It was all anyone was talking about on June 18. The murder of popular rapper XXXTentacion, otherwise known as Jahseh Dwayne Ricardo Onfroy, made huge waves on social media, whether it be from fans mourning or outsiders condemning his previous actions. The younger generation became severed between those who idolized him and those who refused to give pity.
Even now, about seven months later, people continue to worship the rapper as a ‘legend,’ comparing him to others such as Kendrick Lamar and Drake. His death followed the normal trend of societal praise, earning him a nomination for Best New Artist at the 2018 American Music Awards and a win for Best New Artist at the 2018 BET Hip Hop Awards. People were even outraged when Onfroy was deemed ineligible for the Grammy Awards, for his album 17 was released five weeks before the 2019 eligibility year. Posthumously, he has been included in music by other influential rappers, such as Kanye’s upcoming album, Yandhi, Lil Wayne’s Carter V, and was supposed to be featured on Tory Lanez’s Love Me Now. Talks of an upcoming TV show from Base Entertainment have surfaced as the company opened a casting call for African males to play Onfroy.
The entire world seems to be praising the late rapper. But why are they continuing to ignore or justify the realities of his life?
Onfroy was shot and killed in an apparent robbery in his home state of Florida. At the time, he was awaiting a trial for a domestic abuse case regarding his ex-girlfriend. In 2016, he had been charged with aggravated battery of a pregnant victim, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment, and witness tampering by the Miami-Dade County state attorney’s office. In a 142-page deposition, the alleged victim detailed the horrible incidents of abuse between herself and Onfroy. These incidents included Onfroy presenting her with a barbecue pitchfork and a cleaner and instructing her to pick one, for he was going to penetrate her genitalia with one, threatening her daily that he was going to kill her, and strangling her on multiple occasions.
Although Onfroy told fans to ignore the “rumors” and pleaded not guilty in the case, following his death, the state attorney’s office released an audio recording of the rapper confessing to the abuse to acquaintances, saying, “I put my source of happiness in another person, which was a mistake initially, right? But she fell through on every occasion until now. Until I started f**king her up, bruh. I started f**king her up because she made one mistake. And from there, the whole cycle went down. Now she’s scared. That girl is scared for her life. Which I understand.”
He, like many celebrities in Hollywood including Chris Brown and Harvey Weinstein, had been able to get away with his behavior and have it overlooked, whether this be mainly a result of his victims being low-income women of color, or because of the audience he attracted. But, unsurprisingly, he seemed too blind to his faults, particularly the effect of his abuse and its place within society.
“Women may see or feel that they’re belittled, but you’re only belittled if you want to be belittled,” Onfroy said on the topic of feminism.
The cases had been closed following his death, but it wasn’t the only time Onfroy displayed a lifestyle defined by violence. At as young as a middle schooler, he began to fight his peers to get his mother’s attention, telling Miami New Times, “I used to beat kids at school just to get her to talk to me, yell at me.”
He was sent to a local program for troubled youth in middle school, then proceeded to a juvenile hall after having charges of armed robbery, burglary, possession of a firearm, resisting arrest and possession of oxycodone– all in his sophomore year of high school. Onfroy didn’t continue high school– instead he began to make music. While doing time in juvenile detention, he met Clevon Goulbourne, otherwise known as Ski Mask the Slump God, and they both began to freestyle, inspired by the hard rock and rap Onfroy had been listening to.
But his reign of violence continued, and he nearly beat a gay cellmate to death. In a podcast called ‘No Jumper,’ the rapper can be found practically bragging about the incident, laughing as he described how he attacked the cellmate, whom he continuously referred to as ‘f*ggot,’ after thinking that he was looking at XXX while he was changing.
“Bro, I was naked and he was just staring at me! You feel me?” he explained.
He had warned the guard that he was going to do so, and later chided the guard for ignoring the warning– after, he had placed the boy’s head on a concrete slab and stomped.
“The guard hears him, and I’ve got his blood all over my hands, all of my chest, literally… I was going crazy. I smear his blood on my face, on my hands. I got it, like, in my nails. I got it all over me. I was going f**king crazy.”
Crazy as it may be, it still wasn’t enough for people to be turned off to him, leading us to a question prevalent in our society: how do we separate an artist from their art? Should we?
It’s a question repeated again and again, as more of our favorite celebrities are revealed to be the exact opposite of what we expected them to be. And it comes with no easy answer; not only because it’s sometimes hard for us to admit that who we thought someone was isn’t who they turned out to be, but because there are many differing opinions to it.
Revitalized by his birthday passing on January 23, fans all around the world consistently praise him for his contributions to music and art, often times referring to him as a ‘legend,’ in comparison to other rappers who died before they were old, such as Tupac.
