Lil Xan is boring. This is one of the harshest aspersions I can cast on the Redlands mumble rapper, but it’s also one of the more diplomatic things I can say of him. In a trendy subgenre like emo rap, where sensationalistic subject matter like drug abuse, self-harm, and suicide is the preferred stock in trade, to call Xan underwhelming is to dismiss both him and his message. But on the other hand, the MC born Diego Leanos has seen a barrage of negativity recently in the form of unenthusiastic album reviews and accusations of inauthenticity following an interview in which he calls Tupac’s music, erm, “boring.” So to say the same thing of Xan is more or less a defense of him; Leanos may be boring, but he’s not the odious little twerp hellbent on sabotaging hip-hop that so many have made him out to be. Really, he’s just a kid coping with his demons through his (admittedly bland) music.
A former Xanax addict looking to deglamorize the drug by making it his namesake, Lil Xan is an enigma to be sure. In a genre that valorizes self-medication and escapism, Xan’s modus operandi comes off as more half-baked than subversive. His putatively anti-drug stance sounds more like an ex post facto decision on the album than a guiding principle. Still, if Xan is looking for catharsis on TOTAL XANARCHY, he’s succeeded, even if he’s the only one happy to hear about it.
XANARCHY is hindered by homogeneity more than anything else. It’s got all the signposts of late-2010s trap: tight, brittle 808 drums, loud waves of monotone bass, sleepy vocals that slur phrases into single legato, polysyllabic words, etc. As such, the album would work as a passable trap effort, but underneath Lil Xan’s disengaged delivery, TOTAL XANARCHY ends up slogging through his sketches of abandonment, addiction, and, conversely, fame and success, with total listlessness. While Xan relays the indignities of dissolving friendships and drug-induced anhedonia on “Basically,” he does so with the same mid-level energy as that on the puerile brag song “Diamonds.” Even when it’s broken up by the fairly impressive array of guest spots dotting the album and the standout single “Betrayed,” XANARCHY’s monotony continuously proves to be the record’s most insurmountable, pernicious element.
Amid a maelstrom of tepid, low-stake feuds with other rappers and critics, the most interesting (and funniest) thing Lil Xan has done recently is enter into a flame war with comedian Jon Daly (a.k.a. Lil Xan’s Dad, a.k.a. Big Baby Aspirin). This beef is probably the best illustration of Xan’s current standing in the world of hip-hop: not yet ready for big league controversies, Lil Xan is relegated to Daly for feuding, at least until he gains more clout in the industry. But despite all the acrimony surrounding Leanos at the moment, there’s something to be said for the dopey, cheery face on TOTAL XANARCHY’s cover. Behind his stony vocal performance, Xan sounds like he’s genuinely enjoying himself. At least one of us is.