The idea of music being cyclical isn’t a new notion, but it’s one that feels all the more pertinent given the recent surge of hip-hop artist into the rock space. The blanket term of emo-rap might be what’s co-opted the most frequently, but it’s easier to draw parallels to the boom of nu-metal, where every outcast or reject could develop their own cult of personality thanks to a very primal, often surface-level brand of angst. And of all the artists who’ve risen to prominence from this wave, it’s hard to think of one who’s matched the nu-metal implications more closely than Scarlxrd, not only in his update of the rap-metal formula to favour modern trap sounds, but also in how, if last year’s breakthrough project DXXM. was anything to go by, he’s sticking almost exclusively to the median range for the safest possible outcome. Yes, it’s nice to have a source of real intensity in a scene that’s been characterised by glazed-over non-personalities, but that’s often come at the expense of true creativity, evidenced by a frankly overwhelming string of singles in quick succession last year that, on the whole, only felt more tiresome as they went along. It’s rather worrying to see a solid handful of them return on INFINITY too; not only has a rather significant portion of the album already been released because of it, but that’s a potentially hefty blow already considering how much space that lack of creativity or variety has already taken up, to say nothing of what could possibly come elsewhere.
Among all of that though, there’s the somewhat surprising fact that INFINITY is actually Scarlxrd’s seventh full album since 2016, a notion that provides a handy contextual backdrop for this release, given that its general portrayal is one of an artist who’s spread himself way too thinly and is now looking to spin his wheels to scramble something together. That was already an issue with the singles last year, but INFINITY feels like an even greater extension of that, an attempt at collating ideas in a way that only highlights how few of them there actually are. Scarlxrd’s hardly the first artist to have these problems (the vast majority of emo-rappers have or are currently experiencing the same thing), but given how the harder, metallic edge is positioned as the selling point here, and how that subsequently hems the output in even more, INFINITY rarely connects in a way that feels satisfying or as though Scarlxrd isn’t just trying to get by on the minimum.
Even after all of that though, it’s worth saying that Scarlxrd’s angle as a performer does have merit to it. The dejected, self-destructive persona might be the default setting in strain of hip-hop, but the potential for true seething catharsis feels realised to a far greater degree through grainy, shredded screams like on I CAN DX WHAT I WANT or a more forceful spin on traditional flowing on HEAD GXNE than another bout of listless groaning. What’s more, Scarlxrd has the energy; there’s clearly a source of intensity that’s being tapped here, and when the momentum really begins to roll and he breaks into a style with a bit more body and pliability like on I WANT TX SEE YXU BLEED and BERZERK, it’s easy to gravitate towards and, for the most part, like.
But like with most emo-rap, nothing good can last too long, and thus INFINITY finds itself cluttered with a whole load of filler that only reinforces how sporadic an approach like Scarlxrd’s is. It’s easy to point the blame at the production for this, especially when a good deal of the album becomes swamped in overblown bass and a shockingly basic set of beats to go with it, but with a steadier sense of groove like on I CAN DX WHAT I WANT or an ominous guitar line like on HXW THEY JUDGE, the steps are at least put in place for how it can be shaped and moulded. Rather, the main shortcoming circles back to Scarlxrd himself and his interaction with what he’s given, and this is where his limitations as a performer really begin to flash bright, incandescent red. He’s certainly not bad at what he does, be that screaming or dipping into more conventional rapping, but there’s no modulation between the two, making something like the feral howls on LIVING LEGEND feel almost unworkably top-heavy over the tinny, beeping melody, or simply making the slurred, incomprehensible mush of NX ADVICE sound even worse than it would already. The fact that it’s fragmented goes without saying (this is a modern hip-hop album from an artist driven primarily off internet hype, after all), but there’s hardly any subtlety to the approach, and without it, INFINITY only plods more and more.
It’s what really ends up rendering the writing useless; lyricism is far from the bread and butter of hip-hop like this, and for as highly as Scarlxrd thinks of himself – and for as jarring as that feels amongst an equal amount of empty self-destruction – it rarely coalesces into anything of note. It all feels like a particularly impregnable circle jerk closed off by HXW THEY JUDGE, where Scarlxrd chastises the critics of his music seemingly unaware of how true those notions of him ‘screaming into a microphone’ are, or how SX SAD and DEMXNS & ANGLES are effectively the archetypal emo-rap examples of flat, non-detailed misery and flat, non-detailed nihilism. None of this is new or boundary-pushing, and for as much as Scarlxrd tries to assert he’s untouchable and at the top of the game, he’s pulling from the same well as every one of his contemporaries in a more than only makes him seem more tired and tiresome.
And that’s where the problems where INFINITY ultimately circle back to – its presence as a breath of fresh air for an increasingly boring emo-rap scene extends to the immediate surface and hits the bedrock from there. There’s definitely room for Scarlxrd to grow as an artist, but it’s worth questioning how possible that is after seven albums when the core foundation still feels so slapdash and clumsy. It doesn’t help that so much of INFINITY is as forgettable as it is either, but at the end of the day, that’s just one component of the consistently flawed mess that is INFINITY. On top of it all though, it makes it more obvious than ever that Scarlxrd’s prolificness is a result of spamming out material rather than actual creative intent, and that’s probably where the biggest blow comes from.
For fans of: Ghostemane, $uicideBoy$, Denzel Curry
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘INFINITY’ by Scarlxrd is out now on Lxrd Records / Island Records.