“I’ve spent countless hours watching interviews and listening to what his message was he was trying to spread. His message was so important to him– he was a preacher, opening my mind to lessons unlike any teacher could. He wanted to use his influence to inspire his fans and youth to be positive,” one fan opened up on Reddit. “XXXTentacion battled with his inner demons and you can see the struggle that he went through by his lyricism, but I believe he realized he could change the world for the better, and that was his goal; to give kids who are stressed and depressed someone to relate to. No one else in the game can even say they try to.”
xxxtentacion one of the most misunderstood artist of all time. he was and still IS a legend
— GLOCK (@GlockRivers) January 23, 2019
Fans don’t seem completely unaware of his actions, either. One celebrity/fan, upon his death, even took to Twitter to justify his actions, comparing him to Civil Rights activist Malcolm X, saying that Onfroy was just young, and he should have had time to grow up and correct his mistakes, and that if other influential people died young, their impact would be overlooked, too.
For the record, I was never in support of his ways, especially his domestic abuse which I found to be horrific. But I will never demonize an individual without criticizing the society and/or circumstance in which they were raised. Especially someone under 21.
— Jidenna (@Jidenna) June 18, 2018
For those who are so woke that their compassion is asleep, remember this…if Malcolm X was killed at the age of 20, he would have died an abuser, a thief, an addict, and a narrow-minded depressed & violent criminal. So, I believe in change for the young.
— Jidenna (@Jidenna) June 18, 2018
It’s clear that X had some impact on his audience, especially for his openness in talking about mental health and his own struggles with depression. His fans’ continuous support in him is a prime example of overlooking the person’s past to focus on their art.
However, it could also be argued that “overlooking the artist to focus on the art” is synonymous with excusing bad behaviors and letting bad people thrive with support.
What message are we, as a society, sending? That it’s alright to be homophobic, sexist, and abusive, so long as your music is good? That people like him should be able to not only succeed but have his memory be glorified in the wake of his death? How could we revere artists like him as a ‘legend,’ when he is against so much of what basic human morals advocate for?
There are so many other artists who touch upon mental health and don’t have a history of horrible crimes. There are members of the LGBT+ community and women whose ideology towards them becomes affected every time someone excuses X’s behaviors.
I hate how people are continuing to celebrate xxxtentacion. He was a homophobic abuser, but people still act like he was a genre defining rapper who pissed gold and shit rainbows. Tf is wrong with y’all.
— dumpster fire (@CTRL_ALTMN_DLT) January 24, 2019
i hope everyone who still listens to xxxtentacion knows that it has been proven that he was a woman abuser. when you continually stream his music you are supporting him. don’t say that you only like him for his music, you are still supporting a domestic abuser. anyway stream 7R💍
— jadelynn (@nccdyy) January 24, 2019
“fans remember xxxtentacion on his 21st birthday” lmaooo I remember that he was an abuser & beat up his pregnant girlfriend if that’s what you mean xx
— rhi (@HEADSPXN) January 23, 2019
Separating the artist from the art is not only controversial– it’s admittedly hard for many. No one likes watching Pirates of the Caribbean, with the lively Jack Sparrow and the cold reality that Johnny Depp, the man behind the pirate, is an abuser. And it’s never fun to listen to “Ignition (Remix)” with the knowledge that R. Kelly is a serial rapist and abuser. And, yeah, it’s not easy to listen to a favorite rapper, who you may identify with because of similar mental health issues, and think of the victims who fell prey to his hands.
Is there an in-between? Maybe. Our society’s emerging ‘cancel culture’ is one that has been extremely criticized, mainly because it does have a plethora of faults. But something good came out of it too– it helped people be aware of what they were saying and how it might affect others (if said person actually and genuinely learned from it).
There are two sides of the spectrum we could look at: take, for example, Kelvin Pena, otherwise known as Brother Nature– a popular and well-loved Twitter personality who is commonly found feeding animals and making people laugh. When his tweets from years ago resurfaced containing racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic content, people reluctantly mentioned the idea of “cancelling” Pena, while others were quick to forgive him in accordance to his heartfelt apology. This opened the discussion of assessing a person’s growth and morals before condemning or praising them, a growth for our own society in itself.
But, on the other hand, we have Youtube sensation Logan Paul, who blew up in the news last January when he posted a video of a man’s dead body in Japan, post-suicide. Though Paul apologized, it was clear with his insincerity and jokes about the topic that his morals didn’t align with his words and that, if he hadn’t been publicly-shamed, he’d keep the video up for the views.
Separating art from the artist isn’t black-and-white, nor is it some radical and horrifying movement that fans of these condemned artists make it out to be.
It is an example of our morals. It’s not ‘enjoyable’ to have to write off so many good artists because of their actions, but it’s something that should and has to be done to better ourselves as a society, and to send a message to people like them that it will no longer be tolerated.
So, when you remember and share XXXTentacion’s life, don’t leave any part out.
Tell the whole story.
Photo: @theinfamousjc via Instagram