G Herbo Stumbles on Third Studio Album

While Still Swervin’ features more than its fair share of strong moments, it’s G Herbo’s weakest effort to date and the first to sound like he just didn’t try.

G Herbo is a rapper and producer from Chicago, Illinois. He debuted in 2014 with the Welcome to Fazoland and Pistol P Project mixtapes. He quickly became a key part of the later years of the Chicago drill movement, long after the successes of genre staples like Chief Keef and Lil Durk. Nevertheless, he found substantial success and eventually found his way onto charts and released his first LP, Humble Beast in 2017. Shortly after, he signed with 808 Mafia and released his sophomore record, Swervo, which received mild acclaim from critics, including this website.

His success hinges on a few things but none more than his flow. His style is hard-hitting and violent, perfectly in line with the sound that put drill rap on the map. He also writes with quite a bit of raw passion, refusing to turn away from the harsh realities of life in downtown Chicago. His rough voice plays well against the classically hectic instrumentals of trap music and makes for a tight package that is extremely enjoyable for fans of his style of music. He doesn’t aim to reinvent the wheel, but he does what he does very well. He aims to continue that style with Still Swervin’ which is his most mixed effort to date.

Much of what we’ve come to appreciate from Herbo is here on the record. His flow is hard hitting on tracks like the opener, “Sacrifice,” and “Do Yo Sh!t.” Several tracks, including these two, have no chorus or hook and instead consist of one long verse from Herbo that feels almost like a freestyle. While the flows can often feel repetitive, they hit hard enough to keep a listener entertained.

His lyrics are fairly impressive on more than a few occasions as well. Tracks like “Yerk 30,” and “Wilt Chamberlin” are some of the best on the project because of Herbo’s braggadocios lyricism and creative imagery. He’s at his best when he’s writing about his money and street cred, though his rare attempt at telling a more vulnerable story on the closer, “Hood Cycle,” feels surprisingly genuine.

The few features that do appear on the record run the gamut from the fantastic work of Pretty Savage on the album’s best track, “Bug,” and the very funny “Shakey Skit,” to the sleepy performances from Gunna on “Trained to Kill,” or Juice WRLD on “Never Scared,” both of which suck the life out of otherwise enjoyable tracks. Aside from Pretty Savage, however, none of the features feel necessary or even helpful, especially since Herbo has such a dynamic voice as he shows on tracks like “Ok.”

This is still more than I can say for the production, however. Nearly every instrumental on the album is either boring or unlistenable. The manic energy of old school drill rap is gone in favor of nothing beats like “Up It,” and “Visionary.” Virtually the entire album is drenched in uninventive trap cymbals and the occasional accent which is generally abrasively mixed and completely out of place.

The worst quality of the record, however, and one that plagues the entirety of the nearly 50 minute runtime, is G Herbo’s inability to stay on beat. It’s especially bad in the first half, with tracks like “Scratchy & Itchy,” and “Bought a Tool,” sounding as if the vocals were recorded totally separately and just layered over the existing beat. Not to be outdone, however, the latter half contains “Boww,” which is easily one of the worst rap songs I’ve heard in many years and the worst on the album by a mile.

The album is an odd outing for Herbo and disappointing to say the least. With a solid debut and an even better sophomore effort under his belt, this record would’ve been the perfect opportunity for his sound to pierce the mainstream bubble. Unfortunately, even its best moments are pulled down by structural problems like weak instrumentals and off-beat rapping that are so severe that the LP never does quite find its footing.

While Still Swervin’ features more than its fair share of strong moments, it’s G Herbo’s weakest effort to date and the first to sound like he just didn’t try.

3/10

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Nina Nesbitt Shows Promise With Sophomore LP

While The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change may suffer from quite a few noticeable defects, it’s a fun listen that hints toward the possibility of an impressive catalog to come.

