Perhaps no newcomer has made waves in the hip-hop world like XXXTentacion has in the past year. Perhaps no artist has succeeded commercially in trap rap, house, electropop, and indie folk like XXXTentacion has in the past year. And perhaps no provocateur has enthralled and inspired white teenage suburbanites everywhere like XXXTentacion has in the past year — or since Tyler, the Creator was rapping about raping girls regularly.
Once this has been established, what’s left of XXXTentacion? What’s left is Floridian Jahseh Onfroy. What’s left is a teenager charged with aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment, and witness-tampering. What’s left is a homophobic, misogynistic, attention-seeking edgelord divided on whether he wants people to feel sorry for him or stand in awe of how quasi-woke he is.
And somehow, what’s left is the overwhelming support of thousands worldwide. XXXTentacion takes instrumentals, lies about producing them, and is praised for his artistry. XXXTentacion beats people after stealing their money, uses the incident’s photo as album art, and receives millions of listens. XXXTentacion steals art from his fans, uses it as merch, and is voted in as part of XXL’s Freshman Class of 2017. He abused his girlfriend within an inch of her life, locked her in a room, and threatened to kill her — but his repeatedly delayed trial lets fans pretend it couldn’t have happened.
XXXTentacion can’t keep getting away with it. The list is far too long, the offenses are far too grave.
Apologists of any human garbage can of a musician love to preach “appreciate the art, not the artist.” But even if we did turn a blind eye to XXXTentacion’s persistent sociopathy — as his equally nihilistic fanbase does — the “art” is narcissistic, fake-deep bullshit. Sometimes, it isn’t even his. His first song, “vice city,” notes on SoundCloud that production was handled by a “chriskentt & xxxtentacion”. It wasn’t, it was a beat posted on YouTube by user Canis Major. “Carry On”, off of 17 (2017), currently has 5 million views on YouTube. The exact same beat was dropped earlier by SoundCloud user Ari Bradshaw.
Thematically, the edgy provocation been done before — think Tyler, the Creator during the Bastard (2009) and Goblin (2011) eras, or Eminem circa The Slim Shady LP (1999) and The Marshall Mathers LP (2000). What these artists have in common is their themes of shock violence, rape, and emotional volatility. As I said, Tyler frequently referenced raping women, and Eminem dedicated an entire song to fantasizing about murdering his wife. But references and fantasies are all they have: neither artist has acted upon their ridiculous subject matter, because it’s just music. They know it, their fans know it, and given how long it’s been since they once put it on record, everyone else knows it, too.
And then you have XXXTentacion. His fanbase is this generation’s OFWGKTA and Eminem fans: they’re excited by the edgy content, and empathize with the weepy garbage. I know this because I was once a high schooler enthralled by Tyler’s antics and moved by his emotional vulnerability. The difference is, I never witnessed Tyler be constantly accused of violent crime, nor did I have to believe his lies in the midst of rape and assault charges. XXXTentacion’s fans do, and do so with vigor. He has four arrests detailed on mugshots.com. Under the listed offenses for three photos, such as AGGRAVATED BATTERY WITH A DEADLY WEAPON and HOME INVASION W/FIREARM is a comment along the lines of — or exactly — “FREE X.”
One photo has nearly one hundred comments.
He’s captured the hearts and minds of adolescent, naive cynics, prepared to jump at his command and defend his behavior with closed ears and screaming mouths. And with the release of his debut 17 –– an absurdly shallow R&B, indie folk album about his depression — he received cosigns by Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown, and Lil Uzi Vert among many others. I wonder if they’re aware of the things he did before this album came out and changed face from a violent contrarian into a damaged artist. I wonder if they listened to his vocal support of the detractory All Lives Matter movement in “Look At Me/Riot”s video, where he equated black-on-white crime with white supremacy.
“Listen to this album if you feel anything,” Kendrick wrote in a tweet about 17, “raw thoughts.” I wonder if “feeling anything” includes feeling empathy for the people XXXTentacion has beaten, the artists he has stolen from, and the thousands of fans he has lied to.
Written by Adil Siddiqee
Illustration by Fabiha Fairooz