Release Date: May 16th, 2017
Last Tuesday, the Florida based rapper, XXXTENTACION, released Revenge, a collection of his greatest soundcloud hits. The project is eight songs and spans across several different genres including agro-rap, EDM, rock, and pop. Rather than trying to provide a coherent review that discusses Revenge as a complete album with a defined sound and storyline, we at Musicore have decided that it would be more appropriate to write a track-by-track review of project.
Look At Me!
With over 67 million plays on Spotify and debuting at the 95 on the “Billboard Hot 100 Chart,” “Look At Me!” is by far X’s most popular song. The song, as a whole, is loud, abrasive, and unrefined. While these characteristic may initially sound unattractive, they are part of what has made the track so popular.
At the peak of the track, the bass overwhelms all the other elements of the production and only X’s screaming voice can be heard. His voice sounds slightly muffled, as though “Look At Me!” was recorded on an IPhone or some sort of amature recording device. Production wise, the entire song sounds like it was poorly mixed, and the reverb is completely off.
The lyrics are graphic, crude, and outright offensive. It seems that the song has become popular for two reasons. First, XXXTENTACION's sound is radically different from the current singer/rapper trend in hip-hop. His outsider status makes him particularly attractive to the underground rap scene. However, this first reason does not explain how X broke into the mainstream. The song’s success on Spotify, Apple Music, and other large streaming services can be attributed to the hype-agro sound that produces a raw emotion and allows the listener to yell alongside XXXTENTACION. In this sense, “Look At Me!” became popular for its ability to incite a sort of riot-like violence in mosh pits full of hormonal teenagers and young adults.
I Don’t Want This Anymore
“I Don’t Want This Anymore” is only a minute and twenty eight seconds long. The song sounds as though it is only a snippet from something longer. X begins by singing the hook of the song, and after about twenty seconds, the song awkwardly breaks and seems to start anew. In “I Don’t Want This Anymore,” XXXTENTACION's sound is completely different. Rather than continuing with the agro-trap sound that made him so popular, this track is more in the R&B genre. While X’s singing is auto tuned, his voice is soft, slow, and surprisingly soothing. The vocals are overlaid on a set of quiet 808s and quick snares. Even though this track is more in line with mainstream music trends, “I Don’t Want This Anymore” still maintains X’s outsider status because of how different it is from his more popular songs.
Looking for a Star
“Looking for a Star,” produced by Diplo, is definitely the most marketable song on the Revenge project. The song isn’t even in the rap, hip/hop, or R&B genre. It resides entirely in pop/EDM and is the type of song that is played over and over again on the radio. X retains the softer sound from “I Don’t Want This Anymore.” “Looking for a Star” was one of the last tracks put out before the release of the complete Revenge project, demonstrating X’s reversal towards a more radio-friendly style. The song itself is nothing special. “Looking for a Star” is not full blown EDM; the drop is subtle and during the verses, the production is drowned out by X’s newfound singing voice. In the end, “Looking for a Star” is really XXXTENTACION'S biggest push towards the mainstream, but its popularity does not even come close to matching his defining single, “Look At Me!”
In “Valentine,” XXXTENTACION switches genres yet again. “Valentine” is a soft rock song in which X’s voice is so muffled that the lyrics are almost indecipherable. The rock drums in the background are simple, but forceful. A heavy, slow bass also helps create the sort of grunge, alternative rock vibe of the 1990s. The song has no chorus and is only a single verse long. The lyrics, and the general sentiment of the song, speak to heartbreak, sadness, and isolation. X finds himself asking: “Valentine, where are you now? /'Cause its people that I hate / 'Cause my heart has run away / Valentine, where are you now?” It seems that XXXTENTACION is trying to tell listeners and critics that he can’t be placed in one box and “Valentine” is just another example to prove his point.
“King” begins as another alternative, soft rock song. In “King,” X’s voice is not heavily autotuned. He sings softly, trying to add an emotional dimension to his voice. The first minute of the song is a derivative of a Smashing Pumkins track. After that first minute of low key guitar chords, the rock drums overwhelm everything else, and the song transition from alternative rock to heavy metal. At the chorus, X screams about continuing to pursue his dreams even if it kills everyone that he loves: “Hate me, won't break me, /I’m killing everyone I love/Hate me, won't break me, I’m killing everyone I love.” He then proceeds to yell “Hey you” at the top of his voice until the song fades back into the simple guitar chords and eventually nothing.
Slipknot ft King$oul, Killstation
“Slipknot” is X’s best song on the Revenge project. The track demonstrates X’s potential as a real rapper. His flow sounds similar to New York artists like Joey Bada$$ or Action Bronson, and he even tries to be as technical as Logic. He emphasizes his words and the sound is truly different, especially given some of his other tracks. “Slipknot” is set to a jazzy piano beat with very subtle 808s. The lyrics in “Slipknot” show a level of maturity and self-awareness. In his verse, X speaks about his depression, suicidal thoughts, anger issues, and his criminal past. He apologizes to his mother for everything he has done and all the pain he may have caused her. X also discusses how, like many other rappers, he is not self-aware. This statement, however, is contradictory because by admitting the lack of self-awareness, he is, in a way, becoming self-aware and elevating himself above other rappers. “Slipknot” is much more lyrically clever than any other X song. For instance, while the song is titled “Slipknot,” X, in the chorus, raps “Slip not,” creating a double entendre about falling from fame and suicide. Overall, this track is a glimpse of hope and potential for XXXTENTACION. “Slipknot” shows critics that X is more than some crazy teen trying to find his genre; he may actually be versatile.
“YuNg BrAtZ” is another short minute and forty eight second long song. The first thirty eight seconds of the track consists of an X intro with some ad libs that include “Yeah,” “Ay,” and some other crude phrases. “YuNg BrAtZ” is unimpressive. “YuNg BrAtZ” has the same overblown bass characteristic of “Look At Me!,” but this time the song is is not nearly as rhythmic as his most popular song. Again, the lyrics are vulgar, and just make X out to be a weird, overly aggressive guy. In all honestly, “YuNg BrAtZ” is a regression, and it is kind of a bummer that this has to be the track that follows up his most promising song, “Slipknot.”
RIP Roach ft. $ki Mask The Slum God
Like most other XXXTENTACION, “RIP Roach” does not begin until after at least thirty seconds of ad libbing. Like in “YuNg BrAtZ” and “Look At Me!,” “RIP Roach” has the same overwhelming bass and screaming X vocals. He continues to promote his aggressive and abrasive sound. Before X begins his screeching verse, the song comprises of some synth keys and female sex noises. Lyrically, the song is, once again, underwhelming. For instance, in the chorus, X simply yells, “RIP my soul” on repeat. The only redeeming part of this song is $ki Mask The Slum God’s verse. While $ki Mask’s verse has the same production issues as most of X’s songs (the defining, deafening bass), his flow is fast and aligns well with breaks in the beat. $ki Mask raps with swagger, and because he is a more technical and refined rapper than X, his verse fits works somewhat well with the rest of the song. Objectively, “RIP Roach” is not a good song. However, because XXXTentacion continues to do whatever he pleases (including using sex noises as an ad lib), these songs will continue to be popular in circles that enjoy rappers who radically and antagonistically break from current music trends.
While the Revenge project provides good insight into XXXTENTACION as an artist, it leaves one answered question: Is XXXTENTACION simply another soundcloud rapper who will rise and fall? Or is he a versatile artist who will break down boundaries between all different genres?