Nina Nesbitt is a pop singer/songwriter from Livingston, Scotland. She first found fame opening for Ed Sheeran on the European leg of his 2012 world tour. She signed with Universal Records and dropped five EP’s from 2011 to 2013, gaining substantial notoriety and a strong following, particularly back home in Scotland. Her first full length LP, Peroxide released in early 2014 and though it found some success charting at number 11 worldwide and number one in Scotland, it was met with middling to negative reception by critics. While Nesbitt’s lyricism and voice was impressive, any promise seemed to drown in a pool of trendy folk-pop instrumentation and melody. Her subsequent EP releases received similarly mixed reviews until she left Universal and signed with Cooked Vinyl, an indie outfit from London, in 2016.

While her early sound was, admittedly, a bit immature, especially in the prominence of her Sheeran and Swift influences, there was still a bit of promise. She wrote with an interestingly sardonic sense of humor and had a skill for witty turn of phrase, which played well over her acoustic guitar heavy style. With The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change, however, she has wholly revolutionized her sound for the better.

Much of her best qualities are still here, including her voice. Tracks like the opener, “Sacred,” and “Chloe,” are made infinitely better by Nesbitt’s excellent vocal talents. Even on a few of the weaker tracks in the runtime, her voice is able to act as a shining center point thanks to a soft and controlled falsetto combined with a powerful lower register. This is a difficult album to front, and Nina handles the burden extremely well.

She also has an incredible ear for melody. The choruses on tracks like “The Best You Had,” and my personal favorite track, “Things I Say When You Sleep,” are undeniable ear-worms that listeners will be singing for days to come. It’s a rare skill to have, but it’s one which Nesbitt uses to her advantage across the entire project.

Her ear isn’t just well tuned melodically, however, but also rhythmically. Her flow on “The Moments I’m Missing,” and “Colder,” fits perfectly, and is rare to hear in the pop world today. Thanks to this, she’s able to keep her audience entertained through her verses as well as her choruses, creating a fully enthralling track when it works well.

The album is at it’s best when all these elements combine on top of the its greatest strength of creative and unique instrumentals. From the soft piano and atmospheric accents on “Is It Really Me You’re Missing?” to the intriguing latin guitar on “Love Letter,” when the beats work, they work. Even the old school, almost Abdul-esque track on “Loyal To Me,” is extremely enjoyable thanks to a few creative touches. Virtually every track is accented with a few subtle and unique sounds that add quite a bit to the songs themselves.

Unfortunately, the instrumentation is also a source of annoyance at times. Tracks like “Somebody Special,” and “Last December,” are all but butchered by abusing the acoustic guitar as a lead, calling back to the cheesy, folk-pop of her early career.

Additionally, the production has a few persistent issues. From beats that don’t seem to fully develop like the weakest track on the track list, “Empire,” to the near constant use of trap drums which takes some life out of nearly every track, especially the closer and title track.

Worst of all, Nina’s vocal is constantly EQ’d extremely poorly, pushing the high end to the point of an irritating hissing noise accompanying much of her performance. It’s a testament to her talent that she still sounds quite impressive despite this, but never really goes away and actually becomes quite noticeable and annoying at a few points on the album.

Regardless of shortcomings, however, The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change is a massive step forward for Nina Nesbitt. Having left Universal for a smaller, indie label, it seems she’s finally being given the freedom to step out from the pop-folk shadow and take part in the wild and exciting world of modern pop music.

While The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change may suffer from quite a few noticeable defects, it’s a fun listen that hints toward the possibility of an impressive catalog to come.

5/10

Maggie Rogers Debuts With Creative LP

While her sound could certainly stand some fine tuning in a few key areas, Maggie Rogers has established herself as an exciting force in the modern pop landscape.

Maggie Rogers is a pop/folk singer and producer form Easton, Maryland. She found some fame when she was featured on Parrell Williams’ masterclass from New York University. She presented the track “Alaska,” which would go on to feature on this album, to Williams who was blown away and called it “singular.” Thanks to the viral explosion of the clip, Rogers was courted by several record labels in a way that is somewhat rare today. In the end, she signed with Capitol records and dropped a debut EP, Now That The Light is Fading, in 2017.

Her sound is quite unique, as Pharrell Williams pointed out. Raised in a rural area, Rogers  has strong folk influences and even played more straightforward form of folk music earlier in her life. Today, however, the folk roots remain, but filtered through very genuine dance and synth-pop lenses for an extremely unique sound. Excitement was high for her major label debut, and Rogers certainly didn’t disappoint.

