This weekend, XXXTENTACION was released from prison. But who is he? Aside from being one of the most hyped underground rappers of the last few years, Jahseh Onfroy (his real name) has built up a fervent fanbase who have backed him to the hilt whilst he has been locked up, despite accusations of battery against his then-pregnant girlfriend. His first interview appearance out of jail blew up instantly, which is already on over 3 million views - highlighting the zeal that has now taken him to mainstream attention.
Why has he amassed all the buzz? XXXTentacion as a name itself is striking —pronounced “X-X-X-tentación,” as in the Spanish word for temptation, as he states in the above interview. His hair is split down the middle in black and peroxide blonde strands, and his striking mug shot containing a gaunt, tattooed face laden with anguish was - for a long period - the only photo in circulation of him, only adding to the mystique of the 19-year-old from Broward County, Florida.
He has one standout “hit” song - “Look At Me!,” which recently appeared on the Billboard Hot 100. Before this, he'd been a underground viral hit for a while, breaking into the mainstream when Drake was accused of biting his flow on his own track "KMT" (it’s easy to hear why). Most recently, Offset has put the rapper on blast, claiming “We ain’t even heard of you, shorty. Get your ass out of jail and run that shit up. Whatever your name is. You tripping.”
Yet in the interview after his prison release, X surprised a lot of people by how articulate he came across. His story about how Drake’s team approached him seems a convincingly recognizable narrative for those familiar with Drake’s history of appropriation. Offset himself has actually been pictured wearing X’s merchandise. It’s pretty clear that the big players aren't just now taking note - they have been for a while.
Yet many have been hesitant to back the rapper, who was imprisoned on multiple felony charges including aggravated assault of his then-girlfriend and armed home invasion. An arrest report acquired by Pitchfork reported that he allegedly “punched and kicked” his pregnant then-girlfriend, stating “Victim’s eyes [were] punched to where both eyes became shut and victim could not not see.” Yet as that Pitchfork article also points out, hip-hop has a history of championing the likes of Gucci Mane, Chris Brown and even Tupac despite all having serious criminal allegations against female victims.
The graphicness of that report seems to resonates with the jarring lyrics he frequents throughout his music. Though many believe him to be a one hit wonder -with "Look At Me" being his only song on Spotify. So why have the likes of Lil Uzi Vert, The Weeknd, A$AP Rocky and Lil Yachty all note their support of the rapper? If you delve a bit deeper into his back catalogue, you’ll discover there’s more to X than initially meets the eye. The diversity of soundscapes throughout his music allow us some more insight into why he’s now attained a cult following.
X, throughout most of his music, is introspective, raw and often aggressive. Yet his first release, "Vice City," is the polar opposite to “Look At Me!” Moving away from the raw, distorted aesthetic, the track hears him rapping bouncily over a Nujabes-esque beat.
Tracks such as “I spoke to the devil in Miami he said that everything would be fine” (yes, that is one title) find him at his most candid and forlorn. These tracks of his, in particular, have been repurposed with anime clips by his fans and have the sort of view-count you’d associate with rappers of much more commercial appeal.
Then there’s compositions like “King,” which begin as melancholic reveries and explode into thunderous, dirge-filled thrash and “Riot,” which rings out like a hip-hop purist's dream. There can be no doubting that X wields a lot of musical scope for someone as young as he is.
On top of this breadth of musical taste, X is fully in sync with his fans on social media. Backing independent upcoming artists on SoundCloud by reposting them daily to his huge following is endearing, and shows X wants to give back to the scene. This has only aided his increasingly huge and loyal fanbase on platforms like Youtube and SoundCloud.
With this kind of backing and hype, XXXTENTACION’s name is only going to get bigger. With the sort of backing he now has, he is very much in with a chance of taking the 10th spot of XXL’s coveted “Freshman” list that helped boost the careers of fellow Floridians Kodak Black and Denzel Curry last year. With upcoming projects in the form of debut album 17 and a mixtape called I Need Jesus dropping soon, we’re about to see XXXTENTACION break into the mainstream even more than this current flurry of hype is suggesting.
For more of our Digging Deeper features, read the six things we learned from Kodak Black's documentary right here.