Untethered and seething. XXXTENTACION‘s sudden passing earlier this year left fans shocked and reeling around the world, but SKINS gives listeners a project perfect in its capture of the legacy this monumental artist has built.“Listen close, what is this? / Is it heartbreak? / Is it truly what it feels like? / What it sound like? / What is truly at the essence?”, these are the first proper words spoken by XXX as he enters into the album on the hypnotic and instantly mood-setting, “Guardian Angel”. Slipping away as fast as it came, we find ourselves in the haunting and increasingly paranoid world of “Train food” before gasps for breathe become our entire reality. Immersed in this overwhelming force it is nearly impossible to escape the ache that starts in your chest and consumes you slowly… only for the feeling to be completely flipped on its head with the arrival of “whoa (mind in awe)”.
Now I’m not going to bounce from one track to the next, but those three are important to to look at together because they begin to paint the larger picture of an artist that is notoriously hard to pin down. A flawed human working to find a way to express his hopes, fears and shortcomings with spouts of optimism that in a space of a song the world can melt into something completely new. It’s the balance of all of these elements that make a real person – one that not only connects with their audience, but reflects the very parts of the audience that people yearn to find in others.
The shifting styles across the album’s nine tracks are extremely representative of what XXXTENTACION‘s career has brought fans over its intensive run. Whether soft, acoustic driven melodies expressing missives of loss and heartbreak, bouncy and melodic driven bangers, or no holds bar punk explosions, X never fails to execute to the highest caliber. With the only feature being the ever-impressive (and ever-controversial) Kanye West, we are shown that these creatives work on the same level of artistic pursuit as West‘s feature – while not absent of a corny bar or two – never feels forced or like it could not exist in the space that X opens around SKINS.
As the album comes to a close, “Difference (interlude)”, “I don’t let go”, and “what are you afraid of” serve as a final reminder of what XXXTENTACION does best. Lyrically potent, flows so catching it’s hard to not listen on repeat, and musically elevated to heights unexpected of a musician so young. There is so much that could be said about this contentious figure, but at the end of the day his music speaks for itself and must be experienced first hand.