Perhaps her most important talent is obvious immediately, that being a special knack for crafting vocal melodies. Particularly in her verses, each line is extremely singable. Tracks like the opener, “Give a Little,” and “Retrograde,” showcase this quite well as I found myself humming the verses well after my first few listens and enjoying choruses even more.

Additionally, her lyricism is very impressive, and it may be where her folk sensibilities shine the brightest. Much of her writing is very visual and often draws on gimmicks while turning them on their head for interesting nuances. Tracks like “The Knife,” and the closer, “Overnight,” showcase her writing exceptionally well, but the album as a whole benefits from her consistency in tone and aesthetic while crafting unique lyrics for each track.

Above all, Heard It In A Past Life is made infinitely better thanks to Rogers’ fantastic production abilities, particularly in terms of designing beats. Tracks like “Say It,” and “On + Off,” have obvious hip-hop influences, especially in their drums. On the other hand, tracks like the aforementioned “Alaska,” and “Burning,” have more natural pallets and utilize harmonies extremely well to build very unique and yet accessible songs.

On the other hand, her mixing abilities are a bit more questionable. While harmonies are extremely tight and well mixed, plenty of tracks seem to bury the vocals quite a bit, and the tracks overall could do with some brightening up. Some of this is a bit understandable as a strong focus is meant to be placed on the admittedly exceptional beats, but this synth-pop sound still draws a listener’s ears to the lead vocal and burying it just comes off as frustrating all too often.

Additionally, her voice itself is something of a mixed bag. While she gives incredible, powerhouse performances on tracks like “Fallingwater,” and the closer, “Back In My Body,” she falls short in two key ways on other cuts. Firstly, she simply doesn’t have the voice to command the more traditional, top 40 sound of a track like “Light On.” A more pervasive problem, however, is her strange pronunciation on long vowels and seeming refusal to open her mouth on a few tracks, the most egregious of which is “Past Life.”

Overall, there’s a lot to like about Heard It In A Past Life. Maggie Rogers has meticulously built an extremely distinct and exciting major label debut. Her production skills along with her more traditional folk background have fused in a way that has me extremely excited for the future.

While her sound could certainly stand some fine tuning in a few key areas, Maggie Rogers has established herself as an exciting force in the modern pop landscape.

6/10

HEAR HEARD IT IN A PAST LIFE: https://open.spotify.com/album/5AHWNPo3gllDmixgAoFru4

My Newfound Respect for Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here is a bitter and abrasive piece that may not fit squarely into Pink Floyd’s discography, but must still be recognized as an incredible project from one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

Pink Floyd is one of my favorite groups of all-time. Their evolution from underground, prog-rock four piece to worldwide rock phenomena is nothing short of incredible, and their prolific writing over a nearly 50 year career means that their is no shortage of great music for fans of all eras.

Perhaps most importantly, Floyd has at least three albums, namely The Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall, and Animals, which are on the short list for greatest rock album of all time. The band’s run in the 1970’s, when each of these three where released, is simply breathtaking and it’s a run that will likely never be matched.

All that being said, there is one Pink Floyd album which, though often considered a part of their top tier and despite falling squarely in the center of their 70’s run, has never seemed to impress me as much as other works. 

1975’s Wish You Were Here is a follow up to the break out success of Dark Side just two years prior. The ninth studio album from Floyd, it was the first time the band had taken much more than a year between releases, thanks to a much busier touring schedule. The record is entirely different from the rest of their catalog and was an especially radical departure from the fuller, more psychedelic sound on which they’d cut their teeth. It had always struck me as an enjoyable, albeit lacking, album from a band with much better works to offer, and as such, it was one of the last LP’s to be added to my now completed Pink Floyd vinyl collection.

Finally having the physical copy in my hand, however, I began to gain a new appreciation for the record. The artwork, while every bit as iconic as any other Pink Floyd album, is also entirely different. While other Floyd covers are psychedelic and thematic, Wish You Were Here is, first of all, encased in a large, whit box, which means that the cover photo doesn’t even take up the full space of the record. It’s also a real photo, not a drawing or other design, which also leaves the album feeling distinctly less magical than other releases. On each surface is a simple image, encased in a white box, and depicting only one point of focus.

