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Separating Trippie Redd’s Life’s a Trip from the creative, professional and personal ghosts that encompass it is difficult. Two of Redd’s peers (and one occasional antagonist), XXXTentacion and Lil Peep, died at their creative peaks, leaving a considerable hole in whatever genre you want to call their rap, pop-punk, emo and metal fusion. Trippie, with the release of 2017’s A Love Letter To You and the breakout success of “Love Scars,” was the next to capitalize off the trend. However, the lukewarm reception of A Love Letter To You 2, coupled with multiple arrests and his removal from Drake’s “God’s Plan,” cast the Canton, Ohio, native as another potential casualty of rap’s streaming gold rush.

Indulgent, polished and deeply personal, Trippie Redd’s debut studio album is a course correction. Life’s a Trip succeeds by placing Redd’s narrative at its core and leaning into the inventive melodies that initially put the young rapper on the map.

The central theme of Life’s a Trip is facing the inevitability of death. The album’s first song “Together” sees Trippie singing about striving to “keep it together” and fighting his inner demons before he asks a nameless other on the Scott Storch-and-Avendon-produced “Taking A Walk” whether “they think I wanna die.” The trilogy of morbidity momentarily ends after the Diplo-produced “Wish,” which features a cliché bar about Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Lyrically, Trippie is direct. Vocally, his balance between restrained and bombastic delivery is unmatched.

The album’s peak comes with the back-to-back perfection of “Miss My Idols” and “Forever Ever,” featuring Young Thug and Reese LaFlare. The former finds Trippie paying homage to Lil Wayne and his characteristic punchlines with bars like, “might just have to drop a bomb, Han Solo/Got me bicken back being bool, Quasimoto.” On “Forever Ever,” Trippie Redd does something that even the most talented rappers have problems accomplishing: He creatively matches Young Thug’s wildest melodic impulses, with both artists delivering their best performances in recent memory. It speaks volumes that Thug’s otherworldly hook is almost outdone by the first four bars of Trippie’s melodic verse, which could’ve easily served as the song’s hook itself.

At 14 tracks, Life’s a Trip is a brisk listen. Songs like “Bird Shit,” “Bang!” and the Travis Scott-assited “Dark Knight Dummo” are serviceable, but do little to move the narrative forward. It isn’t until “How You Feel” and “Oompa’s Revenge” that the ghosts of Redd’s past finally take form. On both songs, Trippie honors the memory his fallen brother, offering a rare glimpse of vulnerability that goes deeper than the traditional emo surface of general longing and loss. When Redd sings, “If you were here, be so proud” over a sample of Eddie Money’s 1997 song “Baby Hold On,” his voice sounds heartbroken and raw. He doubles down on those feelings during “Oompa’s Revenge,” rapping, “I used to feel alone, but I know my brother’s soul is with me.”

Life’s a Trip is a triumph, because it paints Trippie’s painful past as something visceral and real to listeners. On his debut, the Canton rapper proves the shadows and ghosts looming over his career only needed to be eclipsed by proving he is a relatable man behind the scars.

See Behind-the-Scenes Photos of Trippie Redd at the 2018 XXL Freshman Cover Shoot