XXXTentacion and the Case for Ethical Listening

Courtesy of Pitchfork Media.

Written by Stephanie Yang

While the hip-hop world is no stranger to domestic violence accusations and misogynistic song themes, it has avoided the scrutiny of the #MeToo movement. XXXTentacion is where that can change.

Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy, more commonly known as XXXTentacion, is having a moment. Songs from the 20 year old’s latest album have charted the Billboard Top 100 and regularly surpass 10 million Spotify streams. In a genre-less category of his own, XXX’s tracks are filled with raw emotion, intense vulnerability, and deep despair. His biggest hit “Jocelyn Flores” alone garnered over 310 million plays. On top of his cult-like following, the biggest names in rap, from A$AP Rocky to Kendrick Lamar, have publicly supported XXX.

On all accounts, XXXTentacion has hopped on the train to success. But on all accounts, he is a monster.

One incident in XXX’s past stands out.

In October 2016, a series of events between XXX and his then-girlfriend have become the main source of controversy. The ex-girlfriend just discovered she was pregnant by XXX. Provoked by her earlier confession of infidelity, XXX allegedly threatened to kill her and their unborn child, proceeding to elbow, punch, and kick her. The arrest report states the ex-girlfriend’s eyes “[were] punched to where both eyes became shut and [the] victim could not see.” When the girlfriend begged XXX’s housemates to take her to the hospital, he refused. XXX and his friends then disguised her face, took her to an apartment with barred windows, confiscated her phone and locked her in a bedroom. For two days, she was trapped in the room until she finally escaped. To this day, XXX has denied every claim.

Accused of nearly every crime under the sun, XXX has 15 charges against him from the past two years alone. In his short life, he has been charged for aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment, armed home invasion, aggravated battery with a firearm, and has violated house arrest.

XXXTentacion’s responses to these accusations are almost equally disturbing. He attempted to improve his image by announcing to donate $100,000 to domestic violence prevention. However, two problems exist with this pledge. First, there is no evidence confirming XXX followed through with the donation. Second, a month before the announcement, XXX posted Instagram clips mocking feminists and victims of domestic violence. In March, when a video surfaced of the rapper appearing to hit another girl, his lawyers labeled it a joke and referenced his philanthropy as justification. Whether or not the donation actually happens, XXX’s show of remorse is far from convincing.

In many ways, it feels as though XXX is actually capitalizing on the rampant controversy always surrounding his name. Google Trends data shows searches before the October 2016 incident were microscopic compared to the recent upsurge of search traffic in the past year. The re-release of the song “Look at Me!” gained newfound recognition after XXX accused Drake of using a similar rap style in Drake’s then-unreleased song “KMT” and called out Drake’s mother on Twitter. And in between these controversies, every XXX concert seems to have a scandal attached to it: XXX has frequently fought with fans at concerts, been knocked unconscious, and held one concert leaving an audience member stabbed.

While the hip-hop world is no stranger to domestic violence accusations and misogynistic song themes, it has avoided the scrutiny of the #MeToo movement. XXXTentacion is where that can change.

Traditionally, an artist and his/her work operate separately. XXX, however, has made every effort to integrate his life and work into one entity, with album names like 17, a song title referencing the ex-girlfriend he allegedly abused, along with his use of social media to ignite controversies around his personal life. Why should we separate XXX from his music if he chooses to combine them himself?

The opposition of XXX is mounting but not enough. While Capitol Records staff opposed signing XXX to its label, president Steve Barnett insisted on keeping him to gain market share. XXX won the only fan-selected spot on the XXL Freshman Class of 2017 by a large margin, leading to resistance among XXL readers and other publications. DJ Booth, a blog that runs as part of the Complex Network, refused to review XXX’s album 17. Yet XXX still continues to gain fame and notoriety, because of individual listeners like you and me. Listening ethically is the first step in starting a #MeToo movement in hip-hop.

By continuing to listen to XXXTentacion, we as NYU students would be performing a disservice to future generations by implicitly encouraging domestic abuse. Every stream on Spotify or like on SoundCloud only fuels XXX’s cycle of fame and abuse. In fact, his actions may well encourage impressionable listeners to follow suit. While there is merit to his musicality, there is no justification to listen to such a monster. XXXTentacion is not the first talented artist to be surrounded by scandals. But if we are patient enough, we are bound to discover artists who not only make quality music, but also possess quality character.

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