This grounded simplicity is apparent in the music as well. Where the majority of the group’s catalog utilizes massive instrument pallets and explosive swells of sound, Wish You Were Here’s instrumentation is far more simple. Most tracks, especially the bookending epic, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” feature a looping melody with a single featuring instrument or vocal on lead.

It was this change that first lead to my distaste for the project. I’d fallen in love with the warmth and lusciousness of the band’s sound. Albums like Dark Side and even later releases like The Division Bell felt like I was swimming in a gorgeous, psychedelic soundscape, each wave of sound more powerful than the last and each low point only a pitstop before another build. Wish You Were Here simply doesn’t give you that. Instead, the album is cold. It’s distant. It has a much stronger jazz influence and it’s smoothness often feels alienating. But it’s this simplicity and focus that makes it such an important album.

Wish You Were Here is a contemplation, as with any Floyd album. But where Dark Side contemplates life and The Wall contemplates relationships, topics at least some room for warmth, Wish You Were Here sets its sights on fame, particularly through the lens of of their previous front man, Syd Barrett, a man who’d been all but destroyed by fame.

It’s within this context that we understand the choice of cold focus over indulgent fullness, of abrasive synths over expansive organs, and of clean acoustic guitars over Gilmour’s iconic, sprawling electric. The album is distant and uncaring because fame is too. Of course, it remains enjoyable, as is fame, but Floyd has perfectly captured the sense of biting callousness that so often accompanies success.

In the end, the album should be viewed not as the second release during Floyd’s 1970’s run at the very top, nor as a follow up to one of the greatest albums of all time in The Dark Side of the Moon, but as both a representation of the bleak realities of success and a skewering of the very idea of fame. Wish You Were Here is a bitter and abrasive piece that may not fit squarely into Pink Floyd’s discography, but must still be recognized as an incredible project from one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

A Perfect Circle, Lil Wayne, Death Grips, and More! 2018’s Honorable Mentions!

In no particular order, here are a few albums that got very close to making my top ten and why!

A Perfect CircleEat the Elephant

After nearly a decade and a half of radio silence from the Maynard James Keenan and Billy Howerdel side project, APC is finally back in 2018 with a daring and unique project. While the album’s unexpected town and softness maybe have turned off a few longtime fans, I felt it was a welcome change and gave an opportunity for MJK to sing over more than a few unique instrumentals. Additionally, the lyricism was as thoughtful and the vocal melodies as singable as we’ve come to expect from the group, several tracks that land squarely in the top tier of their discography. The record certainly goes down a few dead ends and that likely kept it out of my top ten, but nothing feels better than hearing one of my favorite bands finally back in the studio.

Amanda ShiresTo the Sunset

With her third studio release, Shires brought back much of what has made her previous work enjoyable. Her thoughtful lyricism his here in spades, her husband and last year’s best album choice, Jason Isbell returns to lay down some excellent guitar work and her voice is, as always, a great mix of sweet and powerful. To the Sunset brings with it, however, a strong sense of concept and cohesion that makes all the difference. Every track feels like a chapter in a larger book, though each is still tight and well paced in it’s own right. Dave Cobb’s production is as wonderful and ever and the blend of glitzy, synth pop with more classical americana songwriting is perfectly balanced and forms something that I want to hear further developed on future outings.

Loretta LynnWouldn’t It Be Great

2018 was quite a year for comebacks and icons, and Loretta Lynn was no exception. Wouldn’t It Be Great does everything right from wonderful orchestration to excellent, tight songwriting. Lynn’s voice is still as radiant as ever and the production from John Carter Cash, who’s legacy as a producer is quite impressive beyond just his lineage, is vibrant and dynamic. The only complaint levied against this album is its lack of original material, with many of the tracks having appeared on earlier Loretta Lynn records, but aside from “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” most of the updates felt interesting and necessary. Above all, it’s an album that genuinely stacks up against any project from her time on the top, an excellent listen for new and old fans alike.

