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XXXTENTACION: A
SOUL STRUGGLING

Life is super-fucked up right now. Most—most of us—are out here struggling in the world. Struggling to make ends meet, struggling to keep our children safe, even in schools. Struggling to attract a lover; struggling to keep the peace amongst coworkers, friends and family in an increasingly divisive, disruptive political atmosphere. Struggling against a vile revival of racism, struggling not to be shot, struggling against depression, insomnia, anxiety. Struggling not to kill ourselves in despair over all of it. 

Consider the unrelenting craziness we live in right now—with technology as the undercurrent stitching all the angst together—as you ponder why XXXTentacion’s death was so shattering for so many people. He embodied the cold-blooded brutality of our whole era, because he was a product of the same neglect, chaos and pain. His subsequent anger about it manifested in vicious outbursts that have been well chronicled. At the time of his death, the artist born Jaseh Onfroy was still in the midst of a court case rooted in battery and false imprisonment and was on probation for robbery and assault. He was fighting off demons to the very end. Literally.

Tentacion is the Spanish word for temptation. Adding the X’s means “unknown temptation… because that’s what my life revolves around,” Onfroy explained once on 103.5 The Beat in Miami.

What made him special to the people who loved his music was the prevailing humanity in his deep-seated desire to step toward redemption in the midst of such darkness. This artist was mercilessly honest about his life, rebellious to the core, and people overwhelmingly felt connected to those shadows. He had a memorable, unsettling approach. But X was able to build a gigantic fan base predicated on those uncomfortable truths. 

“If you do listen to my music, I would just hope that people feel like they can relate to me enough where they can talk to me,” X told Adam22’s No Jumper podcast in 2016. “I take that very seriously. I want to relate to people. I want to bond with people. Because I did not have the bond I wanted with my mom.” 

What made him special to the people who loved his music was the prevailing humanity in his deep-seated desire to step toward redemption in the midst
of such darkness.
 

Music is unmatched as catharsis; this has been true through the ages. It’s especially powerful when it seems to effortlessly express what you’re thinking and feeling inside your head, too scared to scream out yourself but desperately needing to. There’s a relief in knowing you are not alone in that hell. This is why X was heroic to his fans. It was also a battle he personally faced—the word “alone” was tattooed on his face above his left eyebrow, to be reminded in every mirror stare that no one would ever really know him—that “We are all essentially alone in this world because people only know what we want them to.” 

That truth isn’t just deep, it’s disturbing—exemplifying how he connected so intimately to so many. And it’s probably why we will not see the light dim anytime soon on his music’s popularity. X’s untimely death may lift him into rockstar-level mythology, as more discover his music. The signs are already there. Since his murder, he’s broken the Spotify record for Most Global Streams in a day, while getting his first #1 song posthumously with “SAD!,” a feat not seen since the tragedy of Notorious B.I.G.’s fate did the same for “Mo Money Mo Problems” two decades ago, which should serve as a clue to where his legacy may be heading. This is all happening in part, because X was an impressively original artist sonically, not abiding by any traditional rules of rap. His launching pad wasn’t the streets or the clubs, it was SoundCloud. With inspirations like Kurt Cobain, The Fray and Papa Roach, rock influences coursed through nearly every song, layered with lyrics that revealed a tortured soul and a vulnerable heart.

It’s well-known by the receipts that X was planning a charity benefit before he was killed. He also quietly helped victims of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting with hospital bills. A young man grateful to his fans that music had given him a way out was trying to return the love by turning his life around. The vitriol about his issues? I honestly wasn’t prepared for the sheer hatred I read after this kid got murdered—thousands of comments about why we need to care, or why we shouldn’t give a fuck. Well, we care because of the music. We care because those who followed him closely knew he was trying to change. 

Which is what makes all of this so unbelievably sad. And, ultimately, Legend.

 

 

 

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