Last Monday in Deerfield Beach, Florida, Jahseh Onfroy, creatively and famously known as XXXTENTACION, passed away from a gunshot wound in what seemed to be a random robbery. This completely unforeseen death shocked the hip-hop community. Loyal, devoted fans, as well as notable artists like Kanye West and J. Cole, sent their condolences and messages of sympathy. Onfroy later broke a record on Spotify as the most streamed artist in a single day, and his single “Sad!” rose to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
An impromptu memorial was even arranged by the host of the No Jumper podcast, Adam22, in Los Angeles where over 1,000 people showed up to pay their respects and let their emotions, sad and angry, play out to his songs. There were also those who weren’t at all sad about his death. On the contrary, many people tweeted that his death was deserved, referring to many of X’s past actions and allegations; these include charges of physical and emotional abuse of his ex-girlfriend, as well as a story told on the No Jumper podcast about beating his cellmate to near death for looking at him, thinking he was gay.
I remember the day I discovered who XXXTENTACION was–I was browsing the internet and for some reason, a mugshot of an evil looking kid was making its rounds. I later learned that this kid was X and that he went to jail for allegedly beating his girlfriend. That mugshot was so iconic and stapled to my memory that even to this day, the way his eyes soullessly looked on, the menacing stare accompanied by dark neck and face tattoos, and the split, multicolored hair was an amalgamation of a riveting darkness that peaked my interest to its limit.
I decided to look into his music and went to his Soundcloud to listen to his hit, “Look at Me”. It was nothing like I had ever heard before. The bass-boosted, hard-hitting beat accompanied by his energetic, youthful voice made me an instant fan of his music. He would go on to release more songs that would end up being more favorites, like “YuNg BrAtZ”, “RIP Roach”, and “What in XXXTarnation”.
While X and his friends, like Ski Mask the Slump God and Craig Xen, made aggressive and angry songs, he also made songs where another theme accompanied that anger: sadness. X is an incredibly disturbed artist, dealing with a troubled mind and having to cope with the suicides of close friends and relatives. Songs like “Jocelyn Flores”, “Slipknot”, and “Revenge” perfectly embody the sadness and grief that X felt, and still felt to his last days. These songs resonated with me and many of his fans. They were relatable and made listeners feel close to X in a somewhat personal way.
When I first learned of X’s death, I was shocked just like everyone else. It was difficult to comprehend that he was just gone. After scrolling through Twitter, reading “RIP X” tweets from grieving fans, I thought of my friend I met in college, Nick Holmes. He was the biggest X fan I knew, always working out at the gym listening to his underground, “very rare” SoundCloud hits and rapping along to X with the biggest grin. When I told him I was admittedly underwhelmed by his “?” album, he let me know how much he loved it and how wrong I was. Remembering all of this, I sent Nick a Snapchat message saying “sorry dude :(“.
After asking Nick for his thoughts surrounding X’s passing, it made me realize how much X meant to him. I decided to interview Nick to get a better understanding of how much X meant to him and how his death affected an avid and loyal fan.
When was the first time you heard of X? What was that like?
The first song I listened to was “Rip Roach”. It was in my friends car [in] summer 2016, and I hated it at first.
So how did you go from hating it at first to being a fan?
So I told him in the car ‘yo what the hell is this, I think my ears are bleeding” something along those lines and he basically told me to check out his other stuff. So I was like ehhhhhhhh I don’t think I want to, but after I got into a fight with my parents at the time I just turned it on and kinda got into it. I felt the emotion he was bringing. … I liked the fact that he [would make] a song about whatever he felt. He didn’t cover his sadness or anger. He let it show.
What were your favorite songs of his?
“Alone Pt 1”, “Don’t Test Me”, “Jocelyn Flores”, “Caution”, “Teeth”, “Xxanax”, “Moonlight”, “before I close my eyes”.
What makes these your favorite?
The sad songs like “before I close my eyes” and “Alone Pt 1” just make me feel like I’m not alone and just feel relatable. The hard-hitting stuff is just nice when I get angry, or I’m at the gym because it fuels my own anger. Not in a bad way, but in like a ‘yes someone else gets fucking mad too’ way.
I know you explained with how much his songs mean to you, but why is XXXTENTACION your favorite rapper?
As much as other people want to say about him, I feel connected to him more than any other rapper right now. I think that yes, he rapped about some very weird and gross things, but when he wanted to rap about real, serious things he dealt with, he did just that. When he put a song out I knew it was him being him, he wasn’t putting up a front either. If he felt like singing, he did. If he felt like rapping or even talking on a record, he did because he wanted to. It was genuine and I think that’s one of the best things about him as an artist.
Where were you and how did you feel when you learned X passed?
I just woke up from a nap and I wanted to cry. I didn’t that day [because] I was just in shock. I didn’t think it actually happened. I was hoping it was just a stunt he pulled like normal.
I’m sure you’re still sad about his passing but have you gotten better or is it harder than you thought to accept it and move on?
I’m trying not to get beat about it too much, but it sucks playing his music right now. I can’t play his songs without getting really upset and just turning him off.
Do you have any thoughts on people still hating X and dismissing his death because of his past allegations and actions?
I would say if you hate X for things that he did, but you still listen to hip hop you should do your research on your own favorite artists because a lot of people that make rap music are doing/have done some pretty terrible things. Hell, Tay K killed two people yet people love him for it. Snoop Dogg had murder allegations and now he’s cooking with Paula Deen or some shit. Not saying it was right for his abuse allegations. Not condoning it … but people should get second chances to prove that they’ve changed as individuals, and I believe he was doing that until someone ended his life.
How has XXXTENTACION and his music changed your life?
He has taught me that no one is truly alone. You just have to find the people that make you feel part of something. For myself, he was one of those people that made me feel like a part of something through his music. He’s also helped me get through issues that I’ve had with myself or with others. I’ve really made changes to my life through his music and whether that be a lyric that he said or just me contemplating on a topic while listening to his music. He’s made me a much happier person, and a better person altogether, as ironic as that may seem with all the controversy around his name.
XXXTENTACION leaves a complicated legacy. His past, tainted with abuse towards women and homophobia-driven violence, are actions that can not and will never be tolerated. It’s clear to see that X knew that, too, and did what he could to be a better person and give back to the community. He donated musical instruments and PlayStation 4s to foster homes, set up a charity concert where all the money would go towards victims of the Florida shooting in Parkland high school, and a handful of other philanthropic events.
X’s music was there for youth who were just like him, such as people who have suffered from the death of close relatives. He was also there for the kids who were simply angry at the world. There’s no doubt that his music was a catalyst for kids who wanted to better themselves and a voice telling kids that life was worth living. It’s a shame that X can’t continue to do that for kids like Nick while living, but his music still can. Rest in peace, XXXTENTACION.