Nothing about Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy, who performs as XXXTentacion, is conventional. Who he is as a person, his persona, and his music can be argued are all one and the same. His unconventionalism is what thrust his assent into his cult following and what is unappealing to the mainstream music industry. 17, Onfroy’s debut album, gives listeners an insight into the mind of a teenager plagued with mental health problems.
As an artist, the 19-year-old is as versatile as they come. When the name XXXTentacion is thrown around, what’s brought up are his actions inside and outside his music career, his use of crass lyrics, and songs that are produced differently (or awfully to some) to tell you it’s real and not another product of manufactured mainstream music. 17 is hardly a rap album; Onfroy showcases his until now underused singing abilities that blend R&B with distinct emo-punk undertones.
“The Explanation” is a precursor to the album. In his own words: “By listening to this album, you are literally, and I cannot stress this enough, literally entering my mind,” and even goes as far to say “and if you are not willing to accept my emotion, and hear my words fully, do not listen.” If it wasn’t clear already, he says, “I do not value your money / I value your acceptance and loyalty / Here is my pain and thoughts put into words.” With this monologue, Onfroy sets the tone for the rest of the album.
As far as execution goes, Onfroy doesn’t deliver consistently on the album. Onfroy tries too hard to come across as an edgy teen, so much so that it’s unappealing to the listener. However, on “Jocelyn Flores” and “Revenge,” his execution is no issue. From the perfectly balanced production, to lyrics that grab you by the heart, they are the centrepieces of the album.
Though 17 is an R&B album, there’s rapping on songs such as “Everybody Dies In Their Nightmare” and “Jocelyn Flores.” Onfroy does an excellent job of maintaining the low-key vibe of the album, despite the change in genre. Furthermore, “Depression and Obsession” is a breezy listen, but doesn’t offer much lyrically, and comes across as too edgy.
Where the emo-punk undertones in Onfroy’s voice are showcased the most are on “Save Me,” “Ayala Outro,” and “Revenge.” Especially in the former, where the song’s production parallels that of Mud Flow’s “The Sense Of Me” or “I Wanna Be Adored” by The Stone Roses, in terms of the buildup before lyrics are introduced, and the flow of the song. His versatility shines through noticeably.
Of the 11 songs on the album, “F*ck Love” is the most marketable, with its bass-infused production, and the voice of Trippie Redd fitting the mould of the current state of hip-hop and R&B. On the other hand, “Orlando” and “Carry On” are the opposite.
The power of 17 is that it’s a Groundhog Day in the form of an album; each listen comes across as if it’s the first. Onfroy’s thoughts, in combination with his voice, are shockingly elegant, and even though it’s rather unpolished, it’s raw, and that’s who he is. The 19-year-old is not a saint, but he is not a false idol either. 17 is XXXTentacion, stripped and naked with visceral emotion — emotion that maintains his cult-leader authority over his following. His music and he himself aren’t for everyone’s tastes, but with an open mind, the album is worth a listen.