Emo Rap / Hip Hop

XXXTentacion: Trigger Warning

by CCJ Gabriel

On June 18, 2018, 20-year-old Jahseh Onfroy, better known as XXXTentacion, was tragically murdered in cold blood. Four years later, almost to the day, his fans and constituents were graced with his post-humous “best of” album Look at Me: The Album. Around the same time, a corresponding documentary would be released chronicling and exploring who Jahseh and XXX really were. I frame my previous statement like that because after listening to and watching both the album and the documentary, you come to realize very quickly that those are two completely different people. For the sake of this column/review, I will refer to him as XXX. With that being said, this piece is less of a standard album review, as it only features two new previously unheard songs, but rather an endeavour of apprehension.

Candid with his fans, yet mysteriously enigmatic all at the same time, XXX was able to connect with people on a very deep and personal level. In his personal life, however, he felt disconnected from his family and the people around him. Born of a 17-year-old mother, his father was slightly abusive and also in and out of jail. After his mom got them away from his dad, XXX claims she had dated abusive men whom he had gotten into physical altercations with as a child. Struggling with anger and paranoia at a very young age, his mother expressed how he was a very privileged child. Her words were “extremely spoiled”, followed by a myriad of photographs of XXX growing up with nice clothes in a nice house; the latest technology and fashion, he had it. After acting out in school too many times, his mother proposed he move in with his grandmother and as long as he stayed out of trouble, she would pay for him to go to the studio and record music. XXX would relocate only to get into further trouble.

Tormenting his grandmother and documenting it, traveling to the hood and getting into fights, caught with guns, and being involved in home invasions and armed robberies. All of these things landed XXX in a juvenile detention centre where he met Ski Mask the Slump God where they connected over their love of music. I speak on these things as it’s important to understand the seeming separation of reality from realism for XXX. He had every advantage in the world and for some reason still felt unloved, unwanted, and angry, highlighting the struggles that people with mental health issues deal with. Feeling uncomfortable in his own skin, maybe he was chasing street cred to validate the character he was portraying to the public? Perhaps it was simply the void of not having a father in the home as a youth? Either way, this is where Jahseh Onfroy officially took a backseat to XXXTentacion.

Struggling with paranoia, hating himself, and constantly changing his appearance, XXX would choose to stop going to school and begin living on the streets. He formed a group called Members Only and capitalized on the SoundCloud era of rap music. Taking over his local scene with insane stage performances and presence, XXX developed a special connection with his fans, unlike anything seen before. He did assault some fans for clicks and clout, but he did love them and recognized he was tapping into something. He felt as though his validation came from people he didn’t even know. Understanding how to make an impact, XXX consciously started fights and did crazy WorldStar-type stuff on camera knowing kids would click on it. He literally had a miniature bot farm going on with his crew. He would release a song and his people would all be logged into five Twitter accounts each, interacting with each other and anyone else who commented to mess with the algorithms and help their videos go viral. I don’t know if you’ve been on social media lately, but this marketing strategy was truly genius and ahead of its time.

Look At Me: The Album

As previously stated, XXX was constantly changing appearance and his musical stylings and sounds were no different. Fitting into almost no genre whatsoever, packaged as Emo Rap, XXX began to focus on almost purely emotional, singing music. Serendipitously, around the same time, he met a young woman by the name of Geneva, who he had thought was his soulmate. XXX believed he had to be living and experiencing the things he was talking about in his music, whether good or bad. His obsession with Geneva became horribly toxic and abusive as she also battled with her own mental health issues and isolation. Although she was recognized as his first real love, he was incredibly jealous and controlling of her, as claimed by people close to the young couple. He had numerous allegations made against him, that I won’t get into tremendous detail about, including physical and life-threatening violence, words and actions towards Geneva. It should be noted that nobody close to XXX at the time condoned or defended his actions and the documentary did a great job of offering help lines and options in the subtitles to anyone suffering from abuse or mental health issues.

As XXXTentacion’s popularity was hitting its peak, internally he was suffering the worst he ever had. He began hearing voices in his head that would tell him he was going to pay and die for the things he had done in his life. He had to constantly live a facade. With XXX being put in jail for his alleged abuse and imprisonment of Geneva coinciding with accusations circulating online of Drake stealing his flow, XXX became more relevant and popular than he ever had been.

Separating himself between Jahseh Onfroy and XXXTentacion, he began to realize his influence in the world had mostly been a negative one. He recognized he had to change that and leave a positive imprint. He started by contacting Geneva, apologizing, and rectifying any harm done. Though criticized for never being honest to the public or fully acknowledging his accusations, Geneva had accepted his efforts and it should be noted that his freedom was on the line. Any form of admittance could have landed him back in jail and with the new trajectory of his life, it would seem he was waiting for the right time and outlet to own it all. Instead of acting out with violence and aggression towards others, he joined a gym and started training, learning, and implementing breathing techniques in his everyday life.

Nothing would exemplify the changes he had been making more than the music video for his song “SAD!” In the video, with XXX shedding his old hairstyle for his new, positive, “indigo baby” look, representing his identification of true-self; he battles with and kills his former, blonde-haired, negative self.

“There was a point where I wanted to be the villain and it’s not fun bro, it’s not fun…” XXX would say, “It doesn’t attract anything that you truly want.”

Unfortunately, not long after these breakthroughs and way too early for any life, XXXTentacion was murdered after leaving a motorcycle shop. Posthumously, XXX had a son, inspired millions and helped usher in an entirely new wave of music. He was truly lucky to be surrounded by people who identified his creativity and passion so early, who went far out of their way to help facilitate and accentuate him. The only thing holding him back was himself and his mental health, separating
Jahseh from XXX.

“Jahseh was weak and nobody cared about him until he took on the persona of XXX.”

Was he just performing as a character? Or was this mental illness manifesting itself in front of the public? Is that not what all artists are at the end of the day? His story is that of separating art from reality. “…My situation, they should pay attention to who I am as a person rather than a character, but it is hard to mend these two things together if everything that I portray as an artist is purely art.”

Look at Me: The Album perfectly encapsulates precisely who XXXTentacion was. A structureless compilation of genre-less music that had the ability to touch any and everyone. Perhaps this was the journey intended for him. It’s almost as though he was tested and was put here to be the embodiment of a stigmatized “bad person with mental instability” who would then show the world that it is possible for anyone to change. To show the world that if you’re born with everything or nothing, we all struggle with our mind and self-discovery and that it is possible to come up from under that personal pressure. He knew he would not live past 21, as if sent on a mission, which in my opinion, he accomplished with the mark he has left on this generation and music as a whole.

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