XXXTentacion and the Muddied Dilemma between Art and Artist


The death of the young rapper opens up an array of ways to remember him. Let’s not make it about his music.

On June 18th, two armed men pulled up on a black BMW i8 near a motorcycle shop in Deerfield Beach, Florida. They proceeded to shoot multiple times at an individual in the driver's seat, killing him instantly. This individual was colloquially known as XXXTentacion, born Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy. He was just 20, yet lived a life rampant with grief, misery, aggression and unspeakable brutality that belied his years. He also had a straggly ascent as a musical success story.

Onfroy was one of the first to personify the Soundcloud era of rap. The gnarled, hectic sound of rappers that spawned numerous artists to break into the mainstream, like Smokepurpp, Tekashi69, Trippie Redd and the deceased Lil Peep.  Yet, whether it be Tekashi's sexual misconduct case (with a 13 year old) , or Trippie Redd's assault allegations, conflict and the come-up of these stars seem inevitable, yet their popularity is inarguable. Onfroy's second album, "?", debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200, with over 20 000 in albums sold in one week. He even nabbed a spot on XXL's coveted Freshman List in 2017.  It is unmistakable the impact he has had on teenagers. His dreary, depressing lyrics found an analogous connection with teenage angst. His songs focus on the topics of heartbreak, depression, anxiety and paranoia, with his hit song "SAD! " an encapsulation of these feelings

Yet, we should remember him instead for his horrific assault allegations (which you can find here).  While in Juvenile Detention, Jehsah took his cellmates head and proceeded to stomp it on the concrete floor. His reason? "He was staring at me". 

We should really remember him more for his crimes on his ex-girlfriend; aggravated battery and domestic battery by strangulation (which you can find here). One night he purportedly started punching, elbowing, head-butting, and strangling her until she almost passed out. He then took her to the bathroom and demanded one last time that she tell him everything or he would kill her in the bathtub. She was pregnant at the time.

Even with these unspeakable allegations against Onfroy, he was propped up by streaming services, most notably Spotify, featuring regularly on their weekly-curated playlist Rap Caviar. When Spotify introduced their Hateful Conduct policy back in early May, XXXTentacion was one of the main artists to be taken off all promoted playlists. Yet, with much backlash and a threat from Hip Hop titan Kendrick Lamar of pulling his music, they reneged on the policy. It seemed that Onfroy's music was, in a way, too big to fail. 

As rappers and fans grieved the death of Onfroy, some began to paint him as a martyr in the gone-too-soon club amongst Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and Jimi Hendrix. That is callous and aporetic. We should mourn for his victims, like the ex-girlfriend: Geneva Ayala and her $20 000 surgery she is going to need. We should instead focus our time on supporting the LGBTQ+ community, and disparage the remarks he made on them .

We listen to music to feel emotion. Whether it be in your room after a break-up or at the club dancing, the beats and melodies elicits a varying array of physical and mental cues. We don't necessarily think about the artist when listening and for many, that's OK. Chris Brown's voice is charming yet his actions to Rihanna? Repugnant. But after a death, RIP's and 'you will be missed' are usually what cascades out of people, regardless of their past. His songs will top the charts in the coming weeks, if only briefly, to fleetingly moan for his loss. Yet his vile past may forever be scrubbed.

I don't think art and artist will ever fully be coalesced together, in any circumstance, and maybe that is OK.

But, for me, whenever XXXTentacion comes on, the only mourning I am going to do is mourn the loss of two seconds of my life by clicking skip on my phone. Because all I see and feel when his voice floods my ears is unrepentable pain. Even in death.