After graduating from SoundCloud to the world of record labels and LPs with the release of his first big commercial album “17” last summer, XXXTentacion has returned with a rebuttal to his polarizing first project. The loud, aggressive and highly-energetic style of rap that X initially built his career upon has since softened into a saccharine cliche of emotional turmoil and melancholia. That trend only continues with the vast majority of the tracks on “?.” The lewd toilet-humor that typified hits from his SoundCloud days like “Look at Me!” and “Gospel” entertained the middle schooler in all of us. However, all remnants of this artist are lost in his latest release.
The album incorporates elements of acoustic folk, emo rock and the catchy choruses that characterize more trendy trap rap throughout the album. It would be nearly impossible to pin down what exactly X was going for here had he not explicitly stated his intents, however vaguely, in the album’s opening track “Introduction (instructions).” This two-minute long prelude sounds more like the pretentious, self-aggrandizing ramblings of a schizophrenic than meaningful commentary on the album. In essence, he urges the audience to open their minds to an “alternative sound.” He summarizes, “So, with this project, again, you're entering my mind, feeling my insanity, feeling my genius, my energy.” If you have to explain how genius and innovative your music is, chances are, it is neither of those things.
This album is really a mixed bag. There are certain tracks where X sounds better than ever, but more often than not, they are interspersed between tracks laughably cloying at a “deep,” angsty feeling reminiscent of an Evanescence song. “ALONE, PART 3” exemplifies this best when X says, “I'm tired of hate, I'm tired of love/ I've dug my nails into my arms/ She turned and left with all my scars/ What is my worth?” Ultimately, X’s attempt to wax poetic about lost love falls flat of anything original.
“SAD!,” the most popular song on the album, rose to prominences thanks to X’s genuinely impressive vocal performance– an important feature that carries most of the album– over an exceptionally catchy and inventive trap beat. “Before I close my eyes” is one of the better examples of X’s take on folk-inspired songwriting. It is an excellent foundation for his foray into other musical genres; however, at only one minute and 40 seconds long, it fails to make a meaningful, lasting impression as the album quietly tapers to a close.
While XXXTentacion may claim “?” to be his most enigmatic and abstruse work yet, it seems fairly clear he’s found a moderately successful niche in melodramatic rap with a certain amount of unique flair. I would imagine a younger audience or an audience that doesn’t have much experience with music outside of mainstream rap and pop would find this album to be particularly exciting, for honest and understandable reasons. That being said, to more eclectic music listeners, I can’t recommend “?” as anything worth your time.
Rating: 2/5 stars
Mitchell Clark is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.