Tired, dejected, isolated, beaten, bruised and abused — this is the story of 19-year-old Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy, more commonly known as XXXTentacion.
The blossoming internet music scene has allowed for the relatively young genre of hip-hop to fragment into a myriad of different subsets, with artists pulling from a variety of influences that transcend the genre’s original stylistic parameters. The ability to create, share and listen to music with extreme ease has enabled audiences to find hyper-specific sonic niches often ignored by the mainstream media. XXXTentacion is an infamous by-product of this phenomenon.
Considered as one of the most successful artists to start their career on SoundCloud, the Broward County, Fla. native has shocked and confused listeners with his mercurial music output and constant legal disputes. XXXTentacion was arrested in Miami-Dade County, Fla. on Oct. 8, 2016. Charged with aggravated battery of his pregnant ex-girlfriend, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment and witness-tampering, XXXTentacion pled not guilty. The musician’s short career has become defined by volatility and uncertainty.
These aggressive and tormented compulsions also manifest themselves in his music. Prior to the release of “17,” XXXTentacion posted miscellaneous singles and rickety mixtapes to his SoundCloud page. Though every track is characterized by lo-fi production, XXXTentacion proved himself as a multi-dimensional artist. When tracks like “I don’t wanna do this anymore” and “vice city” are compared with “Pistol” or even his break-out hit, “Look at Me!,” it appears to be coming from two different artists.
Before giving birth to XXXTentacion, the current South Floridian rap scene took root with artists like SpaceGhostPurrp, Denzel Curry and Robb Banks — who defined the druggy, aggressive and alternative rap mini-Mecca. What set apart XXXTentacion, $ki Mask The Slump God and other members of their rap collective, Members Only, was the startlingly distorted, overblown bass and screamed lyrics featured in many of their songs. These tracks resemble industrial music more than rap. However, XXXTentacion has also released many moodily-sung alternative R&B hits — a far cry from explosive 808s.
With the announcement of his debut album, XXXTentacion released a statement to listeners.
“It’s my first body of work, first official album release, and the first time I’ve put my all into a project. If you listen to me to get hype or to not think, don’t buy this album, this one is for the depression, for the depressed ones, for the lost ones,” the statement reads.
The album starts off with a soundbyte from XXXTentacion explaning the purpose of the album — “By listening to this album, you are literally, and I cannot stress this enough, literally entering my mind.” The message was recorded on a mic with no pop filter, and the vocal breaks instantly give the album a demo-like, personal feeling.
The first track on the album is entitled “Jocelyn Flores” — a close friend of XXXTentacion who took her life while visiting him in Florida earlier this year. The production features a melancholic sample of a Shiloh Dynasty track with polished kickdrums and properly EQed instrumentation, which is a definite increase in quality for the artist. No track on the album meets the three-minute-mark, and after a short rap verse, “Jocelyn Flores” seems to end just as quickly as it began.
XXXTentacion’s knack for catchy melodies is evident on the track “Depression & Obsession,” an acoustic ballad with a paper-thin lead vocal and background harmonies reminiscent of 90s emo bands like Sunny Day Real Estate. Despite its sparse and simple instrumentation, “Depression & Obsession” maintains its appeal with its honesty. By avoiding complex instrumentation, XXXTentacion doesn’t have much room to hide.
The song “Everybody Dies in Their Nightmares” also features a Shiloh Dynasty vocal sample and showcases XXXTentacion’s technical abilities while rapping. After “Revenge,” the album evidently blurs the lines between bedroom-indie music and the fast-growing genre of alternative R&B. The background melodies, passionate vocals and cutting lyrics such as “I’ve dug two graves for us my dear” blend well with the short, repetitive and focused instrumentals.
Whether by coincidence or design, the album becomes increasingly bleak as the tracklist progresses. The piano ballad “Save Me” feels like a death-march as XXXTentacion chants, “So save me, before I fall / So save me, I don't wanna be alone” for the majority of the track.
“Carry On” and “Orlando” detail the inner woes of the artist and provoke feelings of hopelessness and claustrophobia. The album culminates climatically with the closing track “Ayala (Outro).” With its lush piano and guitar embellishments, this track offers the most detailed instrumental of the album.
Sadness and desperation become palpable on nearly every track of “17.” With this somber debut, XXXTentacion has proven himself capable of showing vulnerability and authenticity through multiple genres of music.