“The pain lets me know I’m still alive.“
These are the words so beautifully belted out by singer Adam Martinez on the hook of Still Alive, the fourth track off of Chicago MC YOUNG XAV‘s upcoming album entitled After Dark. Although this project cannot be boiled down to just a few words, that lyric serves as a good blueprint for the emotional head space XAV finds himself in throughout the duration of this project. After Dark is a gloomy, lonely trip inside the mind of an individual who has fallen off a mountain of sanity. However the album’s progression marks the story of that same individual getting up, brushing the dust off their clothes, and clawing their way back up to the top.
The cinematic opening track, which is entitled Intro, pulls the listener in from the very beginning. This song sees XAV lose his sense of self identity laying the path for him to find himself all over again. The beat is heroic and empowering as light, feathery piano motifs are sprinkled over a loud, barreling brass section. Lyrically XAV seems to be succumbing to his inner demons on the first half of the album. On cuts such as After Dark and Still Alive XAV paints his struggles with alcoholism, using it as a coping mechanism to silence the demons in his head. The beats on these tracks are dark and moody, and they serve as the perfect complement to the on-the-edge-of-insanity tone of XAV’s lyrics.
The middle of the album is a bit more turnt up, as tracks such as Another Drink and Blaśe are straight up bangers. However the cloud of darkness present earlier in the album still looms close behind. These songs illustrate the dichotomy of drinking to partying while simultaneously not being able to control oneself and XAV does does a beautiful job of painting a vivid portrait of what that looks like.
The interlude track Dear You is another standout on this album and it is a beautiful spoken word piece; seemingly serving as an ode to a lover from years’ past. It transitions seamlessly into the next track Dancing in the Dark, which finds XAV pondering what him and this former flame could have been. For XAV heartbreak is something that consumes his entire being, and he is able to portray that pain in his music with ease.
The back end of this album serves as an indicator that XAV will not go down without a fight. On the song Chasing Dreams XAV speaks on his ambitions to get to the top. The closing track Road to Legend finds XAV reflecting on the people who have come in and out of his life, as well as the changes his life has undergone. As an album After Dark really shines due to the fact that YOUNG XAV is more in touch with his head space than most rappers. Whether he is speaking on his struggles with addiction, heartbreak or his hunger to succeed in music, XAV does a brilliant job of illustrating where he is at mentally.
XAV has not reached the top of the cliff yet, it seems as though he is still clawing his way towards happiness and contentment. His demons might still haunt him from time-to-time, but that does not mean that he is going to let them win. And that is a predicament that almost all of us will find ourselves in at one point or another.
After Dark will be released to all platforms on February 22nd.
Shu-kei Yu | Instagram