Seeing videos of XXXTentacion lifeless in his car on Monday afternoon had little to no effect on my emotional wellbeing. As someone who celebrated their 21st birthday earlier this month, perhaps the blunt nature of social media has indeed desensitised me and others my age to senseless killings, or any kind of violence for that matter. XXXTentacion, real name Jahseh Onfroy, won’t make it to see 21. And it only took seconds of scrolling on Twitter in the minutes after his confirmed passing to see genuine debate amongst grown men and women about whether or not that is actually a negative thing.
Like millions of Hip-Hop enthusiasts worldwide, I was quietly critical of Jahsel in his period of fame. How could you not be? No Kendrick Lamar co-sign could bring me to press play on his music – at least not past the intro on 17. No amount of popularity on any streaming service could justify the accusations held against him and his name, let alone some things we knew to be true. If abstinence from Jahseh’s music felt or still feels like the right thing to do for anyone, then so be it. Empathy with victims absolutely is and always should be the priority. But what now that Jahseh becomes a victim?
I’m not ashamed to admit that my lack of emotion in immediate response to X’s death was paired with a certain carelessness about the entire situation. It felt disingenuous to see people describe X simply as a troubled soul and totally dismiss his past in favour of putting the music on a pedestal in his memory. This romanticising of characters is often a dangerous game. But then came the revelation, to me at least, that X was actually making active strides to the betterment of himself. These came in the form of donations of musical instruments and games consoles to foster homes, thousands of dollars to charity and much of his own time, which we now see was the most valuable of them all.
How hypocritical of me, not far removed from reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, to make an indefinite judgement of someone’s character from afar with no effort to help them or others like them in any form. Had Malcolm been murdered at 20, which was more a likelihood than a possibility, he’d be remembered as a burglar. Or an addict. Or not remember at all, simply a statistic swept to the wayside, never to be thought of again. What Malcolm showed us if nothing else was the admirable ability to change in the bleakest of circumstances. Who’s to say XXXTentacion couldn’t have been capable of such a transition? We cannot and should not dismiss the late rapper’s past in favour of potential, but we can let that potential give us new perspective.
It only takes one spin of 17 or ? to hear unquestionable pain and cries for help. Layers of emotion are conveyed on both projects which must have been what spoke to Kendrick Lamar enough to endorse X publicly in spite of claims of domestic violence. And threaten to remove his music from Spotify in favour of X’s remaining on there.
— Kendrick Lamar (@kendricklamar) August 26, 2017
XXXTentacion’s music spoke to the youth in ways that most people who are critical of him, even if justified in their criticism, couldn’t begin to understand. At the end of the day, someone has been murdered who was in a better position to heal than the vast majority of people making comments now.
Moving forward from Jahsel Onfroy’s death, I’m hopeful that we can empathise more with those that need it more. I’m hopeful that we can locate our true feelings about someone and express them in their lifetime rather than when it is far too late. We get reminded to do this every time any sort of public figure passes before amnesia sets in, it seems. In his final months, X declared his wishes about putting smiles on millions of kids over everything and though he won’t be here to see it, what his story is shaping to be and his experiences will undoubtedly move millions across the globe. Rest peacefully.
– by Akaash Sharma