This might be a lousy way of expressing it, but, the last few weeks have been a great time for moody, Nirvana-inspired, emo-punk, SoundCloud rappers… or their fans, anyway, since not all the artists are around anymore to enjoy the spoils. For better or worse, Tekashi 6ix9ine might have handed his prosecutors a get-out-of-jail-early card for cooperating with the law. The late Lil Peep’s “Everybody’s Everything” just dropped in connection with an emotional documentary of the same name. Trippie Redd’s mournfully narcissistic new “A Love Letter to You 4” is at the top of the charts one week after release. Then there is XXXTentacion: sad rap’s lo-fried king of pain.
Gone since June 2018, gunned down over a Louis Vuitton bag of money, XXXTentacion has an industry of release dates quickly growing flowers around his grave. While “Bad Vibes Forever” Is his second posthumous studio album following last year’s “Skins,” there’s also been a decent compilation, “XXXTENTACION Presents: Members Only Vol. 4” and a deluxe version of his second album, “?,” since his passing. If somebody props up a hologram of XXX anytime soon, check the Tupac post-mortem playbook for further tips.
Writing about XXXTentacion as an artist is complicated by having to consider XXXTentacion the person — and pretty much no one’s idea of a good one. We can talk about him having spouted desperately sad, soul-wrenched lyrics that brought about public curiosity to the state of his mental health, but we could also talk about charges of domestic abuse, Snapchat videos of hitting women, and confessions to stabbings and an almost prideful take on those aforementioned abuses.
But as far as visceral, Cobain-esque expressions of pain and genuine fury (warranted or unwarranted) often mouthed in a cleverly executed, triplet flow of rushy, offbeat rhythm, XXXTentacion had the art form down cold. And when he slowed that flow to a crooning, alt-rock worthy purr, he was even more audacious.
These remaining tracks — a project being recorded up until his death with production handled mostly by his usual knob twiddler, John Cunningham — prove that the rapper’s intended future would have been as bold and ire-filled as his immediate past. And while the aptly-titled “Bad Vibes” features heroes (Lil Wayne), devotees (Trippie Redd), friends (Joey Bada$$) and an assortment of associates in rap and rock (Rick Ross, Tory Lanez, PnB Rock, Vybz Kartel, Blink-182) who worked on the album, pre- or post-demise, XXX is the center square. Even when the album messes up, and it does, XXXTentacion lifts it up, with several fresh moves as a vocalist — surprisingly solid and soulful — and as a hardcore rocker.
Odd as it feels to mention XXX and uplift in the same breath, there it is.
“Ex Bitch” has a gentle acoustic pluck and a melody line so delicious you could swoon, but the swoon factor soon stops, as you might guess from the title. Courting controversy from the very first lines, XXX talks about moving from one woman to another with curt, coarse frankness that won’t help his case when it comes to feminism.
XXX isn’t looking to get right with God, either.
Courting controversy in “Daemons” with a verse pulled from a previously leaded track “Who The F– is God?,” XXX uses Jesus as a psychic scapegoat for suicide (an uncle who committed suicide, his own allusions to hanging himself in the past) atop a slow, lava-like gurgle of electric piano-led lounge funk. While Joey Bada$$ muses about “Dancing with the devil in a burning room,” XXX uses a deep baritone sing-song-y rap for his blame game that’s more numbingly biblical than it is sensible. That XXX turns to the Lord on the airy, clomping “Attention!,” (“God, I’ve been up, I’ve been dead, yeah”) should be no surprise. XXXTentacion has been, throughout his career, stuffed like a turkey with chunky contradictions. Luckily, producer Singleton opens the track for the sake of spaciousness so that the rapper’s sweet, higher pitched mumble has breathing room.
That same airiness gets retrofitted for tunes with a wobbly rattle and hum (the so-so Lil Wayne-pairing of “School Shooters”) and those with a rockier edge on “Bad Vibes Forever.” Paired with Killstation of the Members Only collective on “LIMBO,” each singer deals with the dire straits of depression and the cycle of regret (“All just the same in the end / Over and over again”), as the track’s layered acoustic guitars sound as if they had been yanked from the doom-strum of early Stooges sessions. That same death strum, however, gets a less effective vocal on the reverb-heavy “Ugly,” an older track from 2017 with a message of self-doubt (“I’m insecure, I’m not really sure”) that pleads for a more passionate voice to fill its confused emotional state.
Noah Cyrus might own the heavenly high whispers of the tensely tic-tock-ing “Ecstasy” (along with a decent sized a cappella clip of Anneka’s “Shut Her Down”) and its gently aquatic R&B background, but XXX comes from behind with a rumbling mumble that’s as furtive as any Future rap. Another sensual pairing (or tripling, actually) finds XXX singing with pals Redd and PnB Rock around an acoustic guitar-fueled campfire where men are men, grinding and screwing. It couldn’t be dumber, but sonically, it’s the CSN of emo-trap. The same thing is harmonically true of “Hot Gyal” and its lilting reggae arrangement, only here executed with co-vocalists Tory Lanez and Ky-Mani Marley.
Again, things aren’t always at a lofty, soulful high as all the above on “Bad Vibes Forever.” The speedy “NorthStar (Remix)” may feature the rapper at his triplet-flowing best, but his porn star lyrics are shamefully knuckle headed, and his energy seems artificial for something so rapid fire. Another Members Only partner, ikabodVEINS, joins the party for the squelchy industrial “CHASE / glass shards,” a track whose menace seems more cosmetic, and even comical, than it is spiritually rattling. “Eat It Up” goes nowhere fast, and sounds rushed to include on a track listing that didn’t need the weight, given that “Bad Vibes” is 25 tunes long.
That the new album wraps up with the blasted-out, soft-to-loud epic, “It’s All Fading to Black,” which features Blink-182, gives “Bad Vibes Forever” an elegiac yet energetic edge. Singing loudly and brashly about coming to grips with “memories from the past” and waiting for it to all fade to black, TripleXXX swears he won’t let what’s gone before him control him in the future. So many things caught up with him so tragically after a life he made such a mess of, you couldn’t help but be curious what would come next. For now, “Bad Vibes Forever” is a pretty decent answer to that question.