The June 18 shooting death of Jahseh “XXXTentacion” Onfroy made international headlines not just for the sobering reality of a 20-year-old rising rap star getting gunned down amid the second paragraph of his career, but the visceral reaction he continues to induce. To say that the controversial South Florida rapper is polarizing is as much of an understatement as describing Trump as somewhat stretching the truth. And so a week after XXXTentacion lost his life in a hail of bullets we are faced with the combustible dichotomy of post-death career ascendance and an avalanche of he-was-never-sh*t-anyway commentary. Social media exploded.
“Disgraceful…abusers, discriminators, homophobes, rapists and anything inline with the above should be removed from any potential charting,” one appalled individual tweeted after XXX broke Taylor Swift’s single day Spotify streaming record following his death. A week later, he joined the late Notorious B.I.G. as only the second artist to achieve a posthumous no. 1 when his single “Sad!” topped the Billboard Hot 100.
“Women who have been abused can’t just forget their abuse, so why should we be told to forget the abusive behavior of XXXTentacion?” posted another.
As culturally revered as Pac and B.I.G. have become, their legacies would not be as pristine in today’s world of TMZ, Black Twitter, and the influential Me Too social movement.
Such visceral reactions were echoed by many for a young man who once said on a podcast that he savagely beat an allegedly gay cellmate just for staring at him, and was involved in various bouts of domestic violence, including a July 2016 incident in which he punched, kicked, tackled and stomped girlfriend Geneva Ayala. And it was reported that XXX physically assaulted her after she became pregnant just a few months later in October.
Chance the Rapper he wasn’t.
And yet even with his disturbing past, XXXTentacion’s supporters continue to mourn an artist they say was robbed of his future; they claim that he never got the chance to become a better person…and a father.
“Man…XXXTentacion is really gone… breaks my heart to see a kid 20-years-old with this much influence taken away,” said a fan. “It’s like we’re all having a bad nightmare and still haven’t woken up,” added an emotional follower.
Adding to the sensitive minefield was the murder of up and coming “Elm Street” rapper Jimmy Wopo, who was gunned down on the very same day as XXXTentacion. The 21-year-old born Travon Smart was set to sign a deal with Taylor Gang Entertainment, the label established by multi-platinum stoner emcee Wiz Khalifa. There’s talk that Wopo, who was convicted of two drug charges and shot twice as a teen, had ties to two unsolved homicides. “I’m really in the heart of Pittsburgh — where the savage at,” Smart spoke of the dangers of staying in his beloved hometown amid stardom to the Post-Gazette in a 2016 interview.
For grizzled folks like myself, the violent deaths of XXXTentacion and Jimmy Wopo have triggered memories of rap’s most darkest period: the tragic murders of two of hip-hop’s most revered icons Tupac Shakur and the aforementioned Biggie Smalls. But beyond the prisoner-of-the-moment absurdity of some devastated fans, hot-take obsessed pundits and even Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder Damon Dash proclaiming XXX as this generation’s ‘Pac, my mind has been more transfixed on how Shakur’s and Christopher Wallace’s legacies would have been viewed through the lens of 2018.
The so-called East Coast/West Coast rap war that claimed the lives of ‘Pac on September 13, 1996 and Biggie less than a year later on March 9, also allowed for some pretty powerful myth-making.
Following his shooting death on the Las Vegas Strip, Shakur became a prolific rap demigod; a larger-than-life bad ass that was all at once an outspoken poet, consciously black fighter, self-proclaimed thug, and respected thespian. Simply put, Tupac became bigger than hip-hop, sharing the same behemoth dead celebrity table as James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, and Bob Marley.
Wallace, with just two albums under his sizable belt after being gunned down in Los Angeles, was celebrated by many fans as the greatest rapper to ever hold a microphone; a Brooklyn saint who not only birthed the career of hip-hop’s most durable star in Jay-Z, but was deemed as the first emcee to perfectly merge an overtly commercialized gangsta rap persona with back-packer co-signed lyricism. Biggie’s unlikely pop culture stature is such that two decades later his music sells, of all things, Oreo cookies.
