When I heard Quinn XCII’s single “Stacy” this past winter, I thought his upcoming album would be similar to his previous album, From Michigan With Love. “Stacy,” a playful depiction of a rebellious relationship between a high school freshman and a senior, possesses the same contradictions we’ve seen in his previous albums where the upbeat nature of the music sharply contrasts with the heavy and often complicated subject matter of the lyrics. But that’s what Quinn XCII does best — he loves to pull difficult subjects and make them lightheartedly digestible.
Despite the cheerful singles he dropped in anticipation of the album’s release, A Letter To My Younger Self showcases Quinn XCII’s maturity and his growth since his last album release. While this album grapples with many of the themes we’ve seen on his previous albums — mental illness, love and heartbreak — A Letter To My Younger Self takes these ideas and discusses them more honestly than they’ve been depicted before.
One of the best examples of Quinn XCII’s growth is the most reflective tune on the album, “Second Time Around.” A pre-released single just a few weeks before he dropped the album, this song was described by Quinn XCII as “the most powerful song I’ve ever made” on his Instagram. The tune is softer than anything we’ve heard from him before, with delicate piano riffs and a raw cut of his voice crooning about his regret for the mistakes he’s made in the past and his vow to be better in the future. The song also unveils Quinn XCII’s spiritual beliefs, something he’s kept out of his music in the past, as he addresses his concerns to God and expresses how he doesn’t believe he deserves a spot in heaven after what he’s done in the past.
This reflective approach to songwriting contrasts starkly with his previous songs dealing with heavy subjects. While Quinn XCII has always been open about his battle with depression, he’s often glossed over the seriousness of the illness by playfully presenting the hard things he’s been through. “Sad Still,” a tune off his 2017 album The Story of Us, discusses depression in a simple way, as Quinn XCII chants “we take this red pill, green pill, black pill / I know deep down we’re sad still” over poppy drum beats and bubbly synths. “Second Time Around” takes a completely different approach, with Quinn XCII getting serious about how mental illness has impacted him, and he doesn’t shy away from opening up about the hard things: “Been at war with myself / Makin’ my friends the enemy / I let all of them down.”
It’s no surprise Quinn XCII’s become more serious with his music. Since the release of From Michigan With Love, he’s married and settled down, spending his time away from music by cooking or attending their friends’ weddings. While he’s still the goofy, open artist who earned him so many loyal fans, it’s clear he’s gotten a better grip on his life and career, and is now ready to open up about where he went wrong in the past.
Despite its reflective nature, A Letter To My Younger Self isn’t completely somber. Songs like “Stacy,” “Coffee” and “Two 10s” embody Quinn XCII’s signature, unsystematic sound that incorporates unique drum beats and lighthearted electric guitar riffs that can only be characterized as the rap-reggae style of Quinn XCII. He also incorporated collaborations with artists like Black Bear, Ashe and Logic in “Am I High Rn,” “Sleep While I Die” and the album’s title track.
As a whole, A Letter To My Younger Self is exactly what it sounds like: a letter from Quinn XCII to his high school self. The album feels like a scrapbook of moments from his past and a way for him to move on from any of the baggage that’s been weighing him down since his teenage years. While some listeners were “expecting more,” A Letter To My Younger Self is honest and vulnerable, characteristics that have allowed Quinn XCII to transition from an artist just out here for the fun of it to one who is serious about his craft and ready to take it to the next level. Fans, including myself, were probably expecting more of the fun, relaxed hoppiness of a traditional Quinn XCII album, but its divergence from this trend feels like a promising path towards something deeper and more groundbreaking in his albums to come.