Whether it is because of his controversial acts, the punk-rap style, or the rising confusion around how to properly pronounce his name, XXXTentacion has garnered a lot of attention throughout the latter half of 2016 and here we are with his first major release: 17. At nineteen years old, being honored by XXL Magazine’s favorite upcoming artists list is a major vote of confidence for this young rapper’s potential, but what does all this newfound attention and regard say for the quality of 17? Especially when that same 9.99 price tag could just as well afford at least a couple dozen, reliable, sturdy, and useful clothes hangers instead. Everyone has been pondering this economic conundrum, and the debate ends here.
XXXTentacion does not care about what any critic thinks of him. This is a common sentiment shared by artists after their passion projects have been lambasted by analytical listeners, but XXXTentacion makes this bold statement preemptively in the preamble of 17. With the exception of some egregious use of the word ‘literally’, the track “Explanation” does this album the massive favor of efficiently explaining why such a brazen claim fits the focus of his first major release. This project aims to meet audiences with the candid confessions of a troubled mind at such an honest and humble level, it will leave similarly conflicted people feeling less isolated in a world that recognizes depression, but cannot always alleviate it. So, to an extent, it seems overall quality was never a priority to begin with.
In the interest of fairness though, one should not be too quick to turn a blind eye to the reputation of the common hanger either. Too thin and wiry a hanger will ravage the shoulder-shape of good tops. And the thicker, plastic offerings may not always be able to handle the weight of extreme modern fashions. These caveats do not come as any small matter either, but Albert J. Parkhouse’s hanger only sets out to do one thing: provide common clothing articles the wrinkle-free haven they deserve at minimal cost to users. Something sobering to keep in mind when considering XXXTentacion’s approach to “help cure or at least numb your depression” as stated in “Explanation.”
Going into “Jocelyn Flores” we are treated with solid vocals, a short yet sweet rap, and an unbridled outpouring of emotion in relation to a departed loved one. It is not hard to hear in the tone of his voice that the relationship left ugly scars on his sense of self-worth once it ended so harshly. Lyrically the heartbreak narrative he weaves advances poetically through tracks like the aforementioned one, “Depression & Obsession,” “Dead Inside,” “Save Me,” and “Ayla (Outro).” But five out of eleven tracks obviously leaves the majority in disparate places tonally. Because while “Everybody Dies in Their Nightmares” and “F**k Love” have some of the most pleasing beat production 17 has to offer, they fit haphazardly in the mix and would be better off as singles than threads in the making of this album as a whole. Meanwhile tracks like “Carry On” and “Orlando” feel on topic, yet they are redundant statements, which is not entirely foul, but in combination with with the drowsy — better yet, dull — instrumentation, these final wails snuff 17’s intrigue beyond the outro’s ability to revive it.
Hangers just have to hang, while 17 has to offer something of substance to its thesis and it would be nice if it was easy to listen too as well. Which is where this project gets even messier, because lyrics and intent aside, most of the eleven tracks sound unremarkable. Tired of the same old white hangers? Buy a multicolored pack instead for that umami your closet has always needed. Tired of “Save Me?” Well, X doubles down on that tonal sound multiple times later on. Take a few hangers to Pinterest, and unveil the real potential behind those hookers. Take a gem like “Revenge” where we find his rock influences prevailing in interesting ways, and prepare for disappointment as XXXTentacion’s more experimental tendencies only decrease throughout the album. A couple of hangers can do so much, and just one can change a life, but 17 is unfortunately mostly forgettable.
It could be said that “Explanation” does this album it’s hugest favor and most fatal blow. It could be said that XXXTentacion’s youth and confusion makes this album about little more than confusion from recent heartbreak. And it could be said that this very personal collection of thoughts recorded over beats was never meant to be so popular in the first place. But ultimately, 17 simply does not make for a rewarding listing experience. As sincere an attempt as it may be, the album as a whole is eleven reasons why X needs to keep experimenting in this sensationalized trap rap culture while he is at the forefront of it. The potential is there, we can all hear it, but it does not seem fully realized on this album. The hanger’s reigning reputation of providing over a hundred years of reliability actually helps cure, or at least numb, the occurrence of crinkled clothes hitting the streets, while 17 hardly accomplishes as much in dealing with the weighty topic of depression. So, for 9.99 the potential is far more palpable with a couple of hangers instead of a couple of solid tracks.