XXXTentacion’s Death: Does He deserve The Comparisons?
With the recent death of XXXTentacion, and the violent gathering in the Fairfax district (and all over the country) to ‘mourn or celebrate’ his death — depending on how you interpret the images — you can’t deny the XXX phenomenon. Even though I knew very little about the rapper, this article, ‘Odd Future: The Death of XXXTentacion and Rap’s Generational Crisis’, published in the Ringer, ended up in my mailbox this morning because there was a reference to Elliott Smith in it:
‘His songs—delicately strummed acoustic lamentations and thrashing, distorted anthems—are a clarion call for disaffected teenagers, as wounded and raw as they are dyspeptic and virulent. Think one part Elliott Smith, one part DMX. One of the most difficult things about XXXTentacion was the overwhelming sense many had that despite the controversy and terrifying pain he caused real people, he had something unique: talent.’
It’s dishonest to say you disagree with a comparison when you basically know nothing about an artist, but let’s just say the comparison didn’t look appealing just at the gut-feeling level. I understand some common path between the two men, the tragic and violent ending, the post-mortem cult as both artists have a passionate following, and in the case of XXXTentacion this following can only grow exponentially because of his death. I understand other comparisons, the troubled souls and the anger inside, the childhood trauma and the expression of pain through art, the mental depression and suicide ideation…at this level, I see why the author came with this parallel, but everything I read about X tells me how people going through similar trauma can reveal themselves to be very different at the end…. And dying tragically at a very young age should not automatically make you some kind of hero of your generation.
This in-depth article in the Guardian tells it all:
‘He will be remembered mostly for the unusually cruel violence he committed on vulnerable people, particularly his ex-girlfriend, crimes for which he never expressed remorse.’
‘His music, a combination of hip-hop and emo that was depressive, and at times devastating, reflected a life lived with disregard for humanity, both other people’s and his own.’
‘But the truth is that Onfroy’s crimes are so unspeakably violent, his hatred for women so unchecked, that they form their own category. Unlike other artists, whose violence against women became known once they were already stars, it was Onfroy’s incarceration for domestic violence that helped create his celebrity.’
Every aspect of X’s life was troublesome, his rise to celebrity was troublesome, especially his comments about the domestic abuse charges were deeply troublesome: ‘If you want your pussy domestically abused, hit my line, and with that, XXX out. I got your auntie’s mortgage in my mouth.’
XXX may have expressed pain in a very powerful manner, as many other artists did (I am not sure he was aware of Elliott but he idolized Kurt Cobain) however it was often a celebration of pain inflicted to others, and a demand for attention, with any controversy ‘making his dick harder’ as he said in parallel with other rants about sexual abuse and rape. His art, like his life, seemed guided by violence and lyrics like ‘shoot pregnant wife in the Porsche, hey, that is expensive abortion’ take another dimension once we know he lived his life according to the book of his rap songs … As many have pointed out, his tumultuous short life made it very difficult to separate the art from the artist. Domestic violence is one thing but the threats he made (for example cutting the tongue of his girlfriend because she was singing the song of another artist) were another level of domestic violence, they were coming from the very sick mind of a psychopathic… If Kurt and Elliott’s songs were the expression of a rage and a deep inner pain, it was a pain inflicted on themselves, XXX was expressing pain in his rap songs, but it was mostly a pain inflicted to others, he was doing it with a clinical numbness, and that’s a huge difference.
As Neil Young said it ‘Some people have taken pure bullshit/And turned it into gold’, unfortunately, others can never leave the bullshit and the ugliness.