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XXXTentacion - Bad Vibes Forever Music Album Reviews

His purported final posthumous album is more of monument to XXXTentacion’s brand rather than his artistry.

“You are literally entering my mind,” said XXXTentacion at the beginning of 17, his debut album. On its follow-up, ?, he issued a caveat, insisting listeners must “open their minds” to grasp his vision: “This album is far different, far more versatile, far more uplifting than the last.” Both statements were overblown bids for empathy and acknowledgment from an artist whose notoriety preceded him. He was trying to project that he was more than his pain, more than his worst actions, and experiencing the stylistic sprawl of his music would prove it, allowing listeners to see Jahseh Onfroy as he saw himself.


The late rapper makes a similar petition on his second posthumous album, billed as his “final” release. “I’m tryna to tell the world to fucking relax, bro… Let me be a prince, let me be a king, nigga,” he says in a rambling snippet repurposed as the album’s introduction. XXXTentacion’s estate clearly chose this clip to honor and preserve the self-image that the rapper was cultivating when he was shot and killed in 2018 while awaiting trial for domestic abuse charges. But like ? and his first posthumous record, Skins, Bad Vibes Forever fails to make his personal perception and aesthetic ideas cohere into anything other than generic kingmaking. This flimsy, haphazard album attempts to memorialize the rapper as a martyr and renaissance man when he is neither.

At his best, XXXTentacion was a reductionist. Favoring blunt, undermixed songs with slapdash structures and high-octane performances, his music turned crudeness into a kind of honesty. In his world, to be broken and distorted was to be real. This approach could approximate intimacy, but the flip side was that it prioritized his “truth” alone, cropping out the world beyond his rage and pain and fizzing into drivel whenever he attempted storytelling beyond “I’m hurt.” As he began to extend himself beyond emo crooning and mosh rap into full-on rock balladry and thrash ragers, his solipsism remained his main tool, resulting in genre-straddling that never amounted to more than cosplay.

“He wanted to be the artist that literally conquers all genres,” his manager Solomon Sobonde said. But he’s more tourist than conqueror, a one-man karaoke performance. From the diet dancehall of “Hot Gyal” and “Royalty” to the off-brand Chief Keef-isms of “Eat It Up” to the Cudi hums of “before i realize,” for all his versatility, XXXTentacion largely comes across as rudderless and indistinct. His constant hopscotching reveals no new dimensions to his songwriting, no larger artistic vision. His legacy, as presented by Bad Vibes Forever, is that he used SoundCloud between 2011 and 2018 and he listened to everything, even country.

The expansive features list heightens this lack of cohesion, resulting in jumbled songs that treat XXXTentacion like an accent rather than the marquee artist. On “School Shooters,” reportedly recorded as a response to the Parkland shooting, XXXTentacion threatens to drink the blood of school shooters while Lil Wayne empathizes with them, ending with XXX screaming gibberish. They sound like high-schoolers trying to shit-talk their way through detention. The boisterous, swaggering “Voss,” on loan from Sauce Walka’s 2018 mixtape Drip God, feels like a Sauce Walka song, a common problem when XXXTentacion is paired with artists whose versatility is rooted in technique and perspective rather than pantomime. The dark, soul-bearing Kemba verse on “Daemons” so thoroughly outclasses XXXTentacion’s vague occultisms (“Torture victims are due to scripture”) that its appearance feels like a pity offering.

It’s never clear what XXXTentacion represents to the artists who show up to support him. Despite their shared Miami origins, Rick Ross mentions XXXTentacion alongside Nipsey Hussle as if reading from a teleprompter list of recently deceased rappers. The Blink-182 feature that closes the album is clearly meant as a nod to XXXTentacion’s love of pop-punk, but the only thing Mark Hoppus seems to know about XXXTentacion is that he died. “Do you still dream about me late at night?/Or are you out there living better times?” he reads from his Cameo inbox. Compared to the atmosphere of grief and loss on January’s Members Only, Vol. 4, recorded by the rapper’s Members Only clique, Bad Vibes Forever feels like a Hallmark card adapted into a tribute concert.

This empty mythmaking draws attention to XXXTentacion’s dubious requests for listeners to absolve him of choices and actions he doesn’t even express. He seeks forgiveness without contrition, context, or self-awareness, claiming, “I’m not with the torturing shit” one moment and then boasting, “Dove into the pussy, caught a battery” the next. His desire to be purged through his art is untenable--not just because it’s self-serving and evasive even in absentia, but because his posturing isn’t remotely consistent. His music has never even attempted to address the way his charges of strangulating a pregnant woman, domestic battery, and witness tampering fueled his blustering persona. Of course, a posthumous album will try to flatter its subject, but this album is a hoodwink from start to finish.

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XXXtentacion as a polyglot is an especially tough sell in an era where border crossing and cross-wiring are standard. It’s hard to square the hollow way Bad Vibes Forever falls back on the aesthetic alibi with the way stronger records from this year, like Denzel Curry’s ZUU, Beyoncé’s Homecoming, and Rapsody’s Eve, use range as a means of refinement. This idea that XXXTentacion was some kind of precocious savant with a natural talent for hybridity (producer John Cunningham claims XXXTentacion is “a far more versatile artist” than 2Pac) ignores the free-wheeling SoundCloud cohort that he was apart of, the rowdy South Florida scene that shaped him, and the broader permeability of contemporary music since average internet bandwidth crossed 1 mbps.

Ultimately, the songs XXXTentacion has left behind are insubstantial and narrow, and Bad Vibes Forever only weakens the case that his view of himself was ever a worthwhile lens with which to process his art. His legacy is as defined by his heinous actions as it is by his hamfisted music, and in death, as in life, he makes no attempt to suture that fissure. Why should we?


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About Udara Madusanka

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