By: Mike Scarfo
“I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it”; Charles Swindoll’s infamous quote is brought to sonic life by Boston-based recording artist, Washy, on his debut EP X:XC.
Theoretically, Swindoll’s brilliant sentiment makes a lot of sense, but why is it so difficult for most people to put into practice? In today’s competitive social and economic climate, we often succumb to toxic modern values, using fame and fortune as measurement for success. X:XC becomes the musical framework for Washy’s own personal exploration of Swindoll’s “10:90” concept, which begs the question: how do we fall victim to these societal pressures even when we are conscious of them?
X:XC features an accessible production palette that includes instrumental nuances such as melodic vocal samples, glimmering keys, and colorfully gloomy guitar chords: ultimately resulting in a unique blend of modern hip-hop and pop. The introspective songwriting, however, is what sets this EP apart from much of the music that floods the mainstream.
X:XC’s openness and raw introspection unveils some of Washy’s life story, yet its built-in sentiments are indistinct enough to achieve widespread relatability with its audience. Take the opening track “617 Nights” for example, which depicts the initial leap of faith necessary to move from a small town to a big city in pursuit of a dream. Or, the move could amount to nothing more than someone in need of a fresh start, hence the beautiful ambiguity in Washy’s lyricism. “Yeah, it’s all about the process, that you gotta get lost in”, Washy croons on the hook over light, atmospheric production, backed by wavy vocal samples. The final verse ends in spoken word as Washy brings us back to a defining moment in his young career:
“I was getting a haircut by Jose down on Broadway, and I told him I was a rapper. He made a quick phone call, and twenty minutes later his boy pulls up. My haircut isn’t even done yet, but I go out to the sidewalk and he opens his car door and throws on an instrumental. Kid you not, I’m in the middle of Chelsea freestyling with half a fade”.
Aside from comic relief, the inclusion of this seemingly surface-level anecdote serves to challenge listeners to recognize and embrace the unexpected good fortunes that may come their way. The focus of the narrative is less about the opportunity itself, but the preparedness for that opportunity. And because of his preparation, a simple haircut manifests itself into Washy’s first studio session in Boston.
Much darker in contrast, “The Recipe” encompasses a slightly unique perspective as Washy searches for the plan that will bring him success, while simultaneously blocking out haters that cloud his judgement. The piano runs dominate in the forefront of the production and blend into harrowing background guitar chords. O’Mega Red provides the lone guest feature on the project; the Boston hip-hop legend’s contribution is one of the EP’s highlights, his bars synonymous with the song’s message of focus and confidence.
“Andale”, the lead single, is an upbeat, club-banger that acts as a brief intermission from the overall theme of the EP. “Lifestyle” feels like the logical continuation of “The Recipe”, as Washy talks about getting caught up in chasing “superficial fame, it can’t be good for your health”. He focuses on the disconnect between what we value as success in comparison to what is best for our mental health. He croons, “you would think all of these accomplishments would lead to overconfidence”, portraying his constant struggle with acceptance as an artist, yet could also be interpreted to how we perceive each other in the social media age (that beautiful ambiguity I mentioned earlier).
Is this process healthy? Washy grapples with that question as the EP continues to its most deep, gut-wrenching track in the listing: “Rain”. The song interprets an unnamed
hero in Washy’s young life, witnessing this person’s struggle with addiction and mental health. He utilizes rain as a metaphor to explain the pain and suffering of his loved one, yet is conflicted over the morality of working in the pharmaceutical industry in his adult life. The psychedelic, guitar-led instrumental is gorgeously nostalgic and bolsters the reflective tone of the track.
The EP ends with “Growing Pains”, the hook capturing a symbolic journey of aimlessly driving down the highway, unsure of which exit is yours, but believing you will get off at the correct one: “Riding through a red light / Night drivin’ with no head light / And I’m somewhere on the Mass Pike, tryna get my mind right / Don’t know what to act like, tryna drive away these growing pains”. The echoing vocal sample paired with mellow, raw piano chords blend into a drum progression as Washy delivers some of his most powerful bars to date:
“Always giving presents compensates for lack of presence until people start to wonder why you’re never never there / Maybe this will be the last thing I ever drop / Re-evaluating life while I’m sittin here / I’m just tryna find a balance, in pursuing all my talent without sacrificing happiness to get me there”.
Whether it’s the melodic auto-tuned vocals, articulate lyricism, or widespread sonic appeal, X:XC is a refreshing take on the often overused “follow your dreams” sentiment of the 21st century. Washy’s authentic, meditative writing on X:XC creates a narrative to explore Swindoll’s “10:90” concept much more thoroughly than the quote offers on its own. Whatever you’re passionate about, do not allow your circumstances to determine your outcomes in life. Take a chance, begin the process, and simply get lost in it.
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