I always had a creeping feeling that XXXTentacion would end up being a martyr to his devoted fanbase. We already saw a lesser version of the circumstance as he rose to fame from a #FREEX campaign while he was in jail for robbery and battery. His sullen mugshot became a macabre fixture of the new school of hip-hop’s iconography. Now, it will likely become an even more grimly venerated image in the wake of his murder yesterday.
The specter of death loomed large around XXXTentacion’s lyrics, in pensive songs like the eerily titled “I spoke to the devil in Miami, he said everything would be fine,” with lines like “I’m trapped in a changing maze, setting my soul ablaze, couldn’t control the pace. Where is this going?” We now know where that blazing trail stopped: With his shooting death yesterday in Southern Florida.
XXXTentacion was a primary face of hip-hop’s referendum on the infeasibility of separating an artist’s abhorrent conduct from their art. His every action over the past two years added to the circus, riled critics and stoked polarizing, passionate debates. But there will be no more stories. In a vacuum, he was a victim of a tragic shooting. But while even the ex-girlfriend that he’s alleged to have abused is mourning him, it’s not surprising that many others refuse to.
XXXTentacion lived a lightning bolt of a life, destroying much in his path, from the innocence and peace of mind of his pregnant girlfriend, to the conventions of what an unsigned artist (who wouldn’t even mix his records) could do with a Soundcloud account. The mark he left belies his 20 years on earth, from his musical impact to the wounds — both physical and mental — he left his victims with. One of those actions should weigh heavier than the other, but as the polarizing reaction to his death shows, it seems not to.