On Simba, XX takes the best qualities from his two previous mixtapes, and combines them into his best project since his magna opus, (englewood)Kid. He's also sounding a lot more confident too. Let's get into it.
Track 1) “simba” [High 7/10]
Here we go! The first track on this project is already better than the vast majority of matchingflowers, which is a fantastic sign. For a start, the lo-fi beat produced by Black Ant balances introspection and creativity in a sonically pleasing manner.
XX performs just as well though. He is quick to remind us that he freestyles his raps, and has some quotables and clever tidbits of wordplay scattered throughout his short verse. His flow is very bouncy, complimenting the beat like peanut butter does to jelly.
In terms of technical ability, XX/\/\E isn’t very shabby either. His delivery is on point, and as I mentioned before, his flow is suiting to the track. No, it’s not perfect, but “simba” is simple and catchy; the title track certainly starts the project on a high note.
Track 2) “slate” [High 6/10]
As an instrumental interlude, “slate” isn’t too shabby. Although this isn’t my favorite beat XX has produced to date, this is perhaps his most atmospheric. He certainly takes utilizes panning correctly, as he pulses soft synths back and forth through my headphones.
There were some moments when the synths and main melody (a guitar?) were off-synch, but it is a very smooth listen overall. It certainly serves its purpose: to start off the project on a clean slate, just as the title states.
Track 3) “listentomyfriendandbuymymixtape” feat. Kiid CraZEE [N/A/10]
Although I’m not rating it, this interlude certainly gave me positive feelings. Kiid CraZEE has a pleasurable voice, and it is utilized to praise XX while he is adlibbing in the background. There are funny moments on the interlude too.
The background beat reminds me of a leftover of schoolbreak (as does the whole interlude), but the whole 53 second track is overall very entertaining from its beginning to its end. It definitely fits in the context of the project too.
Track 4) “bread” [Low 8/10]
Reminiscent of Frank Ocean’s “Fertilizer”, “bread” is another short track that is not only introspective but entertaining and humorous. The sampled beat by Sabata is certainly produced well; the intro is a nice touch. It also ties into the first lyric.
Everybody steady getting salty, 'cause they say that I've changed
XX certainly sounds a lot more confident here than he did on matchingflowers, perhaps motivated by Kiid CraZEE interlude. The bars he spits are above average (especially for a freestyle), and he flows well over the unique instrumental that he selected.
He uses quite a few voices on this track too, giving me nostalgia for Miles. Although XX’s music is constantly evolving, little things like this prove to me that XX respects his past as much as he respects his future. All in all, “bread” is a great song.
Track 5) ”smown” feat. BLVCK PHARAOH [High 4/10]
Here we go…”smown” is the first track on this project that I dislike. The main issue for me is the production. The sample of Beyoncé’s “7/11” is completely unnecessary, and the clashing key signatures of the different synths drowned out XX and PHAROAH’s vocals.
This is quite a shame considering that this track contains some of XX/\/\E’s best singing to date. Although his lyrics were decent at best, I can certainly see improvement in XX’s vocal delivery, and it sounded perfectly when topped with XX’s adlibs.
BLVCK PHARAOH (aka Akecheta) is a rapper that I haven’t been a fan of in the past. Although I still can’t claim that I dig his verse here, I can certainly see improvement in the rapper. His flow is a bit too choppy for my taste, but I can definitely see the appeal in it.
His vocal delivery is a bit cringeworthy still, but thank god that PHAROAH no longer sings with that awful vibrato. To be expected, the lyrics were relatable and well-written. Overall, I’m a bit disappointed, but this track has its redeeming qualities.
Track 6) “feeling - catch” [Low 6/10]
Overall, this is slightly forgettable, but still a decent track. The beat XX chose for this track is certainly one of Madbliss’s most repetitive and sloppy, but it features a clever sample and hard-hitting drums (I especially love the snares he included).
XX’s flow is a bit on the slower side here, but it is once again, still enjoyable within the context of the song. Lyrically, XX doesn’t say anything he hasn’t said so before, but he does his thing and it works. Overall, is this filler? Probably. But is it enjoyable? Yes.
Track 7) “beyond” feat. Max Wells [High 6/10]
This is perhaps one of the most polished and professional songs on the project. XX’s singing isn’t particularly great, but his message is. I do quite enjoy listening to the morose instrumental with its rattling hi-hats and gloomy main synth.
Max Wells performed pretty well as a feature. His triplet flow is very clean…perhaps even better than the Migos themselves. Perhaps the emotion he expressed through his delivery was a bit melodramatic, but his lyrics were relatable and emotional.
Track 8) “ill be right back” [Middle 7/10]
This is perhaps one of the most dreamy and lucid instrumentals on the project. However, it is still a very enjoyable listen. The tight drums sound very well under the ambient synths, though XX let it drag out for too long at the end. XX still does the beat justice though.
Flow-wise, this is certainly one of the stand-out track on simba. He uses numerous flows throughout the course of the song, rotating through them very fluidly. XX’s rougher voice juxtaposes the smooth atmosphere of the beat, giving the song grit and creativity.
XX’s lyrics are also admirable too. He seems to be talking to a friend throughout the course of a song, apologizing for his mixtakes. Although this isn’t the first time XX has made a song of this sort (see “Adoption”), he executes the concept of this song well.
