Rapper XXXTentacion was brutally murdered on June 18 in Deerfield Beach, Florida, after a suspected robbery left the 20-year-old shot in the neck. Initial reports from TMZ marked the controversial artist, born Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy, as “lifeless and without a pulse” before Broward County officials pronounced him dead. The ordeal is still under investigation.
What has survived the young star is the stain of his gory, violent past, which includes a list of disturbing charges: domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment, and aggravated battery of a pregnant woman. Within moments of the news of his death, XXXTentacion’s rap sheet made its way to the center of an online debate after his passing. On one side, staunch opponents of domestic abuse rejoiced in his death, noting that the world is “a better place” without him. On the other side were folks like Jidenna, who tweeted: “No one can be so self-righteous that they are happy when a youth dies. The young still have the capability to reform.”
But just so we’re all clear, XXXTentacion’s death does deserve our sympathy. Here are four reasons why.
He was in and out of jail for robbery and burglary. He pleaded guilty to assaulting his girlfriend. At the height of his fame, he was charged with attempted murder, domestic violence and drug charges. His music was concerning and the mainstream community considered it dangerous.
Actually, that’s not XXXTentacion, it’s Flavor Flav, hype man for Public Enemy, one of the most revered hip-hop acts of all times. (He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.) This doesn’t mean XXX wasn’t deeply flawed. It means we all have heroes that are problematic.
I mature in pace almost directly with hip-hop, officially born, like me, in the early '70s. Hip-hop has always been a youth-driven genre—and mostly protest music as well. (Most of our parents never got on board outside of MC Hammer and Will Smith.) So as time goes on, I struggle to figure out how to respect the roots and allow the young folks the freedom to express themselves as well.
On social media, I see many in my get-off-my-lawn age group that are celebrating XXXTentacion’s death, (or don’t understand why others are mourning). I have a list of 10 of our faves whose graves we should prepare to dance on when they pass away. Except we won’t. Because when it comes to our own flawed heroes, we understand them and make allowances. Particularly if there is growth and forgiveness over the years. (Mike Tyson was once considered an evil monster in the '80s. Now he’s a lovable character with a show on Cartoon Network.)
Even if you have to stop loving a fave and you stop playing their music, (like I’ve had to do with R. Kelly), celebrating deaths is still not something we’ll do. If Kelly were to die, I’d reflect on his victims, how he became the man he did and wonder if he ever asked for forgiveness. I wouldn’t rejoice.
XXXTentacion should not be dead. It’s a tragedy on every level. His life was intensely flawed and problematic—and so is his death.
Sample comment from someone on my Facebook page: “It doesn’t matter if he was abused. He was an awful person all on his own.”
That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works. No one is an awful person all on his own. Hurt people hurt people. And understanding that does not mean we’re giving a pass for bad behavior. At all. But let's not act like this young man’s life wasn’t incredibly doomed. At age six, he stabbed a man he believed to be assaulting his mother. You start with that and expect that he made a choice to be problematic? Again, his abuse is not an excuse for the abuse he gave to others. But it does help understand. This is not victim blaming. This is just the awful truth. Why not at least learn something from this man’s short life?
He talked about things that kids of his generation are going through that I can’t even understand. I read the comments on most posts surrounding his death and there were three themes:
He helped young people who were severely depressed.
He made good music.
He seemed to be trying to right his life and was idolized by kids who were trying to do the same.
I read comments from kids all over the country, in every ethnicity. They were touched by this kid. Whether he’s alive or not. Why can’t we figure out why he built a connection with millions.
When I found out Tupac Shakur was dead, I was frozen in place. It seemed unreal. He was too alive to ever be dead. I wasn’t even into Pac’s music, but I definitely admired his message. Immediately, I felt the same gone-too-soon pang I noticed in my mom when Marvin Gaye died years before.
In many ways, Tupac was a superhero in the 1990s. He shot two cops in Atlanta in 1993. All charges against him were dropped after he was able to prove that the cops were at fault. He was assaulted by members of the Oakland Police Department and ended up winning a lawsuit against the department.
And yet, he fought, he stomped people out. He went to jail for rape. He was as problematic as he was triumphant.
And yet, he had a nation of millions of Black kids hanging on to his every word. And then he was silenced. And I, already a young adult, was confused and grieving.
Many didn’t understand why young people were mourning his loss. Depending on where you stand, he was a petty thug rapist or a leader of young people with motivational ideas that would follow him long after his death.
Just like XXXTentacion.
Can he be mentioned in the same breath as Tupac? Not now. But check back in 20 years.