Tupac’s and Biggie’s complex relationship, from supportive, Hennessy-swigging road dogs to life-altering, fatal foes is so entrenched in folklore that it has been the subject of an art house documentary (2002’s Biggie and Tupac), biopics (2009’s Notorious and 2017’s All Eyez on Me), a television series (Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G.) and countless books.
However, as culturally revered as Pac and B.I.G. have become, their legacies would not be as pristine in today’s world of TMZ, Black Twitter, and the influential Me Too social movement.
“They would have fallen from grace,” Larry “Blackspot” Hester said. The veteran Brooklyn-born, Newark, New Jersey-based writer, who is the founder and editor-in-chief of the Almost Cool Dad website, has some authority when it comes to Shakur and Wallace. It was Hester who penned VIBE’s classic (and others will say infamous) 1996 East vs. West cover story, which featured Biggie and Bad Boy Entertainment’s head and unrepentant hypeman Sean “Puffy [now Diddy]” Combs.
“I don’t think their fall would have been as hard as R. Kelly’s or Bill Cosby’s, but Biggie and Pac wouldn’t have it easy,” he continues. “With all the public information we now have access to on celebrities and the powerful [voice] of women’s groups, it would be hard to downplay some of their most serious transgressions.”
Indeed, Tupac Shakur’s 1993 arrest for sexual abuse and sodomy (he would serve nine months at Clinton Correctional Facility starting on February 14, 1995 and was released on appeal October 12, 1995) would most likely not be viewed in the same murky fashion as it was back then. “These are my boys. I like you so much, I decided to share you with them,” recalled Ayanna Jackson, who claimed years later in an interview with Vlad TV that she was raped by Shakur and a group of his friends inside a Manhattan hotel. “Tupac was lying on the couch. In my mind I’m thinking, ‘This motherf***er just raped me, and he’s lying up here like a king acting as if nothing happened.’”
Then there’s Biggie’s alleged physical abuse of hip-hop queen Lil’ Kim, a dark subject that Grammy-winning producer Jermaine Dupri documented decades later on NORE’s Drink Champs podcast. “B.I.G. pulled the strap out on her,” Dupri recalled of an argument he witnessed between Wallace and Kim during a ‘90s studio session, which exploded when the Bad Boy star threatened his mistress with a gun “to just let her know that he was gonna kill her.”
The barely 5-foot Kim, who claims that she was frequently physically dragged by the 6-foot-2, 395-pound Notorious B.I.G., has been pretty open about her ex-mentor’s abusive streak. “We did have a very violent relationship,” she told Hot 97’s Ebro In The Morning back in November 2017. “That was all I attracted: violent [men]. It is what it is. He was everything. You know how it is when you’re in the industry: the guys can do whatever they want, but you can’t do shit. You can’t do nothing.”
Certainly, ‘Pac’s alleged sexual assault and Biggie’s abhorrent treatment of Lil’ Kim would not be a mere footnote to Me Too founder Tarana Burke.
And so we find ourselves back to XXXTentacion. What does it say that the majority of celebrities who offered warm words following the rapper’s death (Kanye West, DJ Premier, J. Cole, DJ Paul, Diddy, and Kendrick Lamar, among others) were men? What does it say that XXX’s female fans are openly weeping for him? In this tribal reality, we ride for our favorites despite their shortcomings, both monstrous and pedestrian.
Is it the height of hypocrisy to criticize the lionization of XXXTentacion and Jimmy Wopo, but then celebrate the complicated likes of Pac, Biggie, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Rick James, John Lennon, and Marvin Gaye? Is the only difference between R. Kelly and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page is the guitar god’s dalliances with underage women was never recorded? Was Meek Mill in the right when he paid tribute to XXXTentacion and Wopo at last Sunday’s BET Awards? And is it cool to give money in support of XXX’s family to a foundation started by Philly rapper Lil Uzi and backed by Nicki Minaj?
All of the above can be answered with a yes. However, hiding behind those truths still does not make for a viable excuse for supporting your favorite music artist, author, politician, or athlete who along with their unimpeachable greatness also happens to exhibit dirtbag tendencies.
XXX fans take note: If you want to proudly show support for your boy, that’s your choice. Just understand that in this world of evolved free thought and ideas, that there will always be someone around to take you to task.