Just three months ago, this blog did a feature article on ? (question mark), the latest album by multi-genre artist XXXTentacion. The album had just débuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts and signaled a rising career by a troubled young artist who’d had more than his share of run-ins with the law.
The album was unique in several ways. It blended musical art forms, including EDM, R&B, punk-rock, industrial metal, trap and old-school rap. It also featured eighteen songs whose average length was just 2 minutes and five seconds (for a total run time of 37 minutes and 36 seconds). It was that latter detail that was the earlier article’s main focus.
Three months later the artist is gone.
XXXTentacion, born Jahseh Onfroy and branded by mainstream media as (just another) rapper, was murdered in Florida on Monday, June 18, in what’s been preliminarily labeled a robbery attempt by two unknown assailants.
He was just 20 years old.
Just like that, Onfroy’s brief songs – considered a clever marketing ploy by some, including this blogger – now take on a new, eerily poetic meeting given his short life story’s sudden ending. Albeit brief, his repertoire of songs packed complex stories of relationships (good and bad), pain, loneliness, insecurity, mental illness, drugs, rough sex, and suicidal thoughts – all seemingly reflective of his own experiences, even with just 20 years of living behind him.
Now they instantly take on the role of being a deceased recording artist’s legacy – and a reminder of how fleeting life is for too many of our young men, especially black ones, who die at the hands of gun violence daily. Sadly, as time passes, XXXTentacion will likely be footnoted as just another young “rapper” who (presumably) led a lifestyle that made him more vulnerable to such a demise.
Indeed, that would be selling an artist as complicated as XXXTentacion way too short. Yes, his documented legacy included the young SoundCloud artist being brought up on charges of aggravated battery and domestic violence, circumstances which led to him becoming the second artist (after ‘90s crooner R. Kelly) to be removed from Spotify’s curated playlists in a new anti-hate policy the music streaming service inaugurated this past May.
But Onfroy hadn’t yet had his day in court for the crimes of which he was accused, and these things did not completely define him. Or, at least, they shouldn’t have.
It’s true that every article I’ve read (or written) covering Onfroy mentioned his legal troubles, partly because they were so heinous (if true) and because society likes to paint certain artists in a box. Journalists and bloggers (myself admittedly included) branded him this way because we needed an identifier, a point of familiar reference to which we could compare all of his future deeds and accomplishments, good or bad.
The problem with that is it numbs many of us to the fact that yet another young life was just lost – not to drugs or suicide or police brutality – but to violence at the hands of another, likely troubled soul. We’re quick to dismiss XXXTentacion’s death (and his brief life) as just another statistic in the ongoing epidemic of violence affecting our young people, or worse, as another rapper who – like Biggie and Tupac (and lesser profile ones) before him – merely reaped what they sewed by selling violence to our youth in the form of their art.
Except, XXXTentacion wasn’t doing that. His songs – brief as they were – reflected someone who was battling with his own demons, not glorifying them. In the end, he even seemed to be exorcising some of them.
For instance, in the song “Schizophrenia,” where he spoke of voices in his head, he also spoke of another mind deep within his own and how he’d fight “‘til the end.” He appeared to be winning the battle as he implored himself during the coda’s refrain: “don’t give up, don’t give up!”
No matter how Onfroy led his life, or how persecuted he was by media or by the very industry which benefited from his art, another life was senselessly taken, and with it a young valuable mind with likely much more to give to society is now gone.
Sadly, in the end, it wasn’t Onfroy who gave up on himself.
R.I.P. Jahseh Onfroy, aka XXXTentacion!