Track 9) “closed” feat. J Trauma [Low 9/10]
Thankfully, XX hasn’t been biting Trauma’s style on this mixtape (like he did on New Jersey, but he does so here in the best way possible. The production on here is fantastic, with distant guitar riffs and hard-hitting trap drums. The double-layering technique that was put in use at around halfway through the song is beyond genius.
XX decides to keep J Trauma on the hook here, which is actually a smart move. He performs it with lots of confidence and his deep voice and intricate flow sound perfect over the beat. The hook may be a bit complicated, but it is still relatable and catchy to an extent.
Delivery-wise, XX also completely snapped. In that category alone, this is perhaps one of his best songs ever. Lyrically, he isn’t too shabby either, taking Trauma’s cliché “swage” songs to the next level. All in all, this is a phenomenal effort…one of XX and J Trauma’s best collaborations to date.
Track 10) “no comment” [Low 6/10]
Once again, this track feels a bit filler even though it is still sonically pleasing. I liked how XX added a cool effect to his vocals, making them pan back in forth in my headphones. This paired along with the filter slabbed onto XX’s vocals made it a thrilling experience.
Despite this, the track is not very melodic and actually features no harmonies, which is somewhat rare for XX. It also doesn’t help that XX isn’t exactly the best singer on the planet. However, what he does on this track works…to an extent at least.
Track 11) “wave” feat. Loucid [Low 6/10]
Wow…this could have easily been one of my favorite songs on the mixtape if it weren’t for one key issue. However, let’s first discuss what I enjoy about this song. The production is a bit ditsy, but it sounds smooth and gives me 1958.1963.2000 vibes. XX’s vocals are mastered perfectly as well; he added cool filters to his adlibs.
In terms of actual rapping, XX does well too. His intro to the track is absolutely hilarious, as is the first half of the song. As his verse progresses, it gets more gloomy, but still enjoyable. I even think XX called out True Music Reviews in one of his adlibs:
matchingflowers was a 6/10
As I alluded to before, the real issue is the guest feature: Loucid. His autotuned vocals aren’t anywhere near on-pitch, his lyrics and flow are cliché, and his verse as a whole isn’t really compelling to me. If XX kept this track to himself, it would be at least a High 7. :(
Track 12) “thank you” [High 8/10]
This track is certainly a nice change in pace, as it is the most jubilant and heartfelt track on the mixtape. The beat isn’t incredibly complex, but the piano sample is uplifting and gorgeous, fitting in with the theme of the song well. The instrumental outro is also absolutely splendid.
XX shows his versatility on this track, as he raps this verse in an extremely happy tone, fitting the role he set himself up for. I like the story he weaves into the lyrics: one about being outside and running, and being happy for no reason.
The hook on this track is also very joyous and grand. XX mixes many recordings of it together, giving it a layered and intricate feel. I can’t even complain about the excessive instrumental outro, as the beat switch-up is stunning on this track. All in all, it’s a great song.
Track 13) “it's almost like you're trying” [Middle 7/10]
This is perhaps one of the most emotional tracks on the mixtape. Throughout the course of this short, penultimate song, XX raps about a lost love that he hopes to set back on track. He’s very submissive to this girl, and the sincerity of XX’s lyrics is very obvious.
The beat isn’t too shabby either. It’s low-pitch vocal sample and guitar riffs sound as smooth as fresh butter (and while I’m thinking of it, I should go make popcorn). Once again, Black Ant stresses that less is more, and this beat completely works for this track.
Flow-wise, this is perhaps one of the choppiest songs on (ITALIC)simba(/ITALIC), which is a bit unfortunate. Although it is still strong, this isn’t one of the best tracks in terms of delivery either. The outro in which XX screams “I DON’T KNOW!” is also an awesome way to conclude the track.
Track 14) “mxdemtns” [High 7/10]
Continuing with his streak of “grand finales”, “mxdemtns” sounds really nice even though I have no clue what the title means. Both beats are well-constructed: the first being an introverted, lo-fi instrumental by goonf!sh and the second being a hauntingly beautiful and wavy instrumental by secondsun.
Both parts of the song have relatable lyrics and references to modern culture. XX’s singing on the second part isn’t half-bad either. Overall, this song ends the mixtape with on another high note through XX’s realistic emotions portrayed on this track.
Here are my three favorite tracks on the mixtape.
“bread” is one of the shortest songs on the project, barely lasting over a minute, but it still packs a lot of punch. The track is an exhilarating ride from the creative, sampled intro to XX’s creative impressions of DJs while simultaneously critiquing them. In short, it’s genius.
2) “thank you”
I think the quality I can appreciate most about this track is how XX stepped out of his comfort zone, but still managed to sound really confident and comfortable. I love the heartfelt lyrics and overall positive vibes on an album with lots of negative vibes.
1) “closed” (feat. J Trauma)
This is a banger…that’s for sure. XX absolutely kills his verses, while Trauma performs just as well on the hook of the track. The production is smooth, both rappers sound professional, and they even expand upon subject matters that are normally vapid. It certainly is the highlight of the album for me.
- XX needs to mix his vocals louder, though I can perceive that his mixing and mastering has drastically improved overall.
- XX’s most glaring flaw of guest features still is dragging him down. Though this isn’t his worst project in this category to date, a lot of the songs on here would have been a lot better without guest features (the major exception being “closed” of course).
- A lot of the instrumental outros on this project are too long…perhaps he could spit some more verses over these awkward gaps.
- XX’s singing voice has also improved, but is still miles away from being great.
- Keep on experimenting, and great things will happen! J
That is all! Stay tuned for more true music reviews!