The short life of Florida rapper XXXTentacion was defined by tragedy and self-destruction. He became suddenly notorious in May when Spotify announced it would no longer recommend his songs on its playlists after he was accused of aggravated battery of a pregnant woman (a decision reversed amid cries of censorship — with critics pointing out that bad boy rockers have never been singled out in such a fashion).
But even that infamy was eclipsed a month later as 20-year-old Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy was shot dead exiting a motorcycle dealership in Miami. All of which predictably casts a shadow over his second album of 2018 and his first posthumous release.
Muggy and inward looking, Skins finds the rapper obsessing over life and death. He imagines what it would be like to die by suicide on ‘Train Food’ and wonders if there is more to life in the guitar-drenched ‘Staring at the Sky’.
As a stylist, XXXTentacion is doomed to remain an acquired taste. His introverted style is universes removed from the traditional braggadocio. He sounds particularly glum trading lines with Kanye West on the album’s solitary ‘feature’ spot, ‘One Minute’.
Throughout, XXXTentacion mutters as much as he declaims and often sounds on the brink of sobbing.
Still, nothing guarantees pop stardom like overnight notoriety and XXXTentacion has become a unlikely superstar since his death, with Skins debuting at number one in the US.
The good news, if it is appropriate to describe it as such, is that this is no Tupac-style odds’n’sods cash-in. The record may clock in at just 20 minutes but packs a ferocious punch.
Whether a violent navel-gazer is worth even that much of your time is a question the listener must answer for themselves. But however problematic it may be, there is no disputing Skins’ haunting power.