YOUNG XAV is out to tell a story on his sophomore album Dead By Dawn, which he tells us is also his last. At a time the world was presumably going to shit due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the Chicago, Illinois rapper took his time, crafting a 13-song LP about love, maturity, guilt and self-discovery.
“I began writing this album when faced with the same concerns the rest of the world had at the time. It came from a place of helplessness, in a time where it felt like the world was coming to an end,” XAV tells Creative-HipHop.
In support of the project, released today (October 1), we connected with the Chicago native to talk about the new LP, his writing process, and retirement. To help his fans get a deeper understanding of the intricate album, XAV also details the stories behind some of the tracks on the new LP. Read our exclusive conversation with Young Xav below.
Who is YOUNG XAV?
A: I feel like the witty response to this question would be a proverb I use to end all my shows and interviews: “I’m YOUNG XAV and so are you”. However, that aside, my name is Xavier Robert. I am a 24-year-old recording artist from Chicago, Illinois with an innate desire to tell stories.
How would you describe the type of music you make?
A: As much as I’d like to provide a specific genre for the type of music I make — I can’t. My discography ranges from hip-hop, rock, alternative, jazz, and even just pure acoustic singer-songwriter songs. At the end of the day, I am a storyteller and my job is to tell my story as best as I can. Unfortunately, not all stories are best told through a single genre. As a result, I choose to dabble. The one consistency, however, is the introspection and diarylike reflection within all my records. I’ve always gone on record to say that “you know I’m experiencing a lot of life when I’m making a lot of music”. I write what I experience and what I feel at all times — my music is “Xavier Robert” personified. The hope is that the listener can hear a bit of themselves in my audio-based narrative.
What is your creative process like?
A: For myself, the creative process has always run parallel with life experience. Heartbreak or a chip on my shoulder have always best fueled my journey as a creator. When it comes to production, cinema has been the driving factor. I try to create my music by imagining movie scenes to accompany them. Especially when approaching an album like my upcoming release, Dead By Dawn. I almost try to create scenes and a movie script in my head to go with each record. Huge instrument ensembles, low sub-basses, striking synths, and additional sound effects help establish these settings.
When did you start writing songs for ‘Dead By Dawn’?
A: I’ve conceptualized the general story arc and album’s placement in my discography for years; however, it wasn’t until the 2020 mass covid lockdowns when I began to actually create and write music for this record.
What inspired the album’s title?
A: To answer this question, I have to reference Dead By Dawn’s predecessor album: After Dark. After Dark was my debut album and encompassed the concept of nightlife, along with the vices and temptations that come with it. Once I finished that album and the theoretical “night” in which that album takes place — I knew the sun had to come up to shine a light on all the shadows from the proceeding night. Dead By Dawn is specifically that: the hangover the morning after and having to pick up the pieces.
How does it differ from your debut album, After Dark?
A: After Dark is heavily based in the realm of hip hop. Hard-hitting 808s and braggadocious flex rap embody that record, nearly from start to finish. After Dark is rooted in the feeling of invincibility; whereas Dead By Dawn is grounded by the concept of mortality and the imminent end.
Can You tell us about ‘Mess I’ve Made.’ What’s that about?
A: Serving as the lead single for the upcoming album, “Mess I’ve Made” is most certainly the cover letter of everything that is Dead By Dawn. It is cemented with immense guilt, introspection, and the want to be better. I believe everyone can relate to the feeling of guilt and mistake. This record is all about exploring that and facing it head-on.
Is ‘Life And Times’ based on real-life occurrences?
A: Life and Times is one of my favorite records on the album as it plays into my love for music from the past while adding a more modern twist. Once again, in typical XAV fashion, it leans heavily on personal experience and reflection as a crutch. “Life and Times of Xavier Robert” is as close to an adaption of my life at that time as you can get.
What are you afraid of?
A: I think the answer to this question ties in a lot with the question from earlier: “when did I start writing songs for Dead By Dawn?” I began writing this album when faced with the same concerns the rest of the world had at the time. It came from a place of helplessness, in a time where it felt like the world was coming to an end. The opening line to the climax song of the album is “I wrote you this song in fear I’ll die with secret.” I fear not being heard and I fear not sharing my truth with those willing to listen. I fear not telling my story and being truthful while doing it: for better or for worse.
The album’s theme leans slightly around love. Are you a hopeless romantic?
A: Most definitely. A major reoccurring theme for this album is the references to that of “The Great Gatsby”. I think chasing love shares a lot of parallels to chasing the impossible. As human beings, it is in our nature to want more. To want the unobtainable. I believe being a hopeless romantic just personifies that goal and channels that pursuit into a single person. If we could obtain “that person”, we could obtain anything else we desire.
Have you ever been heartbroken?
A: Of course, in fact — I feel “heartbreak” is a crucial supplement to my creative process. There have been countless times when I’ve been on the receiving end of heartbreak and the hurt associated. There’s also been plenty of times when I was the one doing the hurting.
What is your most underrated song?
A: A record I released titled, “Play Pretend.” It is actually the second single I released off the album and the first I wrote when creating the album. The song features a purely acoustic guitar production and is a follow-up to a previously released single titled, “Too Gone”.
‘Play Pretend’ is one of my favorite songs on the album. Did you intend for it to be vaguely depressing?
