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The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.

XXXTentacion’s death announced itself to me via social media. A video cropped up in my timeline of bemused bystanders checking for a pulse as XXXTentacion’s lifeless body sat slumped in the driver’s seat of his black BMW i8. He’d been out shopping for motorcycles in Deerfield Beach, Miami, when leaving a dealership he was allegedly approached by two armed men. It’s unclear at the time of writing what the motive behind the attack was; violent robbery (a witness said a Louis Vuitton bag was taken from the vehicle), vigilante retribution for the crimes XXXTentacion was awaiting trial for, or something else entirely. Whatever the motive, the death of the controversial 20-year-old rap star has divided opinions, and for good reason.

In the last six months XXXTentacion, born Jahseh Onfroy, had been under modified house arrest (a judge recently made concessions so he could tour), awaiting trial for a list of disturbing and deplorable felony charges against his pregnant girlfriend, including domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment, and aggravated battery of a pregnant woman. While on lock down at his Parkland home he’d been writing and recording his album ?, which would debut at number one on the Billboard 200 when it dropped back in March 2018. Three months later and XXXTentacion is shot dead, joining the ranks of hip hop legends like Biggie and Tupac; but do XXXTentacion’s crimes mean his legacy as a musician should be forgotten? Or is there a lesson to be learned?

What is your favourite X song? #xxxtentacion

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Before we tackle the complexities surrounding XXXTentacion, let’s just make one thing clear: a young man shot dead in broad daylight in his car is tragic, unnecessary, and symptomatic of America’s out of control gun violence epidemic. It’s also an example of the cycle of violence many black men are caught up in, as well as the cycle of incarceration and crime that, even as a wildly successful rapper, XXXTentacion was unable to break out of. No matter what heinous things XXXTentacion might have done, you don’t fight fire with fire; fueling hatred with more hatred is futile. Somewhere along the line there has to be some empathy, and the higher moral ground needs to be taken. It would take a mountain of self-righteousness to rejoice in XXXTentacion’s death, and the ‘Karma is a bitch’ mentality only perpetuates the hate.

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A post shared by XXXTENTACION (@xtentacionn) on

In this context, it’s probably unfair to judge the likes of Joey Badass and Kanye for hailing XXXTentacion as an inspiration, be it for his success, his musical output (? is undoubtedly an exceptional piece of music), or for sympathizing with him as a troubled black man (surely something Kanye has empathy for considering his own mental health struggles). That said, compassion for troubled youth does not equate to being an apologist for XXXTentacion or making a martyr of a domestic abuser and violent homophobe. There is a difference between mourning someone’s death and celebrating them, and there’s a difference between not mourning and celebrating their death. Fame, money, and making music for a living are all blessings that someone who is essentially a violent misogynist and homophobe should not be blessed with.

As the rapper Jidenna tweeted, “For those who are so woke that their compassion is asleep, remember this…if Malcolm X was killed at the age of 20, he would have died an abuser, a thief, an addict, and a narrow-minded depressed & violent criminal. So, I believe in change for the young.” His point is not to equate XXXTentacion with Malcolm X, but to put some perspective that young and lost souls can sometimes evolve into something greater given the opportunity. Whether XXXTentacion would have made good for his wrongs we’ll never know.

There are signs he was making small steps to change and try to be a better person; for example, he’d apparently plowed money into charities and foster homes in the past year (videos like this certainly paint a different picture). For most people these gestures will have been too little too late, and there’s something to be said for his apparent lack of regret. Watching him in this No Jumper interview from 2016, where he simultaneously says he believes he isn’t homophobic but laughs and gloats at smashing a gay man’s head in, is a staggering justification for his utter contempt and lack of tolerance for gay people. It sickens me. There are plenty of people from broken backgrounds that do not beat people up — I categorically do not use this as an excuse for his actions, but it does paint XXXTentacion as a misguided, fearful, insecure, and damaged human being.

That doesn’t mean we are ready for redemption stories and second chances; Harvey Weinstein does not deserve a second chance, just as Chris Brown’s continued success is an affront to all victims of domestic violence. It also doesn’t mean anyone would be in the right for rejoicing in their unlawful deaths, that’s why we have laws, because hopefully we are moving towards a new era where these men are held accountable for their actions. No one’s artistic talent and success eclipses their wrong doing, period. If anything, XXXTentacion’s murder robs his victims of holding him accountable for his actions.

For XXXTentacion’s fans, his music addressed real issues: isolation, depression, and hopelessness. They’re real talk problems that give a glimpse into the driving forces behind his anger, violence, hatred, and disdain for others. On ?’s opening introduction monologue, XXXTentacion asks us to open our minds and feel his “insanity.” Coming from such an apparently intolerant, close-minded individual, the irony is staggering. Everything I know about XXXTentacion simultaneously makes my blood boil and run cold, but quite frankly, the senseless murder of a 20-year-old does the same. I’ll leave you by quoting a tweet from the band Whitney that I think sums up my personal feelings: “death is always harsh, but RIP seems like a stretch. Seems like the dude had nothing to do with peace.”

For more of our op-eds, read why Kanye West & Kid Cudi’s ‘KIDS SEE GHOSTS’ says far more about mental illness than current emo-rap here.

Words by Russell Dean Stone
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