Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy, better known as XXXTENTACION, came onto the scene when his sleeper hit “Look At Me!” began erupting out of the speakers of anyone who knew anything about the trap music scene during the summer of 2017. Posted on co-producer Roja’s Soundcloud account in 2015, “Look At Me!” has slowly risen to fame without publicity or a lot of money. This pattern is intrinsic of SoundCloud rappers like Lil Pump, Ugly God and Lil Uzi Vert. “Look At Me!” was 19-year-old X’s vehicle to fame, reaching 80 million plays on SoundCloud and 50 million on YouTube while he was in prison. The song officially went Platinum this month.
If “Look At Me!” is the only song you’ve heard by X, then his debut studio album “17” will not sound familiar. Shortly after blowing away his competition for the 10th spot placement in XXL’s 2017 Freshman Class by thousands of votes, X released “17” on Aug. 25. The album immediately garnered praise from Kendrick Lamar who tweeted about the album and encouraged everyone to listen to it in addition to simply tweeting “5th listen.” A far cry from the aggressive irreverence of “Look At Me!,” “17” has more of a ‘90s R&B sound than the usual lo-fi trap sound expected of a SoundCloud rapper.
“17” is stacked with songs that sound closer to a bonus track on a lost Kurt Cobain EP than anything you would expect from an XXL Freshman. The album is full of clear undistorted vocals and acoustic guitar, reminding us of his talented singing voice that isn’t showcased in “Look At Me!” X lays out bars heavy with emotion on top of smooth acoustic guitar and piano driven melodies.
X works with Shiloh Dynasty and Potsu throughout the whole album. Potsu produces “Carry On,” “Jocelyn Flores” and “Everybody Dies in Their Nightmares,” with beats that feature soft vocals sampled from Shiloh Dynasty. These songs are held together with futuristic hip-hop drum kits and strong acoustic influence. “Orlando” stands apart with strong piano chords dominant to X’s intimate vocals and lachrymose lyrics.
The substance of this album is in the lyrics where X addresses dominant themes of depression and mental illness. In the second track of “17,” “Jocelyn Flores (feat. Shiloh Dynasty),” X expresses his feelings about a friend who took her life while visiting X, referencing his post-traumatic stress from being behind bars. X addressed Flores’ death in an Instagram live video in late May. X previously dedicated “Revenge” to Flores which appears on this album as well. In “Dead Inside” X references being cheated on by his then-girlfriend when he was in prison. In “Fuck Love,” X explores emotions of love lost in classic hip-hop style with Tippie Redd. “Carry On (feat. Shiloh Dynasty)” also alludes to his now ex-girlfriend and expresses the schizophrenic nature of heartbreak. The album translates as an engram of what made him lose his sanity at age 17, hence the inspiration behind the name of the album.
To say X displays emotional vulnerability in the lyrics of “17” is an understatement. In step with his unapologetic XXL Freshman freestyle session, X begins his album with “The Explanation” where he speaks to his fans directly saying, “You are literally, and I cannot stress this enough, literally entering my mind.”
XXXTENTACION has been an outlier in the music scene by refusing to be pigeonholed by genre, style, or form. This album is another deliberate rejection of adherence to the trap sound or even rap in general. Unapologetic in his art, X sets the standard for the anti-stars of our time. Best summed up by X himself in “The Explanation,” “If you are not willing to accept my emotion and hear my words fully, do not listen.”