Updated: Jan 21
An unmatched versatility, a huge influence thats visible only a few short months after his death, and an impact over a generation of kids, is XXXTentacion the greatest artist of all time? Does XXXTentacion deserve to be in the goat conversation? I know a lot of hip hop purists are freaking out right now, calm down. I don’t mean greatest rapper in the lyrical miracle rappity rap sense. Hip hop has evolved. With the help of artists like Kid Kudi, Kanye West, Drake, Lil Wayne and young thug, versatility has become a mainstay in hip hop. People are incorporating melody, harmonies, flows and emotion in their music more than ever before.
With the change in hip hop, should the bar for the greatest change? In his short time doing music XXXTentacion became the epitome of versatility. Showing a range from underground grimey rap, soft rock, screamo rap, lofi emo rap, metal music and conscious rap.
His discography speaks for itself. He could go from conscious songs like Riot where he talks about race relations in America, a revolution and the etiquette of a riot, to save me where he’s singing his heart out like it’s a ballad in a chorus that’s reminiscent of a 70’s rock ballad, to songs like up like an insomniac where he talks about feeding girls Xanax for dinner while incorporating enough flows to make Biggie Smalls proud.
He created a sound that embraces the versatility in current hip hop. Through that sound he cultivated a cult like fan base that made him the most streamed artist frequently even though he received no radio play until his untimely death.
X might be the ultimate example of what an artist can be because of the internet. Kids today are influenced by music from all over the world and the old regional way of viewing hip hop has died. X happens to be from Florida but you wouldn’t know that from listening to his music. Not only was X versatile, he had virtually mastered all the genres of music he was creating. Being only 20 years old when he died X had 2 albums that were a shift from what he was known for in his earlier music.
He originally made a kind of screamo, Rock inspired distorted rap music specifically to avoid going mainstream, the biggest of those being his breakout hit Look at me which featured a distinct distorted vocal. And there have been a ton of people copying his sound, style and cadence. From JuiceWrld to Rico Nasty, all the way to Drake.
His first 2 solo major releases which featured a more soft rock, lofi rap approach could be considered modern classics. The first of those releases being 17, which has a run time of almost 22 minutes. X specifically said he made it for depressed kids, basically ostracizing people who don’t suffer from depression, yet it was still critically and commercially successful. The single Fuck love went 2 times platinum and the album was widely acclaimed by critics, fans and his peers alike, even receiving a co-sign from Kendrick Lamar who said “listen to this if you feel anything”. A co-sign from a goat contender should sway even the purest of purists.
His next release was his final release before his passing. The album was called “?”. The title was perfect because just like X you couldn’t put a label on the album. It wasn’t just rap, it wasn’t just rock and it wasn’t just spanish.
This one clocked in at around 38 minutes and it featured the versatility that I think is the hallmark of his career. From melodic mumble rap in songs like hope to some of the best rapping we’ve heard from a younger artist today in his song infinity where he, in my opinion, outperforms another talented young lyricist in Joey Badass. To an actual Spanish song in “I don’t even speak spanish lol”. Now thats versatility.
This album was also critically and commercially successful, with the albums first single sad going 4 times platinum. Sadly, no pun intended, X’s career and life were cut short months later when he was shot down in Florida while shopping for motorcycles. After his death the studio released his posthumous album skins which came out to mixed reviews from critics and fans saying it sounded unfinished, yet the album still went number one with the single charting.
The album features Kanye West and other frequent collaborators like Ski Mask the slump god. After his death X featured on many songs from songs with Lil Wayne, Lil Pump, the late Lil Peep and there were even rumours of a collaboration with the weeknd. It’s safe to say that his fame skyrocketed after his death and he achieved that mainstream status he was trying to avoid earlier in his career.
But are 2 arguably classic yet short albums, an unfinished posthumous release and a handful of collaborative mixtapes enough of a measuring stick for the title of the greatest of all time? Is music the only measure for that title? 2pac shakur is widely considered the greatest hip hop artist of all time. His music resonated with a generation that felt his music and felt as though he was speaking for them. 2pac was bigger than his music. He was almost a martyr speaking on behalf of the youth at the time on a grand scale. Even though his music was beloved by many it was his interviews and his outspokenness that solidified his place as one of the greats.
He spoke about race, society and the anger the youth were feeling towards the system that oppressed them at the time. There’s a strong case to be made that for the emerging generation Z that is XXXtentacion. The marker of our generation seems to be mental health. For a variety of reasons, including but not limited to climate change, polar political extremism, financial strifes, social media, a general feeling of impending doom and much much more.
Whether its because people are more open about mental health now,or more people are experiencing mental illness now, it’s safe to say that many people are suffering from some type of mental health disorder more openly than before. X exemplified that struggle and the road to overcoming one's own demons. X suffered from bipolar and depression and was a troubled kid. From trying to stab a man who attempted to attack his mother at only 6 years old, to being kicked out of schools, getting into fights and a series of other traumatic life events, it’s safe to say X was battling some heavy demons. After coming out of jail X was still facing gruesome domestic abuse charges that he vehemently denied.
X came out of jail and seemed like he was on a path to redemption. He began talking about positivity and preaching that to the youth. He started the helping hand challenge, that was even allegedly stolen by drake in his Grammy award winning Gods Plan video, where X asked all his fans to do a random act of kindness a day and donated thousands in games, toys, computers and money to schools, charities and underprivileged kids. It seemed as though X had changed his ways and was using his energy for good.
X also had these long Instagram live conversations with hundreds of kids from around the world where he had rants reminiscent of a Dick Gregory or KRSOne. It was completely different than the music he was known for. He would talk about the benefits of drinking water, media programming, the power of the mind, spirituality, love, universal laws, society and health. He was following in the footsteps of the early phases of conscious hip hop which was to teach the youth. Just like Pacs interviews, X’s insta lives are what put him in a different category that makes his impact bigger than just his music. And even in his music he showed the wide array of emotions that being a young person in the world today entails. X is widely considered by his peers and fans alike as the voice of his generation. And just like Pac his life was cut short before he could reach his full potential.
XXXTentacion was a walking contradiction. He would talk about wanting to help the world and the amount of empathy he feels for his fellow humans but there would also be videos of him fighting people. He would make conscious music one second and the other he's talking about killing someone with his blade. He was a walking contradiction just like everyone else. Thats what made so many people attracted to him. We're attracted to contradictions because we are contradictions. X was far from perfect but he was definitely a special artist. Impact, influence, versatility and longevity. It seems like X has it all. Is it too early to say he’s the greatest of all time? maybe. But is there a case to be made? I think so. What do you think?