XXXTentacion - ? (Review)


NOTE: due to the album’s subject matter, the following text may contain references to very sensitive topics that may disturb some readers.

It’s official: the combined success of XXXTentacion’s ? and Post Malone’s Beerbongs & Bentleys has killed the conventional idea of genres. Not that the couple of years before wouldn’t have paved the way, but specifically now we’re at a point where target groups that were once on the opposite side of the spectre share the love for the same music. ? may attract a fan of art rock as much as those of trap rappers, and emos, and somehow the styles are sewed together so fluently that the line blurs unrecognizably. Is this guy a rapper? Is he a singer? Do such classifications even apply anymore or is music… simply music these days? Without the need to fit into established categories? At least for XXXTentacion, this is not an issue. Whatever he feels like doing, XXXTentacion mercilessly lets it all pour out of his soul.

As the track of the same name says, he feels kind of schizophrenic, and as the album title suggests, the vocalist is an absolute enigma when he unleashes his beautiful dark twisted fantasy upon us (yep, Kanye found just the perfect name for visceral music). More than once he’s as bleak and grey as Sunny Day Real Estate, but then he goes for the stylistic coolness of modern trap music - sometimes sung, sometimes rapped, and often in between. His voice is often apathetic, worn out and gloomy, but then it’s also loud and truly frightening when his misery turns to unpredictable rage. Unpredictable… possibly the best adjective to describe his moodiness.

There’s a constant feeling of a storm gathering, ready to unload any time. Even the few more harmless tunes don’t sound like a fun time, rather like a man whose general inner feelings are a carnival of pain, but who manages to tune that out before the depression hits hard again. Obviously, songs like Numb and the remedy for a broken heart (why am i so in love) are recorded without the slightest hint of joy, but even on the album’s most light hearted track, i don’t even speak spanish lol,... how does the tone of his verse sound compared to the other artists on the track? In fact, surrounded by all this painfully cynical song lyrics and titles about calling pain your best friend and erasing the person who you once loved from your life, every slightly positive feeling sounds like a sarcastic remark. The man who we hear on this record has some serious, serious mental problems - not in the sense of becoming a psychopath, but in terms of self-destruction. The cuts on the album are hard and rough, often feeling like a raw draft of his psychic state rather than a polished, professionally recorded track, which is from where the album gets its power, and why it's allowed to be all over the place like that - what’s essentially a post-hardcore new wave hybrid blends into a trap song blends into drowsy avant garde; some of the songs last under 2 minutes; subtlety can never be found. It’s hard to select individual picks, but if you listen to ? all the way through, you will get one of the most intense and capricious listening experiences at least of this year.

This leaves the question how authentic XXXTentacion is. Is this a young artist who we have to fear losing to suicide on top of his career or is he simply a brilliant actor? After he filmed a short clip featuring a staged suicide, the internet was furious as soon as they found out it was fake. But why were they? Because judging by his music, it’s absolutely believable he would do such a thing, as hard as that may sound. We are either witnessing an honest catharsis of a troubled mind or one of the most convincing performances of the decade - and although his second album topped the American charts, we barely know anything about this man - just that he has a violent prone past and present, nothing else. And while such incidents can be both the cause and the symptoms for depressions, statements about his actual state of mind can’t be found.

Real or not, albums like this are bigger than just being “good” or “bad”. They lead to deeply ethical questions. If his songs are bled from his heart: how should we feel listening to this dance of torment? If it’s all just a part of an image: is this an exploitation of a serious illness that needs more sympathy from the world? Or is the opposite the case, and the album can help people who suffer the same way the protagonist does? To find answers, read through the last paragraphs again: an album that clearly resembles the mind of a person suffering from depression peaks at number one in the biggest music market of the world. While some may enjoy it musically and tune out the lyrics, it has to speak to many people too in order to achieve that following.

It’s easy to hear why: the raw lo-fi album bears a way too visceral emotional power to ignore it. In its duration of about 38 minutes it dives deep into a territory that’s so dark that we can’t look away. In all its unpolished glory… it’s frighteningly close to perfection.


Never have I disagreed to any of your reviews. Keep up the good work! - Not_A_Weeaboo

Thanks a lot!

Also thank you for suggesting this album. I don't know if I had listened to it otherwise. I'm gonna buy it on CD soon. It's a masterpiece. - Martin_Canine

This review including the rating was written before XXXTentacion's death. - Martin_Canine

I do like your reviews a lot more than your lists - just don't know what to comment on them.
This however, listening to the album was for me unbearable. XXX was just a horrible music artist and I felt no remorse - disrespectful apparently. - iliekpiez

Thanks a lot! (I guess that was meant as a compliment^^)

I do enjoy the extreme roughness, the edge and unpolished energy of the record. Nothing of it was staged. In my review, which was released at a time when this guy was virtually unknown in Austria (he became famous through his death, I wouldn't have heard of this album if not for a request) and when little information was available, I wasn't sure yet. But either way, to me it was either an extremely authentic, gripping depiction (which it was) or a perfect embodiment. "? " was an album to be experienced, one where the whole is more than the sum of its pieces. But then, that's just my opinion. Everyone should have their own. - Martin_Canine

Could “Jocelyn Flores” be considered the “In the Air Tonight” of rap music? - I80