Lil’ WayneTha Carter V

The wait is finally over, after legal battles, lean addictions, legal battles, and more, Tha Carter V arrived to massive fanfare and definitely didn’t disappoint. The very long gestation period shows as this album dances through the popular influences of last decade, from bling to trap to emo rap. A feature list that included Kendrick Lamar, XXXTentacion, and Travis Scott while mercifully lacking a Drake feature is a veritable who’s who of modern rap. While the album lacks the prescience and modernity of earlier Carter entries, it makes that up in its tour through the last several years of rap music. Best of all, Wayne’s flow is as hard hitting as it’s ever been.

The 1975A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

This album surprised me more than any other in 2018 as The 1975’s work had been rather unimpressive up to this point.However, it’s clear from the first few tracks the Brief Inquiry has fixed nearly every issue that had plagued the previous two outings. The instrumentation is glitzy, well produced, and even abrasively bright at times. Matty Healy’s lyricism is heavily matured and is, in fact, the overwhelming highlight of the record. The soup of cynicism, sarcasm, apathy, and drug references that he cooks up on this project is truly fantastic and it elevates an already good album to a great one, and by far the band’s best work to date. 

Death GripsThe Year of the Snitch

One of the strangest and most divisive bands of all time, Death Grips keep up their relatively prolific pace with maybe their most despondent and chaotic release yet. The Year of the Snitch is easily their least hip-hop influenced work yet, pulling instead from elements of noise and industrial rock, EDM, avant guarde, and hardcore punk. It’s really quite the experience, and it’ll need to be heard a few times before it can be processed Attempting to track the influences and ideas through out is a challenge for even the most avid music fan, especially as the complex mis of elements that exists is warped in the end stage by the group’s powerful absurdist tendencies. Nevertheless,  The Year of the Snitch is a must listen for fans of underground and extreme music. 

The 10 Worst Albums of 2018!!

Thought I’d take some time and have some fun talking about the albums I really didn’t like this year! Let me know what you think in the comments.

10. Kanye WestYe

Including this record was a difficult decision for me for a few reasons. Firstly, it hasn’t garnered near the universal distaste that has followed many of my entries on this list and I seem to be in the minority in my dislike. Secondly, it is leaps and bounds better than the majority of this list. However, considering Kanye’s long career of gigantic, meticulously crafted masterpieces, Ye is heartbreakingly aimless and meandering. At the end of a runtime that barely clears half an hour, listeners are left with nothing by way of answers for Ye’s recent antics or even an enjoyable piece of art to justify them. Instead, we have to stew with the fact that, after 8 breathtaking and diverse albums, Ye has finally let us down for the first time.

9. Sun Kil Moon This is My Dinner

Following one of the best releases in his very long career in last year’s Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood, Sun Kil Moon made a quick turn around and seemed poised for an impressive follow up. Unfortunately, This is My Dinner fails fantastically. While the dreamy instrumentals and wide pallet are quite nice, they constantly marred as the man himself seems determined to mumble over them constantly while saying exactly nothing. When it comes to a Sun Kil Moon record, we don’t ask for active vocal melodies or catchy hooks, but we do ask for great lyricism, and when that is lacking, the project is almost unlistenable.

8. Kevin GatesLuca Brasi 3

Another entry in this list which received some sporadic, critical praise, Luca Brasi 3 is by no means unlistenable. In fact, if I’d never heard trap music before, I may even enjoy it. But after more than a decade of trap’s position at the top of popular music, the fatigue effects this album worse than most. This is because Kevin Gates does virtually nothing to differentiate his project from the tsunami of average, dime-a-dozen trap albums which is washing over the music industry at the moment. Snarky, braggadocios lyrics, trap cymbals, extended flows, we’ve heard it all a million times.

7. Nicki MinajQueen

Few feelings compare in intensity to the dread I felt when sitting down to a 70 minute Nicki Minaj album. Shockingly, it was slightly less offensive than expected, though it still lands here. While the instrumentals are, mercifully, more than mind numbing trap beats, they are nevertheless extremely puzzling, featuring strange pianos and the odd latin influence. Nicki’s trademark voices and accents are as grating as ever, though there’s a noticeable lack of her classic, high-pitched squeal, which is progress of a kind. Queen is just an overall unenjoyable experience which can at least be ignored, which is an improvement over previous work.

