It hasn’t been a good couple of years for emo rap. In a short span of time Lil Peep, Juice WRLD and XXXTentacion have all passed away without a single one of them reaching the age of 22. The causes are different in each case, but the fact none of them lived long enough to enjoy the fruits of adulthood may feel to some like a troubling trend. Unfortunately if you’ve been following hip-hop since the 1980’s, rappers living fast and dying young is a far too familiar pattern. The biggest difference if any is that the usual cause used to be black on black crime. Beefs wound up being settled with bullets instead of fists. Jealousy and envy led to gunfire directed at the successful. Armed robbery led to rising stars losing their lives and not just their chains.
For all of the artists mentioned above save for the star of “Bad Vibes Forever” the recreational abuse of powerful medications led to a shorter lifespan. Although XXXTentacion was an unapologetic syrup sipper and pill popper in his own right, it was the old demons of jealousy and beef that conspired to cut him down in his prime. Listening to this posthumous album has me pondering the old “What if?” The opening “Introduction” finds Jahseh Onfroy speaking passionately about his desires. “I really want to amount to something great. Let me be a Prince. Let me be a King off the sense of my mind, cause me and my mind is different. You feel me?”
From that point forward it’s a long and strange journey that travels down many winding roads. If you’ve never asked the question where an artist’s authentic vision begins and a blatant cash-in ends, you’ve never listened to a posthumous album from Biggie or 2Pac before. It’s hard not to wonder if what’s released in their name is what they really intended. They weren’t there to offer their input on the choice of instrumentals, the featured guest artists, or even the smallest details like the cover art and track order.
The title track of “Bad Vibes Forever” feels like the only 100% certified authentic Onfroy track, down to the emo rap collaboration with Trippie Redd and PnB Rock and John Cunningham production. “School Shooters” seems pretty natural too. If Lil Wayne didn’t record the vocals for XXX before he died, I can’t tell the difference. The first time it gets straight up strange though is “I Changed Her Life” when Rick Ross shows up. It’s not a bad song, but it barely has any vocals from Onfroy at all and is only 1:48 long, making it more of a Rozay track than the other way around.
Ross isn’t anywhere near the most blatant cash-in. The video for “Royalty” is as expensive as its guest stars: Ky-Mani Marley, Stefflon Don and Vybz Kartel. It’s accurate to describe them as “Royalty” in the reggae/dancehall scene, and I’m not here to doubt that XXX wanted to sing with them given his statements in the introduction about being “a Prince” and “a King.” In fact I rather suspect they are related rather than the two separated tracks they are presented to be. The problem here though is the one with the Rick Ross track magnified by a thousand — whose song is it anyway? The JonFX beat and regal guest list will tear up the club, but Onfroy ends up being 25% or less of the actual song, making it entirely possible this was stitched together out of whole cloth to make the album more marketable.
The list of big names contributing to “Bad Vibes Forever” never slows down from start to finish. In fact the literal finish of the nearly hour long album is the eerily titled “It’s All Fading to Black” featuring Cali rock band blink-182. Their drummer Travis Barker is well known for his love of hip-hop and collaborations with rap artists, but was XXX even on his radar or vice versa? Was Joyner Lucas on the “NorthStar” remix? Were Joey Badass and Kemba on “Daemons”? The latter joint I REALLY have my doubts about.
The biggest problem with “Bad Vibes Forever” is that it’s a good album. If you’re laughing, I understand, that normally shouldn’t be a problem at all. You should buy this album and be happy that the proceeds will go to his estate and subsequently whatever family members or charities will get the benefit from it. As much as I enjoy this album though the questions I have listening to it just won’t go away. Emo rappers often tend to release short albums with even shorter tracks, and this one is suspiciously long and incredibly overloaded with talent. If you wanted XXX to have one last hurrah before riding off into the sunset though, this is probably it.