A: I think play pretend pays homage to the concept of fleeting time. This song’s inspiration is sourced from a relationship I had with someone which we knew wouldn’t last. It digs deep heavily into the nostalgic and reminiscent aspect of that relationship, the “good times” as some would say. However, it also is about knowing of its end and accepting that the next time you see someone, or the last time you saw someone, was very much that: the last time.
I think it is a little depressing, but I think it’s also a closing chapter. At least for myself as the individual who wrote it and drew from it creatively, but also for the listener. If I did my job right as the song’s creator, I’d hope someone listening can relate to the words themselves and tie it to their own experiences. In short, I didn’t mean for it to be depressing. I just wanted it to be truthful to how I felt. Depressing? Sure. Honest and from the heart? Absolutely.
Why are songs on the album so short?
A: It is a very interesting fact that none of the songs on the album have more than two verses. Opposed to After Dark, where nearly every song did. I think this was for a couple of reasons. The first being that I didn’t want to cheat. I didn’t want to waste any bars or force any notes. I wanted to write the best lyrics I could and trim the fat. To be as concise where the records were digestible, but each bar containing depth that could be dissected with purposefulness.
If you could go open a show for any artist who would it be?
A: Twenty One Pilots. It is their approach to live music and performing that has cultivated my whole approach to being an artist in general. The dramatic play-like structure, cinematic sounds, and deep conceptual storytelling.
What inspired ‘TV Screens’?
A: TV Screens is one of my least favorite records off the album, but it is my favorite concept. TV Screens was specifically inspired by a scene in the film, “500 Days of Summer”, where the lead character is complaining how love songs, romantic holidays, and romance movies have painted a false narrative in society. I truly feel like the film was my education in my youth. I learned what it meant to be brave, to be good or evil, and what I believed love to be. This is precisely the fault in Hollywood that is emphasized in this song. There is endless stories that push the narrative of true love, destiny, and fate. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to face the harsh reality that all these beliefs sometimes tend to lead to unrealistic expectations.
What is ‘Secondhand Smoker’ about?
A: Like almost all the songs on this album, this song is a double entendre — it has more than one meaning. Secondhand Smoker, at face value, explores the idea of a toxic relationship. The act of being strung along and having to face this toxicity through their actions or words. On a deeper and more prominent note, Secondhand Smoker follows the tale of the album’s overall theme: guilt. In this song, I am the secondhand smoker inhaling the mistakes my past self has made. I am facing the consequences of my choices. It is almost like I wrote this song with duality in mind. In this instance, my present self and past self are written and spoken of as two separate people.
Has the world really gone mad?
A: I think we’re all a little mad. The last song on this album is technically a record titled, Lemonade On A Porch. I consider this to be the final scene in the movie that is Dead By Dawn; However, the end credits section is a record titled “World’s Gone Mad.” This final song discusses all the mistakes discussed throughout the album, except it takes a more forgiving and hopeful approach. We are all a little mad — we all make mistakes and we all have our bad days, but that’s okay.
Did you face much challenges growing up?
A: I think questions like this are highly subjective, as it’s all relative. I say yes in response, but I would never compare my challenges to anyone else’s. For me, I have a belief that I grew up in a dangerous household. Not for reasons most people assume when they hear that though. I grew up in an extremely loving home with a very nurturing family. The reason why I say it was “dangerous” was because I grew up being told endlessly that I could be anything I wanted in this life, as many of us had. For me, this planted a seed in my youth that the world was mine to conquer, and in short, is the reason we are chatting today. This sparked endless delusion and the chase for the impossible — it is why I’ve grown to pursue artistry. This has proved to be the most difficult challenge in my life as it strays from the much-traveled path of “normalcy” and what is easy.
What’s your favorite song on the album?
A: Hands down, “Lemonade On A Porch”. This is by far the most important record I’ve ever written and released. This song truly is my heart on my sleeve. It puts a nice closing ribbon on the themes of mortality, time, and saying goodbyes.
What’s next for you?
A: Tour, tour, and tour. This is in fact, my last album. Undeniably, despite what my fans and supporters may think. I still plan to continue making music in form of singles and collaborations; however, I plan to really juice every drop I can with this album. I’ll be taking it on a four-city tour this fall to perform it and give it the spotlight I feel it deserves.
A: One thousand percent, yes. Dead By Dawn is undeniably my last and final album. Over the course of marketing this album’s release, I’ve faced a lot of disbelief in that statement. The way I’ve come to describe my reasoning for this has been something along the following: throughout the process of making this album, I spent a lot of time writing, reflecting, and coming to terms with the concept of my own mortality. I spent over a year writing this record and each of its songs with the goal of “if this was the last thing I could say to the world, what would I want to say”? Spending a year of my life sitting with these concepts day in and day out does something to you. To world build via music storytelling is exhausting. I put my heart and soul into these records — I explore my fears, hopes, dreams, and the endless flaws that keep me up at night. I truly can’t imagine putting myself through that again mentally or emotionally. It has made this album feel like a swan song. Which makes sense considering it was written with that intent. Along with that, at least narratively, it’s also hard to imagine what I could do to follow this story. One that started with the sun setting in After Dark, to now the sun rising to shed light on the night before. For me, I picture this album to be exactly what the song Lemonade On A Porch is. Let me sit on a porch with my lemonade, somewhere far away, overlooking a meadow of winding grass as the sun puts a shine on the horizon. I’m tired, plain and simple. Despite all of that, I can assure my supporters that I am definitely not done with music as a whole. I still plan to create and release music as frequently as possible. This just won’t be in the medium of long-form storytelling, such as an album.