The controversial young Florida rap star XXXTentacion is dead. Earlier today, an unidentified assailant shot him while he was shopping for motorcycles in Miami. He was rushed to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead by the Broward Co. Sheriff’s Department, according to TMZ. XXXTentacion was 20.
XXXTentacion was born Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy in the Miami suburb of Plantation. He spent his childhood in youth programs and living with his grandmother. In an attempt to protect his mother, he tried to stab a man when he was six years old, and he was later expelled from middle school for fighting. He dropped out of high school in 10th grade.
As a child, XXXTentacion was drawn to both rap and to nü-metal. He taught himself to play guitar and piano. While serving time in a juvenile detention center on a gun possession charge, he met fellow young Florida rapper Ski Mask The Slump God, and they began to rap together, forming the groups Very Rare and Members Only. He began posting music on SoundCloud in 2014.
XXXTentacion posted his song “Look At Me” on New Year’s Eve 2015. The song, a frantic lo-fi rap bromide, grew organically online, and it really took off early in 2017, after XXXTentacion accused Drake of stealing his “Look At Me” flow on the More Life track “KMT.” The song gained much of its popularity when XXXTentacion was in jail, awaiting bail on charges of false imprisonment, witness tampering, and aggravated battery of his pregnant girlfriend.
XXXTentacion released two albums, last year’s 17 and this year’s ?. They’re both short, angry, jagged records, and they combine lo-fi rap with metal, emo, neo-soul, and indie rock. XXXTentacion rapped about mental illness, depression, and suicidal ideation. That frankness, combined with some version of outlaw appeal, probably contributed to XXXTentacion’s huge and cultlike fanbase. ?debuted at #1, while 17 debuted at #2.
But whatever the merits of XXXTentacion’s music, his public image will always be tied up with violence and misogyny. Last year, Pitchfork posted a truly harrowing account of the domestic violence charges against XXXTentacion. His live shows were notoriously violent, and some of that violence was directed at him.
Last month, Spotify removed XXXTentacion’s music from its promoted playlists, then reversed its position after a backlash. XXXTentacion was still facing charges, and possible decades in prison, from those alleged assaults, as well as witness-tampering charges, at the time of his death. Recently, he was placed under house arrest, though he was let out to tour. His tremendous popularity raised all sorts of concerns, and his death resolves none of them. His legacy will always be a complicated, tangled thing.