Genre: Rap, R&B
Unjustly murdered at the age of 20 earlier this year, XXXTentacion’s musical progression was abruptly cut short as he entered the prime of his career. Serving as the unlikely figurehead of the new wave of emo rap, he ushered in an era of vulnerability that’s equally melancholic and rage-inducing.
Following his mega-hit album ? in March, his label has seen fit to compile a bunch of unreleased tracks from the late rapper and drop them as a posthumous album with Skins. XXXTentacion has been part of a prolific string of features since his death, notably on his Latin pop collaboration with Lil Pump and Maluma on “Arms Around You“, pop-rock duet with Lil Peep on “Falling Down“, and opener for Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter V on “Don’t Cry“. One can only wonder how much X really wanted these collaborations to be made, or whether they even come close to the artistic representation that he’d envisioned.
Lead single “BAD!” sticks to the mumbled singing that X has been known for since his debut album – 17. Running for a sparse 1 minute and 34 seconds, it is also consistent with his seeming inability or disregard to making songs with a traditional structure. It’s a notable step back from the progression seen on ?, the barely intelligible vocals on the only verse on this song is infuriating while the 2 hooks barely tread any new artistic ground. Clearly a throwaway from the ? sessions, it’s a sign of how the label has begun to scrape the bottom of the barrel for any potential XXXTentacion material that they could milk money out of.
This boils down to what Skins really is – a desperate cash grab before the label executives run out of X material to re-purpose into marketable products. The album is a glorified demo tape that has a price tag attached to it. Only a handful of songs actually feel completed, and most of them barely feature X’s presence as he raps or sings only a little over a minute before the instrumental kicks in to pad out the runtime to make them of an acceptable length. It’s an amalgamation of unfinished song concepts and bare-faced greed.
The track “Whoa” is a prime example of this as breezy keys kick the track off, setting a lighthearted tone (as light as X can be) much like that of “Moonlight” from ?. Then, the vocals kick in and X barely forms any words with his mouth. Clearly meant to be a reference track, his singing was just haphazardly slapped onto the instrumental and everyone involved decided that it was a good enough effort to put onto an album. Even on the closing track “what are you so afraid of”, the song only consists of the chorus being sung twice over a haunting guitar loop. A boring and inconsequential song that acts as a perfect summary of the effort put into this project. Even the shortest of X tracks on his previous releases feature a little more depth and structure to them. Most the songs here just seem lazy and hastily made before his body could even turn cold.
The best song on the album, which also doubles as the only one that exceeds the 3-minute mark, is the Kanye West collaboration “One Minute”. The nu-metal inspired instrumental is a refreshing change of pace from the rest of the record, plus Kanye’s impressively blistering verse is a clear standout from his 2018 features. So much so to the point where it feels like Kanye song with an XXXTentacion feature instead of the other way around. This is because X’s vocals suffer from the same problem as every other song here – his performance is clearly unfinished. Listening to him drone on as he shouts ‘ONE MINUTE!’ into my ears for one actual minute may seem like some meta-commentary from X, but I wouldn’t put it past the fact that label heads just pulled this verse out of the vault so they could sell a Kanye collab.
Skins is a disgusting attempt at selling a clearly unfinished product. It’s hard to tell if this was what XXXTentacion truly wanted to make or if anything from this project was even remotely close to his artistic vision. But from the incomplete tracks to the sub-par vocals to the abysmal song structures, Skins easily sits as one of the worst projects of 2018.
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