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This past November, rapper Lil Xelly released his third project of the year titled Angel Dust. The 23-year-old Rockville native started rapping when he was a kid, inspired by his older brother. He began uploading songs to streaming platforms in 2012, originally under the name Celly Montana. After a few name changes, improvements to his sound, and a couple years to hone in his craft, Xelly started to gain both local and national attention for his unrivaled work ethic. At the end of 2017, he released the 105 track mixtape More Xelly, followed by more than 30 additional projects in 2018.
Angel Dust finds Xelly nearly four years removed from the musical onslaught that initially put him on the map. A lot has happened since then, including a notable decrease in his musical output. He attributes the dropoff to a brief addiction to prescription pills. “When I was on the pills, I had no motivation to do anything,” Xelly explains, “I wasn’t making music that I liked.”
Frustrated by his dulled artistic drive, Xelly made a choice to get sober, which he’s been for over a year now. The work he put into overcoming addiction inspired him to focus more attention and effort into his music. This care is evident on Angel Dust. In addition to writing the tracks, Xelly also recorded, mixed, and mastered the entire project himself. He tells City Paper that, with this album, he took time and care to put the project together. “I dropped a lot of music before this project, but I aint really put it together,” he explains. “I’ve been recording myself for a lil’ minute, but I never put out a project this clean before. … And I kept it all in-house. I’m really proud of myself.”
The end result is one of the most cohesive projects of Xelly’s abundant discography. Though using a softer, more composed voice on Angel Dust, compared to his previous work, he still delivers his signature “XRR” and “OohhWaaa” ad libs with the same energy that day-one fans fell in love with. All 16 tracks on the mixtape flow into one another seamlessly, with Xelly finding the appropriate flows and lyrics for every song.
Angel Dust’s general tone is straightforward and succinct. There’s a lack of excess on the album and, pared down, it manages to say exactly what Xelly intended. There are no unnecessary bars or repetitive hooks. In fact, half the songs don’t even have a hook. Only two tracks, “Brenda” and “Past Tense,” run over two minutes, and the tape has a quick playthrough under half an hour. As a whole, Angel Dust is compact and clean, making it easy to listen to over and over again.
Its songs mesh well, though Xelly used a large roster of producers. The hi-tempo “Nickelodeon” is produced by Yung Flavor, who provides two simple synth runs and a bouncy kick pattern that Xelly effortlessly floats over. He softly delivers a barrage of punchlines throughout the track, accompanied by a quick hook “Real slime, but this aint Nickelodeon, I got dynamite I came with Napoleon.”
Xelly also tagged in New Jersey producer Grimm Doza for two tracks. On “Brenda,” Doza creates a sample-driven soundscape with a smooth bassline and a synthetic organ that is reminiscent of Bay-area hyphy music. Xelly perfectly settles into the beat, letting off a continuous string of bars for the entire two minute track.
On “$ be,” Scott Taylor, Dylinci, and Glumboy handle the production, layering three different keyboard riffs with an 808 and clap pattern that congeals the beat into one. Xelly calmly delivers braggadocious bars, rapping “Xelly stay in that designer, dripping that double G, you can find me wherever the money be.”
Another unique aspect of the release is that Angel Dust has no features. “I was on my time with this one,” Xelly explains. The rapper tries not to force his collaborations, pointing out, “It’s rare if you see me do a feature.”
Overall, Angel Dust—an extremely cohesive project that can easily be played on repeat—shows off Xelly’s growth as an artist. With this release it’s clear, Lil Xelly is taking his craft more seriously and putting more intention behind all aspects of his music.