6. Lil DurkSigned to the Streets 3

There was a time when a new Lil Durk mixtape, particularly a continuation of the Signed to the Streets series, some of the best albums to come out of the drill scene, would’ve been massive news. It would’ve dropped to massive acclaim on Spinrilla and boast hard hitting bars and excellent underground features. Instead, it dropped on Spotify to virtual radio silence and featured the likes of Future and Lil Skies. In most cases, I wouldn’t even include this album on this list, and I’ve largely ignored the majority of Durk’s recent work, but Signed 3 is a disappointing conclusion on par with the likes of Godfather III, and I couldn’t help but mention it on this list.

5. Panic! At the DiscoPray for the Wicked

Speaking of artists that have aged poorly, Panic’s recent release is the sixth and worst in their discography. 2016’s Death of a Bachelor was the first time we heard Panic as a Brendon Urie solo project and though the absence of the other members was felt, there were enough unique ideas and Urie’s vocal was good enough to muscle the album up to a bearable level. Pray for the Wicked, on the other hand, is lacks all semblance of fun. Each track is a predictable, synth-heavy slog that feels almost obligatory at this point. There are no exciting vocal moments, no catchy hooks, just one uninspired attempt at a radio hit after another. It seems blatantly obvious now that Urie has outgrown the Panic moniker and the limitations that come with it.

4. Imagine DragonsOrigins

It seemed after last year’s Evolve, that Imagine Dragons’ career had run its course and possibly even overstayed their welcome. A year and another album later, this is the case tenfold. Origins makes some effort at interesting or heartfelt songwriting, but it’s so horribly stifled by the band’s need to write catchy hits for whoever listens to their watered down, EDM influenced pop, that these efforts are thwarted at every turn. The production is atrocious, zapping nearly all of the character from the lead vocals which are the record’s only prayer of an interesting quality. The worst offense, however, is the constant lyrical fixation on being an outsider and fighting the system, this coming from a band who’s debut album went double platinum and who’s music has flooded radio stations since their inception, chiefly because of their willingness to take underground influences like EDM and hip-hop and repackage them for mainstream audiences. This album is about as rebellious as the droves of Harley Quinn costumes that filled halloween parties this year, and it’s extremely boring to boot.

3. Fall Out BoyM A N I A

In a similar vein to P!atD, Fall Out Boy has been cashing in the good faith from their two good albums in the mi- 2000’s for almost a decade now with one vapid, overproduced, emo-pop album after another. With M A N I A, it would appear that they’ve scraped the bottom of the barrel. Soulless production, and atrocious instrumental pallet, and often grating hooks are just the start. The lyrics sound like the scribblings of a 12 year old FOB fan, desperately attempting to sell the illusion of edginess. Additionally, Patrick Stump turns in his most unforgivable vocal work to date. This is just yet another gratuitous release from a band that is so far past their sell by date that it’s becoming depressing, especially considering the special place their earlier work holds in all of our memories.

2. Florida Georgia LineFlorida Georgia Line

Granted, this was only an EP, but it was so egregious that it simply couldn’t escape this list.  When you start this album, there’s a lag moment, where your brain struggles to parse out what it’s hearing. Next, your body instinctively recoils, trying to defend itself from what it’s hearing. By the time you’ve reached the “acceptance” step of hearing a Florida Georgia Line project, it’s nearly over. I use the hyperbole because it’s difficult to point to one problem that lead to this, mostly because the answer is all of it. Vocals are comically twangy, the instrumentation sounds like a stock, country music ringtone, the hip-hop influences are atrocious, and the lyrics could be written by a country mad-lib book. Imagine a man in cowboy boots, drinking Mike’s Hard Lemonade, and vaping. That’s this album’s target demographic. It is, however, mercifully short, which is so much more than I can say for my top choice on this list. 

