Performers Sound Off

[[SOUND OFF]] XXXTentacion: Better off (Dying)?

By Nico Drysdale

Late, influential, yet heavily problematic and controversial artist, Jahseh Onfroy, otherwise professionally known as ‘XXXTentacion’, provokes thought as to whether he will be deeply mourned or his demise will be favoured.

As news spread online within mere minutes of the shooting and murder of young, Floridian hip-hop artist Jahseh Onfroy on June 18th 2018, fans and celebrities alike paid respectful tributes to the 20-year-old’s sudden death. “I never told you how much you inspired me when you were here”, tweeted Kanye West and, “You were a true artist, one of the most fucking talented of our time”, Blink-182 drummer, Travis Barker expressed​.​ Simultaneously, antagonistic reactions, an onslaught of unconcerned, unsympathetic memes and criticism, directed towards those who failed to actively condemn Onfroy, flooded social media.

Kanye West Instagram  ​tribute ​to XXXTentacion
American hip-hop artist Kanye West, pays tribute to XXXTentacion and expresses his sorrowful thoughts concerning the late rapper’s death

Was this an insensitive and unwarranted reaction? Or perhaps justified and comical?

Known for his quick succession from underground SoundCloud Rap fame to mainstream success, (with hits such as ‘​Look At Me!​’ ​​hitting US billboard charts,​​earning him a $10 million record deal for his third album); it was established that the allure and rapid reputation of the 20-year-old’s career, was popularised by and depressingly coincided with, the myriad of unsettling crimes charged against him (particularly those regarding domestic violence towards his girlfriend at the time: Geneva Ayala).​​ Google Trends data ​visualises how ‘XXXTentacion’ was minimally searched before October 2016, when the alleged abuse occurred, and how after this release of news, searches for his name dramatically increased.

XXXTentacion has been found dead in Miami’ meme
XXXTentacion has been found dead in Miami’ meme instantly circulated​ ​social media after his death.

XXXTentacion’s notorious relationship with crime began in 2014 with gun possession charges, escalating in 2016 when he was arrested and charged with “robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and home invasion”, consequently violating the ​house arrest ​agreement​ ​prior to trial on ​these charges​.​ Three months later, ​he was charged with “aggravated battery of a pregnant victim, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment, and witness tampering”​.

Pleading not guilty in court, as well as denying charges across interviews, the rapper ​laughed off ​domestic abuse allegations ​in a “profanity-strewn tirade” on social media calling the charges “fabricated”, pledging to “champion for women’s rights” through donating $100,000 to domestic violence prevention programmes. Complex magazine repeatedly questioned XXXTentacion’s representative for details regarding the proposed charitable donation, but no evidence of payment was ever actually provided.

Although domestic violence charges were ​discharged​ after Onfroy’s death, this is NOT the same as being found not guilty and is debted to his untimely demise. In fact, there is a plethora of concrete, public information suggesting that the late, controversial XXXTentacion was, to all intents and purposes, an abusive, misogynistic, active anti-feminist and all-round violent criminal.

Articles discuss the troubled tendencies, insecurities and woes of Onfroy, emphasising the conditions of his financially unstable upbringing, drug-addled, traumatic ​childhood​ and his personal struggles with mental health. These themes are ​prevalent​ within his music; a combination of hip-hop and depressive emo that are traced around “mental illness, suicide, extreme misogyny and a prevailing feeling of numbness” that reflects “​a life lived with disregard for humanity, both other people’s and his own”​. His involvement with SoundCloud Rap highlighted a new wave of artists “whose music embodied a disconnect with societal norms, embraced internet culture” and drug use – specifically Xanax. He subsequently gained and influenced a following of cult-esque, devout listeners whose struggles align closely with his, consequently inspiring and sparking a sense of belonging within those who could relate to his music; generating the problematic and ignorant idea that this excuses his criminal actions.

Fans rushed to defend Onfroy after he pleaded not guilty in regards to the horrific, violent domestic abuse charges against him, in turn, prompting a new narrative that painted his ​“accuser as a liar”. However, the alarming accusations, which ​Pitchfork​ described in harrowing detail in 2017, paint Onfroy as a repulsive, repeated psychological and physical abuser that inflicted a “grim pattern of routine abuse”, on his said girlfriend at the time, highlighting the blatant toxicity of himself and his fanbase.

Furthering this, ​Pitchfork​ also produced a transcript from a 27-minute recording of Onfroy detailing and confessing to unnamed acquaintances, to multiple crimes, including the physical violence he inflicted on his ex-girlfriend and other individuals. XXXTentacion’s public response consisted of a series of disturbing videos he posted on Instagram, threatening to “domestically abuse y’all little sisters’ pussy from the back” to anybody that called him “a domestic abuser”.

Disgustingly, the Floridian rapper’s incarceration only seemed to propel his ever-growing celebrity forward rather than hinder it; landing him a ​reported​ $6 million record contract with Capitol Records after Ayala’s deposition was publicly released in 2017. From threatening to murder her and their unborn child, proceeding to brutally beat her until her eyes were leaking blood, forcing her to pick between two grill utensils because he was going to “​insert​ one of them in her vagina”; XXXTentacion frankly shows his true colours and raises fundamental questions about the “​separation of art from the actions of those who create it”.

Spotify fleetingly blacklisted the rapper’s music from playlists, (a widely criticised action) in 2018 for flouting the regulations of their hate content and hateful conduct policy, due to the string of violent allegations against him. Sadly, the streaming service reinstalled his music when his publicist questioned why the actions of other artists who had been accused of similar offenses had not undergone the same treatment. Similar controversy was sparked when a posthumous collaboration between XXXTentacion and likewise SoundCloud Rap artist Lil Peep was ​created​, despite Lil Peep explicitly ​rejecting​ XXXTentacion for his abuse of women when he was alive.

Deeply mourned or a welcomed demise?

No doubt the 20-year-old’s music influenced an incredibly devout fanbase; but was this without harm? His cult-like following spoke to listeners who’s struggles aligned with his; inspiring those who similarly shared a disconnect with societal norms, generating toxicity to the extent that they would purposefully ignore his frequent and violent criminal convictions. NO amount of talent or recognition can erase the psychological and physical trauma the internet ‘sadboi’ inflicted on several individual’s lives; when you actively chose to expose yourself to the works of an abuser, you are amplifying indelible suffering, in turn silencing victim’s voices, further enabling repeated patterns of abuse. This will be Jahseh Onfrony’s true legacy.