Exploring the Life and Legacy of XXXTentacion

June 26, 2018

Photo courtesy of Hollywood Gossip


On Monday, June 18, rapper XXXTentacion (real name Jahseh Onfroy) was shot while leaving a motorcycle dealership in Broward County, Florida. According to Broward County Police, Onfroy was shot by two men in a dark SUV, possibly in an attempted robbery. They were alleged to have taken a Louis Vuitton bag from Onfroy’s car before escaping. First responders were unable to find a pulse, and Onfroy was taken to a local hospital where he was declared dead. He was 20 years old. A suspect has been arrested, and warrants are out for two more suspects.


XXXTentacion rose to fame in 2016 on the back on of his song “Look At Me,” a visceral two-minute rap song featuring loud bass and heavy distortion, with extremely aggressive, violent and provocative lyrics. The song was re-released on a record label in early 2017 while Onfroy was in prison for assault. Following his release, Onfroy went on a nationwide tour, during which he was knocked unconscious onstage as a result of his feud with rapper Rob $tone. He put out his major-label debut, the mixtape Revenge in May 2017, and released the mixtape Members Only Vol. 3 with his “Members Only” collective that same month. His first major-label album, “17,” was released in August and debuted at number two on the Billboard album charts and earned moderate critical acclaim. In December 2017, he released the EP “A Ghetto Christmas Carol.” He released his final album “?” in May of this year, and it debuted at the top of the Billboard album charts.


During his life, Onfroy was arrested on a variety of charges, including assault with a deadly weapon and battery of a pregnant victim. As a perpetrator of domestic violence (he repeatedly physically abused his girlfriend, including when she was pregnant), Onfroy was a controversial figure to say the least. Although multiple times he claimed he would no longer commit abuse, there is no indication that he ever changed his ways. His behavior is believed, to some extent, to be a result of his troubled upbringing: he was raised by his mother who did not want to care for him and was often cared for by his grandmother, and was in and out of various disciplinary institutions. It would seem that as a result, he never was able to learn how to behave in a healthy relationship and how to deal with emotional issues, a problem that was exacerbated by his struggle with mental illness, including depression. Onfroy was never able to get the help he needed in order to change his ways and to break the cycle of abuse. One can infer from his comments and actions, such as his donation of $100,000 to domestic violence prevention and organizing a concert to benefit rape victims (although it was ultimately canceled due to vandalism), that he truly wanted to improve his behavior, however lacked the resources to do so.


XXXTentacion also caused controversy with his music. “Look At Me” was lyrically provocative and upsetting, especially lines such as “I like to rock out, I'm misfit. My emo bitch like her wrist slit.” Other songs he released during the same period, such as “YuNg BrAtZ,” featuring $ki Mask “The Slump God,” were equally, if not more, controversial.

He was an incredibly influential and innovative artist, and in his short career he had tremendous impact on the landscape of mainstream music. Songs such as “Look At Me,” “I’m Sippin’ Tea in Your Hood” and “YuNg BrAtZ” pioneered a style that came to be known as “SoundCloud Rap,” as it is normally made by rappers who post the music on SoundCloud. With its blown-out bass, high intensity rock-influenced instrumentals, and extreme violent and aggressive lyrics, the style was highly recognizable and quickly became highly popular, bringing other artists, such as frequent collaborator $ki Mask “The Slump God” to fame. The popularity of XXXTentacion’s music set the stage for newer artists, such as associate Lil Pump and contentious Brooklyn-ite Tekashi 6ix9ine (pronounced Tekashi Six-Nine) to find success imitating the style.


What separated XXXTentacion from his peers and imitators was his versatility. Following his release from prison and the success of “Look At Me,” his next hit was “Revenge,” (released on SoundCloud as “Garette’s Revenge”) an acoustic indie rock song that dealt explicitly with thoughts and feelings of suicide, and featured Onfroy singing well in two octaves without auto-tune. XXXTentacion regularly made this type of music throughout his career and was equally talented at it, as he was in his more traditional rap music. Onfroy also managed to merged these styles, especially on his 2017 album “17,” which featured him rapping at high speeds and singing over lo-fi alternative music, as well as more traditional indie rock. On his 2018 album “?,” he pushed further, expanding into many new genres. These included mainstream trap music, heavy metal (he had sampled several times and had a clear influence in his songs), reggaeton, auto-tuned pop rap and “old school” hip-hop, a genre he had explored a few times early in his career, such as on the song “RIOT.” He also explored styles such as grunge repeatedly during his career. Across genres, Onfroy demonstrated a gift for songwriting. His indie hooks were infectious and emotional, his chord progressions were creative and unique, and he showed the ability to create complicated multisyllabic rhyme schemes.


In addition to being a gifted rapper who could execute complicated tongue-twisting rhymes at high speeds, he was a highly capable singer, and played guitar. This versatility allowed him to also pioneer the sub-genre of “emo rap,” along with Lil Peep, another rapper who passed away too soon, in November of last year.


In his music and his social media posts, Onfroy demonstrated social awareness and discouraged violence. His song “RIOT,” published in 2015, is a criticism of gang culture and pointless violence, which he compared to the KKK. In 2018, Onfroy began using his YouTube page to promote his project #helpinghandchallenge, in which he gave video games and musical instruments to a foster home. After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he released a song dedicated to the memory of the 17 students who lost their lives down. On his Instagram account, he continued a trend started by rapper 21 Savage, organizing a paintball fight between his home of Broward County and a neighboring county in an effort to discourage gun violence. And at the time of his death, he was planning a charity event to help area youth.


Photo courtesy of The Independent


XXXTentacion’s songs regularly dealt with themes of depression, suicide and mental illness. He was very open about his struggle with depression, which plagued him for much of his life. Many fans of his music found that they were able to relate to his suffering and struggles, and found solace in those shared situations. Many people said that his music helped them to get through struggles or difficult times in their lives.


Although he had a history of abuse, Onfroy had tremendous potential as an artist, but he tragically was never able to find peace during his life. As an artist, he was growing and maturing quickly and pushing boundaries in various genres. He likely would have continued to innovate for years, pushing music into its future.


Although XXXTentacion caused tremendous harm to some close to him, he will be missed dearly by his fans and by the many notable artists who mourned his loss on social media, such as rap icons J.Cole and Kanye West, and frequent collaborators $ki Mask “The Slump God,” Trippie Redd and Lil Pump.


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