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The Tragic Death of XXXTentacion: Separating the Art From the Artist

Following the untimely death of one of our generation’s most talented artists, we now reflect.

1st Jul 2018

The sudden and violent death of XXXTentacion this summer shook the Hip Hop world to its core.

Art viewing engenders myriad emotions, evokes evaluations, physiological reactions, and in some instances can mark or alter lives. Reactions can also differ greatly between individuals and settings or evolve within individual experiences themselves.

The death of 20 year old rapper XXXTentacion, born as Jahseh Dwayne Onfray has provoked a critical assessment of separating art from an artist’s biography. XXXTentacion’s music career was both hindered by domestic abuse allegations and boosted by the increased publicity they brought.

Since his death on the 18th June 2018, where the rapper was senselessly gunned down in his hometown of Broward County, Florida, his art has become inseparable from his violent acts, with the media merging the two as one entity, rather than paying homage to his musical legacy. Craig Jenkins of ‘Vulture’ argues that “the current climate of simply shovelling more money and clout at rappers with dangerous tendencies and hoping they’ll straighten themselves out is untenable.” Jenkins criticises the music industry for allowing ‘dangerous’ rappers a platform, however what is not acknowledged is a failure in the mental health system, a failure in supporting a young and disturbed man.

Louis Theroux, British documentary and filmmaker responded to the media’s tactless coverage of XXXTentacion’s death with an emotive tweet stating how he doesn’t believe “compassion should be reserved only for the righteous.” What marks XXXTentacion’s music is his complete honesty in verse, a search for black identity in a city of tightening gang presence, and hyperactive policing. XXXTentacion’s music is now being mistook as baseless defiance and aggression rather than a weapon forged out of disenfranchisement. The failures of XXXTentacion have been important in reinforcing what should not be tolerated in society, and how everyone regardless of money and fame should face the same repercussions for upheaval.

Compassion should be reserved only for the righteous - Louis Theroux

Pulitzer Prize winner Wesley Morris forcefully expresses how ethical consumerism should apply in every aspect of life, he states “But in the same way we think about where our fruit comes from or where our potatoes come from, you need to be asking where your entertainment is coming from. Who’s making it? How many asses were grabbed in the name of making this movie or getting this show out or putting this record out? It’s a for-real question.” 


The problem with supporting an artist’s work in these particular circumstances is that the support is received as an endorsement of their misconduct. As such, an artist’s biography can tarnish their art, as has been the case of XXXTentacion. Yet at times it is the artists’ conflicting biography that provides a deeper connection of human understanding in all devices of art. XXXTentacion’s artistic merit is largely founded on his complicated relationship with life, a relationship which would inevitably hold darker consequences for his personal relations with the people around him. His music is not a vindication of his life, but an explanation for it. Consequently, without XXXTentacion’s life choices, his music would lack an authenticity that can only be truly delivered through his experiences.

Although it is reasonable and acceptable to criticise his actions, his music will continue to suffer if viewed as a product of violence. Instead both his music and his violence were products of the life he lived.

Violence has mired Hip Hop’s legacy and has ripped away some of our greatest talents from Biggie and 2pac to Chinx, Proof and now XXXTentacion. Regardless of how you feel about XXXTentacion or his music, his senseless murder is an event which will always taint our generation of Hip Hop lovers.

He is survived by his music: honest, introspective and heartfelt:

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