1. Drake Scorpion

How did you feel when you heard that Drake’s new album would be 25 songs and 90 minutes long? Me too. Following a very publicized beef with Pusha T which Pusha ended with one of the most brutal diss tracks in rap history, Drake entered his album cycle, for the first time, with a massive blemish on his record. Scorpion could’ve been a long, stream-of-consciousness contemplation on Drake’s fame and the issues he’s faced. It could’ve been a hard-hitting push back against his detractors. Instead, it was musical wallpaper, much like every other Drake album, but this time with a larger budget and a 90-minute runtime. Scorpion is a giant tribute to the epidemic of meaningless, effortless albums flooding the industry today and because of that, Scorpion is the worst album of the year.

XXXTENTACION Realizes Much of His Potential on Posthumous Release

In the end, SKINS is an interesting album, at times unique and well performed, at times formulaic and boring. It is, however, X’s best project yet and one can only wish we’d had more time to see what an interesting artist he could’ve become.

     XXXTENTACION needs very little introduction. He rose to some prominence as a particularly successful star of fight videos from a Florida based account but reached a massive audience with the release of of his debut single “Look At Me!” Ever the controversial figure, X nevertheless became a staple of the growing Florida rap scene, which was especially brutal subset of Soundcloud rap. After a few singles and EP’s, he released his first studio album, 17 which is often credited with starting the recent trend of albums lasting less than half an hour. His follow up, ?, was slightly longer and released with Capitol records, peaking at number one on the billboard charts. Both albums went platinum. Unfortunately, X was shot and killed in June while in Florida.

   While his previous work was nothing if not intriguing, I generally found in lacking in key areas. The heavy metal and grunge influences where glaring, and even materialized in a few heavier cuts, some of the best in his discography. In many ways, he brought experimental techniques like lo-fi production, guitar based instrumentals, and screaming, distorted vocals to the mainstream and to a youth which had never listened to artists like Death Grips, who use these elements far more effectively. With Skins, his first posthumous release, I was unsure what to expect and if I should even review the record. After listening, though, I found a mixed bag full of interesting ideas that are well worth discussing.

   The album opens with an introduction that, while a bit corny, is far more interesting than the intro on a project like 17. There’s a tinge of tongue in the cheek here, which alleviates some of the cringing that followed X’s other intros.

   After the intro, we get a few tracks back to back that are some of the best in Tentacion’s entire catalog. “Guardian Angel,” maybe my favorite track, features a twisted sample of his earlier hit, “Jocelyn Flores,” under a hard hitting verse with an excellent flow. “Train Food,” follows, telling the story of a fictional narrator’s encounter with the personification of death, an eerie topic for obvious reasons. The final monologue from the perspective of a man tied to a train track is powerful and heartfelt with a flow that radiates with influences from artists like Eminem.

   After such a great start, though, we fall back into X’s most annoying tendency, making thoughtless vibe tracks with little input aside from singing an ignorable hook. This is especially true for “woah,” which honestly sounds like a beat waiting to be rapped over. This track would’ve been far better served as an instrumental on someone else’s album, crediting X as a feature. “BAD!” Is also guilty of this, though there are some lyrics, vapid and meaningless as they may be.

   After this slump, we get another high. “STARING AT THE SKY,” though a bit overly dramatic, taps into its emo-rock inspiration in an interesting way. The explosive and distorted chorus is a nice moment, bringing his earliest work full circle and realizing its goal. The same is true for “One Minute,” which features enough of a Kanye West influence that X is more of a feature, but an excellent feature at that. Both of these tracks stand as accomplishments, the first times that he has been able to adequately accomplish his goals of incorporating metal and hard rock in a genuine and interesting way.

   The “Difference” interlude is essentially a demo that was never able to be fully realized, though it holds quite a bit of promise. Unfortunately, it’s followed by “I don’t let go,” another vibe-heavy track with minimal and ultimately meaningless rapping, this time mixed very poorly and nearly inaudible. The closer, “what are you so afraid of,” is certainly listenable, featuring a heartfelt vocal over a sweetly played guitar. It’s not my favorite sound for X, but it’s done quite a bit better than others like it.

   In the end, SKINS is an interesting album, at times unique and well performed, at times formulaic and boring. It is, however, X’s best project yet and one can only wish we’d had more time to see what an interesting artist he could’ve become.

5/10

HEAR SKINS:      https://open.spotify.com/album/1qsQOC4Jn0fnaUZLAbs4dz