Lil Xan Rarely Strays From His Formula on ‘Total Xanarchy’ Album
Lil Xan is the latest millennial rapper to fall victim to hip-hop’s purist firing squad—and it’s not just because he’s 21 years old, covered in face tattoos and chose a prescription-turned-recreational drug for his moniker (albeit projecting an anti-Xan stance). Xan's recent backlash is all because he seemingly defaced hip-hop's Mount Rushmore by calling Tupac's music "boring" when asked for his evaluation of the rap legend. He released his debut album Total Xanarchy on the backend of that controversy, and one play through reveals the source of that brazenness. The album is filled top to bottom with an unwavering mix of lo-fi trap croons and high-energy party bops, all of which showcases his IDGAF attitude. This approach helps, but mostly hinders the overall listenability of Total Xanarchy.
The Redlands, Calif. rapper's debut album is an extension of his past viral hits. He continues to rap about lovers, haters and drugs with the same spacey delivery over contemporary production. He even sprinkles in previous hits like “Slingshot” and his noteworthy breakout hit “Betrayed” to bring the album some welcomed familiarity.
The song that will likely come out the other side of this album as a smash hit to supersede even “Betrayed” is the Diplo-produced “Color Blind.” Xan starts off as usual, rapping about past flames with a drawl, until the song suddenly takes a sharp EDM warp. Xan catches the perfect pocket within the pulsating dance beat, making an outright smash hit that will resonate with mumble rap aficionados and rave goers everywhere. It’s refreshing to hear—even for just one song—that Xan is trying new styles regardless of his already proven formula.
The rest of album strictly follows that pre-established floor plan, though, rendering the listening experience monotonous. Most songs are short, easily digestible and prioritize beats over bars. Bobby Johnson laces the majority of the album’s infectious instrumentals but Xan also gets some help from DJ Fu, Ronny J and Danny Wolf, too. The instrumentation at large is top-notch and polished but leans heavily on overblown 808 drums and spacey baselines. This keeps Xan in his comfort zone: repeating chorus lines over and over—it’s often unclear where hooks end and verses begin. If it weren’t for 2 Chainz's verse breaking up the repetition on “Tick Tock,” the song would remain unnervingly cluttered. The same mind-numbing reiteration drives songs like “Diamonds” and “The Man,” making them dificult to listen to for any extended period.
“Moonlight” featuring Charli XCX breaks up the dizzying trap sounds and bodes well for Xan’s songwriting ability. He gets off smooth lines like, “Under the moonlight, she said she felt the mood right/And said, 'Is everything right?' We drunk up off that moonshine/We look up at the starlights, she look just like the star shine” and “Ayy, but it don't mean shit if you ain't happy, though/Happiness is all that matters, I hope you know.” The beat from DJ Fu and G Koop is stripped-down and relaxed; Xan’s flow follows suit. “Shine Hard” with Rae Sremmurd is another rare example of Xan building his vocal performance uniquely around a song instead of throwing a bunch of “ayys” and “yeaaahs” over a thundering beat.
What makes Total Xanarchy shaky is also what makes for an honest debut. Sure, there are moments of redundancy and filler songs that could have been left on the cutting room floor. But a lot of music on this album is fresh, exciting and a sign of the changing times. In 2018, a year in which young rappers are moving the needle forward, Xan has the potential to be a pioneer in his own right.
See New Music Releases for April 2018