You can mourn XXXTentacion’s death, but you don’t have to celebrate his life

On Monday, June 18, Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy (the rapper known as XXXTentacion), was shot and killed in his vehicle after motorcycle shopping in South Florida, as reported by TMZ. He was just 20 years old.

Death is never timely, but the premature and sudden nature of XXXTentacion’s passing was particularly shocking.

And while the circumstances surrounding the rapper’s death are tragic, a look back at his life underscores the way in which his violent death eerily echoes the violence that plagued his life.

Listening to the rapper’s music, it’s clear that he wanted his fans to know his life wasn’t perfect— far from it. His menacing lyrics allude to emotional trauma, instability and mental illness. One of his more popular songs, ‘”SAD!,” simply states:

I’m sad and low, yeah
I’m sad and low, yeah
Who am I? Someone that’s afraid to let go, uh
You decide, if you’re ever gonna, let me know (yeah)
Suicide, if you ever try to let go, uh
I’m sad and low, yeah
I’m sad and low, yeah

The song’s dark lyrics and morbid undertones are what drew many of his fans to his music: they felt as though he was being his authentic self with them, which likely made them feel less alone in their own distress.

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That said, XXXTentacion has had his fair share of issues outside of his music career. On November 16 of 2015, court documents revealed that XXXTentacion had been charged with home invasion, robbery, and aggravated battery.

After his time in juvenile detention, he went on to recount an incident where he violently beat up a cellmate in a radio interview, whom he refers to in the interview as a “faggot.” He relayed the account in detail.

Less than a month later, Pitchfork obtained the rapper’s ex-girlfriend’s testimony, citing that he threatened to penetrate her vagina with a “barbecue cleaner” or a “barbecue fork.”

That same year, XXXTentation allegedly “kicked, punched, tackled, and ‘stomped on'” his ex-girlfriend, because he heard her singing another artist’s song, according to the testimony in Pitchfork. The rapper also allegedly threatened to “cut out,” the victim’s tongue.

Unfortunately, this is not a complete list of the rapper’s abuse allegations. But of course, when accompanied by critical thought, it’s enough to paint a picture of the rapper’s character and overall demeanor.

Despite the rather commonplace knowledge of these horrifying allegations amongst fans, the rapper continued to succeed and grow in popularity. Some fans even went so far as to use his apparent mental illness as justification for abusing women and others:

All of this begs the much broader question of how crucial it is to separate an artist from their work. For example, while Kanye West has made countless statements that many may deem unforgivable, some who fundamentally disagree with him still value his work.

However, if you think for one moment I’m about to draw the incredibly faulty comparison of ranting on Twitter to committing acts of gruesome violent against women and others, you’ve got another thing coming.

Now more than ever, abuse is something we cannot tolerate or make excuses for, not for one second. We cannot sympathize with abusers, and we certainly cannot ignore the abuse itself.

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While I will acknowledge that there are likely a tragic set of circumstances that may have troubled XXXTentacion, it’s no question that the rapper absolutely must be held accountable for these acts of unconscionable violence. And if his art and his music are all a part of his legacy then that needs to be a part of his legacy, too.

Of course, everyone expresses grief in their own way. But there is a considerable difference between mourning someone’s death and celebrating their life, and in this case remembering the rapper through rose-colored glasses only perpetuates a culture apathetic to abuse and is directly harmful to those who have been abused.

Countless celebrities have been speaking out about XXXTentacion’s death, often attesting to his character and regarding him as a genius:

Other celebrities expressed grief via Instagram:

Singer and songwriter, Billie Eilish, uploaded a particularly personal post, which appeared to be a text exchange between herself and the rapper wherein he offered his support to her during a hard time.

Posts like Eilish’s and Diplo’s demonstrate the conflicting nature of his passing. His death is a tragedy, but in remembering the rapper, it’s important not to make him a martyr.

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Above all else, it’s important not to regard abuse as an artistic manifestation of mental illness. This stigma is harmful to both those with mental illness as well all abuse victims. Moreover, XXXTentacion’s legacy should not be glorified solely because he’s no longer with us. To regard him as a “hero” and a “genius” further minimizes the harm he caused others during his lifetime, which his victims will undoubtedly be dealing with for years to come.

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