to showcase the distress he and many generation Zers are going through, but it’s incredibly telling that the project is short on breakthrough. Given how easily he courts controversy and loses his temper, as well as the record’s release on an imprint called Bad Vibes Forever, it’s obvious he has yet to make sense of that pain.
XXX has positioned himself as a voice of depressed youth in a culture that’s increasingly trivializing (untreated) mental illness — which he contributed to himself with a recent faux-hanging. The project literally came up short, and missed a chance to be transcendent by not offering a fully 360 depiction of life with mental illness to shatter the currently popular notion of depression as an unmanageable excuse for toxic behavior. The pain can and does stop for some. Hopefully, for the sake of not just his music career, but more importantly his life, he can make sense of his suffering, refrain from projecting it through violence, and provide a more complete reclamation project in the future.
You can stream the project below.