XXXTentacion: a life haunted by violence and alienation cut short in a hail of bullets

The young US rapper was gunned down on Monday in Miami

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - MAY 26: Xxxtentacion visits iHeart radio Station 103.5 The Beat on May 26, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Credit: mpi04 / MediaPunch /IPX
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When it comes to judging artists we are often told to separate their work from their life.

But that was never going to be the case for XXXTentacion, the 20-year-old Florida rapper who was gunned in broad daylight on Monday as part of an alleged car-jacking near Miami.

It marks the end of a controversial life that undulated between the creation of two of the most acclaimed hip-hop albums – 2017's 17 and this year's ? – of the past five years and a life of crime and brutality.

The fact that it all ended in a hail of bullets is not only a waste of genuine talent, but something not entirely unexpected.

Death and resignation always hovered above XXXTentacion’s ghostly compositions. The beats were skeletal and the melodies were woozy and hazy as apparitions, while the lyrics verged from the uncomfortably personal to crudely violent and misogynistic. It all went on to form part of XXXTentacion’s appeal, which was being the present soundtrack of youth alienation.

Born Jahesh Dwayne Onfroy to absent parents, XXXTentacion was raised in various households by family and friends.

It laid the seeds for a short and often explosively violent life which had him kicked out of schools, sent to juvenile detention and a string of pending criminal cases that included assaulting his pregnant girlfriend.

Among all that drama – or perhaps in reaction XXXTentacion found time to work on a music career that took off with the release of his first single Look At Me in 2015.

The deeply misogynistic track would go down as seminal moment in the young history of SoundCloud Rap, a three-year-old hip-hop subgenre with tracks originating from the online music distribution service SoundCloud.

Musically, SoundCloud rappers – such as Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty and 6ixine – are regarded by their sheer disregard; the music is intentionally obtuse, the production is dirty and the lyrics portray a world view that is nihilistic at best. In a way the popularity of SoundCloud rap is a natural occurrence in the music cycle.

Where grunge was a reaction to the slickly produced spandex rock of the 1980s, SoundCloud Rap is the response to the bombastic and hyper-celebratory sounds of modern hip-hop extolled by the likes of Rick Ross and DJ Khaled. Where they celebrated partying, XXXTentacion discussed the flip side such as the timely topic depression, which was rarely heard in hip-hop at the time.


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That grunge connection was appreciated by XXXTentacion himself, as he often attributed the late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain as his biggest influence.

There have been reports, through the social media posts of peers, that XXXTentacion was working to address his personal issues and in a recent interview described his mental strength as strong.

It was a battle ruthlessly cut short by the violence he so often spoke about.