XXXTentacion's Death Invokes An Important Question: When Do We Separate The Artist From The Art?

 photo via  ABC

photo via ABC

By: Jalen Nash

 

“If I’m gonna die or ever be a sacrifice, I wanna make sure that my life made at least five million kids happy or they found some sort of answers or resolve in my life.”- Xxxtentacion

 

            After getting shot in Deerfield Beach, Florida, Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy was pronounced dead at 6:00pm on Monday June 18. Born January 23, 1998, Jahseh grew up in South Florida.

Perhaps a victim of his circumstances, Jahseh struggled with depression, anxiety and other insecurities. These struggles inclined him toward violence - stabbing a man in defense of his mother at six, getting expelled from middle school at twelve, becoming a juvenile offender in a South Florida lockup as a teen, and brutally beating an inmate while there. In an interview with No Jumper, he recalled that he’d been fighting for as long as he can remember. Feeling alone in an hectic lifestyle, he found solace in music. 

From childhood, he showed a tremendous love for music as an art form. Inspired by artists like Lil Wayne and Tupac his interest extended beyond the Rap genre to rock legends like Kurt Cobain, the Fray, and Nirvana. By his own admission, he often felt “more inspired by artists in other genres besides rap.” These early childhood experiences and influences shaped the foundation for the artist he’d become.

As an artist in the “soundcloud generation,” X had a meteoric rise to the top. He began recording music in 2014 and released his first EP, Heartbreak Hotel, in early 2015. Released later that year, his first charting song, “Look at Me!” sounded unique, violent and loud. This exciting, heavy bass, grunge-influenced sound, characterized much of his early work. While his fan base bubbled since 2015, many were first exposed to Xxxtentacion in 2016 while he awaited trial on domestic and aggravated battery charges against his then-pregnant girlfriend, Geneva Ayala. It later came out that he had a repeated history of domestic abuse toward her.

His violence, destructive antics and inner conflict fueled his burst onto the scene. Controversies such as those surrounding his sentence, him assaulting a fan with a microphone, getting knocked out during a performance, or the viral videos of "f*ck Drake” chants at his concerts, created a violent persona reinforced by his music.

The combination of controversy and talent made Xxxtentacion a constant in the hip-hop news cycle. In 2017, he was named to the XXL Freshman list completely by fan vote, which was met with resistance from readers, journalists and other music publications. During his infamous freestyle he cut the beat, crouched on the floor and rapped in a chilling voice. This moment encapsulated him as an artist: young, rebellious and polarizing.

 

His first album, 17, debuted at No.2 on the Billboard charts. At just over twenty minutes long it was a complete 180 ° from what people expected. Instead of the violent lyrics and loud beats, this album covered on topics of suicide, depression and the pain of love with smooth vocals and melodic sounds. This album fused multiple genres and styles together and could comfortably be classified as a rap, R&B or alternative rock album.

 

His sophomore album, ?, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. In this project, he continued fusing different genres and styles, but with a level of polish his previous projects lacked. The project featured many sounds, and while it touched on some dark themes, it also featured glimpses of hope. This album featured popular songs like Moonlight, Sad! And Infinity, where he showcased his potential as an artist and hit-maker.

His rare combination of controversy and talent made Xxxtentacion a constant in the hip-hop news cycle. He led the new generation of rappers. Many related to Xxxtentacion, not only on a musical level, but a personal one: 

“I found his music late 2016 when I wasn’t really in a good headspace and his music really helped me through a lot. His impact was immense on me, he made me appreciate sh*t a lot more in life and really opened my eyes to a lot of issues. His music really spoke to me in a way I can’t explain, I felt like I knew the dude like a brother. RIP.”

-Neema H. 20 years old.  Mahwah, New Jersey.

“His album 17 really helped me when I was in a low place. I don’t always follow the lives of celebrities and I wasn’t hip to the controversial stuff he did until after a friend put me on to it. I honestly still didn’t fully hear about some things until after he died, but how I view him as a person doesn’t change the fact that his music speaks to me.”

-Brandon Munford. 21 years old. Woodbridge, Virginia.

“X makes music for people who are depressed and can’t really relate to anyone. He’s like a really good understanding friend when nobody will help or listen. He helped me understand myself and get through times especially with my family when I couldn’t go to anybody else. His music is therapy for a young depressed soul.”

-Mason Gomez. 17 years old. New Jersey.

“His music resonated so much with others and myself because he spoke about the dark emotions and feelings that people are unable to express. He provided a space where we can feel and listen to his messages and stories because it was relatable. His latest album ‘?’ helped me through difficult times. His sound is a staple in my mind because of it. His music lives forever.”

-Enrique Corona. 20 years old. Brooklyn, New York.

 

The sincerity of his art inspired many. He wasn’t afraid to acknowledge (some of) his faults, he wasn’t afraid to admit that he contemplated suicide or suffered from depression, he wasn’t afraid to admit that although he was successful, he still contemplated whether he was good enough. Although he had a troubled past he was actively trying to better himself.

Often overlooked due to of his violent image, Xxxtentacion showed compassion for others. In late 2016 he announced that he donated over $100,000 dollars to domestic-violence-prevention programs, he intended to host an “anti-rape” event in Miami and was planning a suicide prevention charity event hours before his murder.

His music encouraged many to be confident in themselves and overcome their circumstances. For fans, Xxxtentacion was someone they could relate to, someone who helped them see a bigger picture. For the culture, Jahseh’s impact comes as he forced us ask ourselves many tough questions like: Should we separate the artist from their art? Are those who commit crimes “bad” or misguided? Or, can people change?

Ultimately, the answers to these questions are up to you.