XXXTentacion - Skins (Review)

Martin_Canine
XXXTENTACION
Skins
★1/2☆☆☆

Wow. What a mess.

To be fair, fully thought out concepts were never a quality of XXXTentacion, even on the couple of releases he had the chance of putting out before he was shot in June 2018 at the age of 20. But this is a new extreme, and the fact that it was put out posthumously makes it all even worse. It is an insultingly unfinished sounding compilation of fragments, violently stitched together, with only the fewest of them feeling like full songs. And it lasts for barely 20 minutes while featuring 10 tracks. It is known that the rapper-singer-producer wanted his next record to be short and on point, but even though it was posthumously stated the tunes were finished before his death, it’s hard to believe it when some songs feel artificially stretched to last for barely 2 minutes.

Since 2017, XXXTentacion released music that caught mainstream attention. He had his share of mixtapes before, but most of them are still not widely distributed and barely heard by anyone. The first release that was popularly noticed was the mixtape Revenge, which peaked at number 28 in the USA. It was followed by his debut album 17, a few months later, which was a big success and charted at number 2. Both records indicated his talent of creating authentically emotional material that crossed trap / cloud rap with emo (the original 90s genre made by groups such as Sunny Day Real Estate and American Football) and grunge, but they did have a rough and draft-like outfit. But even these raw and often short tunes sounded like they were supposed to be like this. Sometimes, after 1 and a half minutes, it just felt complete. But he wasn’t at his peak yet. In 2018, he finally released the first album on which he could unleash his full potential: clocking in at roughly 40 minutes, ? is not only his first release that actually felt like a full length record, it also contained his music at its rawest and most intense. He blended styles even further, and had even more direct (and often controversial) vocals and delivery. It topped the American charts - but it would be the final album he would ever have the chance to release. After the deadly wounding, he also became famous and successful in other markets he was not noticed before (I first of him when ? was suggested to me for review, and I loved it). Now, merely half a year later comes Skins, featuring material Onfroy worked on for his forthcoming third studio album before his early death. And it’s a forced parade of weird choices.

Apparently, XXXTentacion left so little material to work with for the label that it would have never been enough for even an EP, when an album was demanded to get the most dough out of the hype. It’s a fate many dead musicians’ legacies suffer from when the respective artist’s consent isn’t needed anymore.

Guardian Angel plays half the song in reverse before it finally starts - and then just ends after 1:48. In other words does the actual song last for less than a minute. Even Difference (Interlude) feels more finished. It features 1:16 minutes of music, all of which is an ultra low quality audio file featuring XXXTentacion on the guitar and singing a song with some pitch problems towards the end, which was obviously meant to be a the draft for a song that would later be professionally recorded. Let that sink in. Other songs may sound like they stopped halfway through, but at least they come off like a fully developed part of a song, which, if you happen to like the sound, can be replayed to make them appear longer (many compare Bad! to his hit song Sad!, and it is okay, but why didn’t they at least add an instrumental loop at the end and repeat the chorus like it was done on said song, and decided to leave it at 1:34 minutes, especially as it was the lead single). The beat of I Don’t Let Go has already been used by Jaden Smith barely a month before (it is based on an instrumental previously used by Rich The Kid, which is slightly different though), and in direct comparison, Smith put it to better use, although Onfroy did a solid job. The low point is, out of all songs, the one featuring Kanye West, who otherwise had his most creative year since 2010. Most notably, he didn’t produce the song, One Minute (which is ironically the longest song, and the only one lasting longer than 3 minutes) - instead, we get one of the most unpleasant rock loops in existence, obviously not played on an actual guitar - and furthermore contributes to worsen both artists’ reputation by explicitly toning down the domestic violence Onfroy has been accused of. Not a very clever thing to do. Only at the end of the song XXXTentacion shows up, performing screamo vocals, which apparently were all that’s been recorded of a song that was supposed to be larger.

On the plus side, there is Train Food, easily one of the best songs XXXTentacion recorded. It is the only song on the record that unfolds the talent he showcased on ?. Eerily prophetic, the storytelling song deals with the talk to death personified, and has a minimalistic production of sinister pianos and loud background noise. This was quite obviously a song he was able to fully record vocals for before he was killed. Whoa! (Mind in Awe) is also a track that appears to be fully developed. It’s arguably his poppiest song, and it’s decent. Quite possible that it’s an outtake from his previous works.

Posthumous albums aren’t necessarily musically inferior. Already in 1998, Out Of The Dark (Into The Light) by Falco was one of his greatest albums. Then, in 2012, Lioness by Amy Winehouse was even better than her debut. And just recently, Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2 by Lil Peep was fantastic. Even one of the most acclaimed albums of all time, Pearl by Janis Joplin, was a posthumous release. Not to mention the gazillion of 2Pac records, which were often equal to his main studio albums. It ultimately all comes down to two questions: 1. how much material has the artist left to work with, and 2. how good is it? Many of the artists currently worked on a record before their death, and therefore had several fully or at least almost finished tracks ready for release. Yes, XXXTentaion also wanted to put out one more album, but he simply didn’t had enough time on Earth to perform enough music. Like Kurt Cobain’s posthumous blasphemy, it feels like one of these bonus discs they put out on anniversary editions of classic albums, and as an extension of ? that gives additional insight into what might have been, it’s absolutely fine (although to be fair, we know fot certain that Cobain did NOT want these scraps to see the light of the day). But as a full album, it’s simply insufficient. And it was announced it wouldn’t be his final posthumous release. I am quite scared.

Comments

This was pretty horrible. XXX's music is unbearable. - iliekpiez

You know, I loved "? ".
My main problem with it wasn't the music itself for the most part (except for the Kanye song), but how obvious of a blatant cash grab it was. "Train Food" and "Woah" are the only songs that actually qualify as full XXXTentacion songs, all the other songs are extremely obviously just leftovers, short demos and outtakes that were forcefully sold as a full album. - Martin_Canine

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