I have to admit my heart sank when I heard the news. Jahseh Onfroy, the 20-year-old rapper known professionally as XXXtentacion, from South Florida had been murdered in the streets of his home state.
I turned to Twitter for confirmation, and in the mentions and tags, I was surrounded by mostly hate. Comments like “who cares,” “oh good” and “he deserved it” flooded my feed. Sadly, I understood why these comments were echoing through social media.
XXXtentacion was a controversial face in the center of a transformation of style in hip-hop. To fans, he represented a voice for young adults suffering from troubling upbringings, mental illness, dependence on drugs and more. To others, he represented a hateful, intolerant young man who needed to be locked away. The violent things he did are intolerable and in no way do I condone his actions. I am not fighting for what he stood for – his crimes speak for themselves.
I argue for the music and the lives he was able to touch with his creative work. I fight for his art.
X battled tough odds growing up. His mother, who gave birth to him when she was just a teen, did not show him any love or give him any compassion during his childhood. He is quoted saying that he used to get into fights just so his mother would acknowledge him, even if that meant yelling at him.
Throughout his teenage years, X was in and out of juvenile detention centers in South Florida, developing a tough exterior, which is where he met fellow rapper and soon-to-become best friend Ski Mask the Slump God. Ski Mask helped X develop his style and rap, and soon the two would drop collaborative mixtapes and tour together.
As his library of songs grew, so did his violent, abusive tendencies. In early 2016, his SoundCloud song “Look at Me!” broke records on the streaming service and went viral. Ironically, the art for the cover of the single was a mugshot of X. When “Look at Me!” went viral, Onfroy bragged in an interview about how he beat up a gay man in juvenile detention until he was covered in the man’s blood.
XXXtentacion’s music found an audience, regardless of his steadily growing rap sheet of charges and statements. Right after “Look at Me!” blew up, he was charged with false imprisonment, witness tampering and assault and battery of his at-the-time pregnant girlfriend. Between the two events, X was also arrested on burglary and assault charges.
In August of 2017, “Look at Me!” was certified platinum, and X also released his debut studio album, “17,” through Empire Distribution, and the piece debuted at #2 on the Billboard Charts. This album received high praise from hip-hop god Kendrick Lamar who tweeted, “listen to this album if you feel anything. raw thoughts.” That is what X’s music was made of – raw emotion.
While on house arrest in March, X released his second studio album titled “?” which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Charts. The song “SAD!” reached number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, giving XXX his first ever top-ten song.
Close to three months later, X was found in his hometown dead on the street after being shot in the neck.
I am upset about the loss of XXXtentacion, and I am not afraid to admit it. Like I’ve stated before, I am not arguing for the cause that he was a great human being; I am arguing for the art he created.
Weeks before his death, the rapper went on social media to his more than 10 million followers and foreshadowed his death by saying, “If I’m gonna die or ever be a sacrifice, I wanna make sure that my life made at least 5 million kids happy, or they found some sort of answers or resolve in my life… regardless of the negative around my name, regardless of the bad things people will say to me.”
Through his lyrics and tracks, X gave his followers just that – a way to escape their own demons through his. His impact can be felt right now as he has taken over the first seven spots on the Spotify Top 200 streaming list and also setting a Spotify record of 10,415,088 streams on the day of his death, according to Chart Data.
Why is his art important? It inspires.
Listen to his most popular song “SAD!,” a song about the struggle of letting a loved one go and fighting the depression that follows. “Jocelyn Flowers” and “Revenge” are tributes to a close friend of his who battled depression and ended up committing suicide. “Everybody Dies in Their Nightmares” discusses how X battled his own mental issues while alone. A smooth track about heartbreak and fighting one’s inner demons can be found in “Moonlight.” This is why I mourn. For this art, I am not afraid to stand up.
I know XXXtentacion as a person was not someone to glorify, but his music is something to cherish. As a person who has suffered from the demons of suicide, heartbreak and, at times, depression, X connected with me and gave me a medium to channel my thoughts and emotions. Sometimes through heavy trap beats with melodic vocals and at other times through a jazz percussion tempo with smooth, precise lyrics, his music truly speaks to me.
So as I shed a tear for this 20-year-old who was murdered, I think about the future music that millions of fans, myself and the world were stripped from being able to enjoy.
When examining this controversial loss, I believe that one is allowed to separate an artist as a person from the artist as a musician when thinking back on XXXtentacion.
So here I am unashamedly and publicly saying, XXX – you were taken from this world too soon. You left your mark on hip-hop, one of the things I am most passionate about in this world. The music you made helped me through dark times, and I will surely miss what would have come next from you as a musician. Rest in peace.