Lil Xan, the 21-year-old “face of sad-rap,” is notorious for his irreverence to norms. He once called Tupac Shakur “boring” and constantly flirts with the possibility of abandoning his druggy persona — while still demonstrating druggy behavior.
However, his music is anything but trailblazing. He has mostly aligned himself with the SoundCloud trends of moody trap beats, edgy lyrics, and narcotic nihilism. Heartbreak Soldiers, the seven-track follow up to his debut album Total Xanarchy, succeeds during the few times it diverges from that formula and shows glimmers of optimism.
At multiple points on the EP, Xan renounces his self-destructive persona by declaring that he wants to now go by Diego. But like any transitional period, mixed messages dominants the narrative. At times, he seems prepared to embrace a peppier attitude, while on other points he’s still relishing in the melancholy that made him famous. “Lies,” distills both vibes into one track. Over a light and playful beat, Xan (or is it Diego?) raps about how fame isn’t necessarily what it seems because he’s still left with an unsolvable dreariness. With depressing lines like “Yeah I rap, but I still fly coach, Yeah I’m rich, but I still don’t boast, Yeah I’m sad, please slit my throat,” he reassures his fans that he’s still very much emo. When Lil Skies tags in for his verse, his vibrant flow provides a nice contrast to Xan’s numbness.
Xan’s struggle with his newfound notoriety is also explored on the woozy track “Not The Same” where he borrows from Drake’s playbook by rapping about how women now treat him differently. Not one for subtlety, he closes off the sleepy song with the line, “It’s like a bitter-sweet thing with this rap shit.” On the other hand, “Better Days,” hints at happiness. Morgoth Beatz’ production is cheerfully tropical, lending Xan an upbeat groove to talk about his hope for “sunny days.”
Heartbreak Soldiers falls apart in its second half as Xan gradually starts to phone it in. “Oh No,” for example, is a sonic disaster. Xan’s labored slog of a chorus pops in and out, failing to provide the song any semblance of structure. On “Emotions,” Billy Martin and Morgoth Beatz give Xan a dreamy backdrop composed of guitar strumming and spacious textures. But the 21-year-old rapper’s off-kilter attempt at a melodic flow doesn’t bode well with the beat. What could have been an enticing tale about heartbreak is muddled by his rhythmic shortcomings.
Whether he continues his career as Diego or Xan will determine if Heartbreak Soldiers signifies a turning point for the emo rapper. Despite not always succeeding and lacking lyrical depth, the EP occasionally hints at what could happen if he tones down the angsty vibes and focuses on crafting hooks.