Review: ’17’

XXXTentacion provides heartfelt snippets of his feelings on his debut album.

The enigmatic XXXTentacion is regarded by fans to be the most artistically versatile voices in the American hip hop scene. That is true to some extent, as he dabbles and experiments in genres such as punk rap, old school hip hop, alternative R&B, trap, pop and acoustic. The results aren’t always successful, mainly because his discography is so scattered. 17 is his debut album which was promoted as an “alternative R&B” project targeted for depressed fans.

17 is XXXTentacion’s most sombre work to date. It stays true to a particular sound and theme that is easily digestible, but it suffers from easily-avoidable drawbacks such as song structure and lack of lyrical depth.

At a mere 22 minutes, 17 feels like an EP more than a full-length album. Throughout his career X’s songs barely pass the 2 minute mark, and it’s no surprise he continues that song structure on 17. Every song sounds unfinished, ranging in lengths of 1 minute 30 seconds up to a maximum of 2 minutes and 40 seconds. I have no clue why he does this, but it is a frustrating element of the album. Every track consists of a repeated chorus and a short sung verse, or at times lacks even a verse. You find yourself on to the next song before the previous track manages to reach peak potential.

Because of this unfinished structure, you’re never exposed to a detailed account of X’s depressed mindstate. You could probably count on your hands how many insightful lines of lyrical content there is. If this is supposed to be an album for the depressed, it is lacking the level of substance necessary in the way an artist like Kid Cudi has conveyed his depression.

Despite these criticisms, there are plenty of strengths to 17, one is which is his singing. X is not the best singer, but you don’t have to be a grade-A vocalist to sing successfully as long as there is a sense of intimate delivery. It makes it easy to feel his grief, which is conveyed the strongest on “Dead Inside (Interlude)” and “Orlando”.

The production is what compliments X’s emotional delivery the most. Just like the lyrics, there is a skeletal, minimalistic structure to the production consisting of acoustic or piano-driven beats and vocal samples which helps create the sad and depressed effect of the tracks. The vocal sample and instrumental to “Jocelyn Flores” and “Carry On” is captivating to the ear. However that is about the most diversity we get in terms of instrumental choices, as most songs practically share the same beat. “Depression & Obsession” and “Revenge” use the same simple guitar strums, while “Dead Inside”, “Orlando” and “Ayala (Outro)” sound like one song spilt into three. Even though those songs are enjoyable in their own right, it’s easy to get lost in the similarity from start to finish. Then again, these songs are better off short rather than stretching out the same song idea for an extra 2-3 minutes to the point where the track becomes a chore to listen to.

It also can’t be ignored that three of these beats existed on SoundCloud already and X merely recorded a few vocals over them, not changing them one bit or adding anything original. For example, the “Jocelyn Flores” beat single handedly does all the work, making it one of the beautiful songs put out this year. X adds one short verse and remixes the lyrics already on the beat. Therefore it’s hard to give X creativity points for the production (shout out to Potsu and Shiloh Dynasty), although he does compliment them well.

Similarity of beats aside, the production combined with XXXTentacion’s singing gives 17 a sense of beauty purely off a surface-level listen.

The pain in my heart just won’t end
The words that I find just don’t seem to compare
Awaiting my death in the end
Alone, I must seek out the end to begin

Sonically, “Fuck Love” is the song that stands out the most. Unlike its neighbouring tracks it incorporates trap elements while maintaining its cloudy vibe. Trippie Redd’s delivery on the hook is Lil Uzi Vert-esque, making it the most enjoyable melody on the whole album and the track with the most replay value.

The only tracks XXXTentacion (briefly) raps on is “Jocelyn Flores” and “Everybody Dies in Their Nightmares”. The short verses are technically decent and the flows have X fitting in as many words as possible. These are the moments where X is able to give more lyrical depth, in comparison to the sung verses which are short and repetitive.

The only misstep from an enjoyability standpoint is “Depression & Obsession”, which comes across generically cringey in comparison to its twin “Revenge”.

In a rap era where conveying your sadness is now the dominant device, 17 does well to capture and represent it. With the level of cult following XXXTentacion has, it practically feels like the poster album for this emo rap phase. Out of most new-age rappers, whom mix upbeat trap production with depressive lyrics, X takes the road of creating total sombreness.

17 is able to be emotionally-effective (to a certain extent) thanks to the sombre production and X’s passionate singing. Therefore, the album accomplishes its goal in creating a sound that can relate to depressed listeners. But the lack of lyrical substance, song structure and severe similarity in tracks only makes you clearly remember about 5 tracks and have the rest blend together way too easily across a full listen. That’s the irritating thing about 17. It’s standing with one foot out of the crowd rather than both. If X’s future projects can work on these drawbacks he’d deliver a more complete project that could unlock the full potential that wasn’t unlocked on 17.

Rating: 6 / 10

Favourite tracks:  “Fuck Love”, “Everybody Dies in Their Nightmares”, “Jocelyn Flores”, “Ayala (Outro)”, “Carry On”

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