The Life and Death of XXXTentacion: Abuse, Homophobia and Hip-Hop

The 20-year-old rapper was shot and killed on Monday. He leaves behind a complicated legacy.

MPI04 / MediaPunch

Twenty-year-old rapper Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy, aka XXXtentacion, was killed in Broward County, Florida, on Monday as he was leaving a motorcycle dealership. Onfroy was reportedly gunned down by two men in a dark SUV just before 4 p.m. in what is being characterized as an apparent robbery. The news is a shocking end to a troubled life and controversial career, and there has been a wide range of emotions from fans, artists and commentators in the wake of Onfroy’s death.

From the moment he became a known figure in hip-hop, XXXTentacion has drawn scorn and praise in almost equal measure. The praise was often from fans and contemporaries who seemed to relate to his darkly personal music; the scorn was from a large number of others who couldn’t stomach the grisly, cruel history of this SoundCloud rapper who was now being touted as the next big thing.

In light of his murder, a number of notables offered condolences and praise for XXXTentacion. “Rest in peace,” tweeted Kanye West. “I never told you how much you inspired me when you were here thank you for existing.” Jidenna shared: “R.I.P @xxxtentacion No one can be so self-righteous that they are happy when a youth dies. The young still have the capability to reform. God bless the kids. #xxxtentacion.”

“We must support his legacy,” offered Lil Yachty.

Such responses were met with quite a bit of outrage from those who don’t understand why it’s necessary to martyr an individual with such a heinous background.

XXXTentacion had a long history of abuse—sometimes bordering on torture—and was accused of viciously beating and threatening to kill his pregnant ex-girlfriend in 2016. His single “Look At Me!” got him notice in 2017, and his star rose even as the world learned of the brutal accusations. “The thing with X is, when he got into trouble, that’s what blew him up,” friend and fellow rapper Denzel Curry told HotNewHipHop that year. A woman also posted a video on Instagram that showed XXXTentacion striking her in the head.

While she was pregnant, she said that he beat her until her left eye was swollen and leaking.

And his ex-girlfriend detailed his alleged abuse in a deposition. In one particularly harrowing excerpt, she recounts how he allegedly told her to pick between two grill utensils—a “barbecue pitchfork” and a “barbecue cleaner”—because he was going to insert one of them in her vagina. She passed out and he did not go through with the threat. She also stated that he beat and stomped her for singing along to another rapper’s verse on his song. While she was pregnant, she said that he beat her until her left eye was swollen and leaking. Her ex-boyfriend and his mother both corroborated her account of what happened to her while she was living with XXX, and the rapper was arrested and charged.

But none of that seemed to matter to fans and peers, as his debut album 17 brought him greater notice and a spot on XXL’s 2017 Freshman Class list. In late 2017, he was jailed on seven felony charges related to witness tampering and witness harassment. When his sophomore album ? was released this spring, XXX was on house arrest.

After a wave of criticism over the allegations following the deposition’s publication, XXX issued disturbing threats via Instagram. Warning that he would “fuck ya’ll little sisters in their throats,” he railed against those who called him out for his reprehensible behavior: “Anybody that called me a domestic abuser, I’m finna domestically abuse ya’ll little sisters’ pussy from the back.”

Caroline Records, a subsidiary of Capitol Records, signed the rapper to a deal for $6 million.

In one of XXX’s first interviews, he callously relayed a story involving him almost killing his cellmate at a juvenile detention center because he was “looking at me” and XXX “thought he was gay.”

“So I’m like strangling him, and he’s like leaking, leaking, leaking type shit, and I’m strangling him so he doesn’t scream,” XXX said during the YouTube No Jumper podcast. “Don’t think I’m trying to be cliché or a fucking weirdo when I say this, but I was going crazy. Like, I smear his blood on my face, in my hands, I got it in my nails, bro, I had it all over me.”

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The senseless murder of a 20-year-old artist is a grave turn of events. But there is something powerfully unnerving in the level of disassociation exhibited in anyone who can solely view XXXTentacion as a tragic figure. It’s more than irresponsible to gloss over and downplay his violent behavior. In 2016, his alleged victim started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for her exhaustive hospital bills—including $20,000 for an orbital fracture and surgery to correct nerve damage to her eye. XXXTentacion’s fans filed reports that the GoFundMe was fraudulent, and the page was shut down. The page was back online as of last week, and has raised over $30,000.

Upon hearing the details of what happened to her, after seeing how an abuser with a fan base can visit more pain onto a victim even after her wounds have started to heal, its difficult to understand why so many notables have decided to sanitize who this young man was. Obviously, XXXTentacion is not the first artist to be an abuser. From John Lennon to the Notorious B.I.G., there are god-awful stories about a lot of legendary figures. But to watch XXX’s career unfold alongside the details, to see his star rise with the allegations already very present in everyone’s mind, and to watch how unapologetic he was for so long in regards to what he’d done—it speaks to a kind of cultural indifference that has made movements like #MeToo and #YouOKSis necessary.

In the wake of his death, Onfroy has been compared to Malcolm X; he’s been martyred as evidence that “Black Lives Matter.” There has been a constant reminder that cheering death is wrong—even if the deceased was particularly wicked. Cheering death isn’t the same as cold resignation to a person’s passing. The darkness that we invite into our souls—that we sometimes embrace to inspire our art or even to fuel our most hateful behavior—lingers. It becomes a part of who we are and shapes the world we create for ourselves. His art may have meant a great deal to some, but Onfroy created darkness for people around him and too many others acted like he was justified. The folly of a fan base is that it makes us celebrate things we would categorically denounce in an “average person.” One famous young man’s pain was used to disavow the immense pain he’d caused others. At 20, we all want to believe we have the time to change. In life, we all want a chance to grow and be better.  But it’s not owed to us. We don’t deserve that chance. Sometimes the darkness defeats us.

And you have to understand why not everyone is going to cry over that.