By Zach Colten
Jahseh Onfroy, the artist better known as XXXTENTACION, begins his debut studio album, “17,” with “The Explanation,” a spoken word introduction in which the rapper lays bare his intentions for his listeners, warning that they are “literally, and I cannot stress this enough, literally, entering my mind... if you are not willing to accept my emotions and hear my words fully, do not listen.” This curious start to the album gives way to a heart-tugging sample of Potsu’s “Closing My Eyes (feat. Shiloh),” which immediately sets a gloomy, rainy-day mood for the song, titled “Jocelyn Flores.”
X describes his outlook as “pessimistic” as he attempts to deal with turmoil in his private relationships and in his own mind. This introspective picking apart of his own psyche continues on the following tracks, “Depression & Obsession” and “Everybody Dies in Their Nightmares.” In the latter, X’s repetition of the same lines emphasizes his feelings of entrapment and an urge to break free.
These feelings seem to culminate into an explosion on the song “Save Me,” a slow, pulsing rock ballad in which the rapper pleads with his audience, “save me, before I fall. Save me, I don’t wanna be alone.” This song ends the first half of the 10-track album – not including the spoken “Explanation” – and X transitions into the “Dead Inside (Interlude),” a rough recording of the artist singing over a piano. X shows off an impressive vocal range, compensating a lack of power with authentic emotional expression. He concludes the project with the “Ayala (Outro),” an acoustic-guitar ballad with X blending harmonies over lyrics pining for a lost love.
On “17”, XXXTENTACION demonstrates his clear talent for songwriting and singing, placing rap in the backseat. He succeeds in putting together sonically what I think is a completely cohesive project. The samples used from the beginning to the end all achieve a grainy, lo-T aesthetic that pairs nicely with X’s soft and raspy flow, and the subject of X unpacking his depression in his own mind was apparent throughout.
The album also fared well on the business end. In the first two weeks since its release, “17” has sold 51,275 copies with over 69 million streams online, and has maintained at least a number 2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100, currently sitting at number 1 on their R&B Charts.
To analyze this undeniable early success, XXXTENTACION received the final spot on “XXL’s” coveted “Freshman Class” cover issue after his fans overwhelmingly voted him into the 10th slot, a place reserved for fan selection. This shows that the expectations for a strong debut album from the rapper were high. That being said, X is extremely communicative with his fans, who are notoriously loyal and supportive of the 19-year old Florida rapper, so the album was bound to experience a fair amount of traction right out of the gate.
The album is not one you will find on most party playlists, aside from the upbeat track “F*ck Love” featuring Trippie Redd. But – if you Tnd yourself in a sad mood and need some music to help you cope, XXXTENTACION hopes he can help. To conclude with X’s final words on “The Explanation,” “I love you. Thank you for listening.”