XXXTentacion and the Legacies of Abusive Artists
Earlier this week, 20 year old SoundCloud rapper XXXTentacion was shot outside a motorcycle dealership in what was an apparent robbery. People filmed his dead body and sent the footage to World Star Hip-Hop, a site renowned to host gruesome image, before his death was even made official. He wasn't even old enough to drink legally and yet, half of the internet welcomed his death like Hitler had just passed.
It was an oddly fitting end for the young emo rapper, who sang about depression and death and beat up his pregnant girlfriend. His death would've been an absolute tragedy if it wasn't for the legal issues that alienated him most hip-hop fans over 21 years old. Now, we're left with an unanswerable question: how should we remember him? It's a question that existed long before XXXTentacion was even born, but that hasn't found a satisfying answer yet.
Should artists who have been abusive assholes in their lives have any legacy at all?
It's a question we collectively refused to take a stand on since music has been commercialized and artists have been recording albums. We don't want to pick a side because we want to keep enjoying a music that speaks to us, without feeling any guilt about it. Because music is inherently personal. It's a relationship between the artist and every single listener. But I think XXXTentacion and the ill-fated SoundCloud rappers can help us find answers.
There are two sides to XXXTentacion: the human being and the music. They're hard to pull apart sometimes, because the former informed the latter so much. He was a downtrodden kid who didn't deal especially well with it, who made music that helped people externalize their own struggles and pain. Now, it's easy to dismiss the music if the person doing it acted like a garbage human being in their personal life, but XXXTentacion blurred that line: he made the kind of music an abusive person would make.
There's urgency, lack of perspective, easy formulas that sound like something everyone could say about a scorned loved: She ripped my heart out/My eyes are all cried out, etc. Now, I don't believe XXXTentacion was especially talented or eloquent, but I find it interesting that his music spoke to so many young people *. It would mean two things: 1) that the upcoming generation is shallow and a tad psychopathic (easy answer) or 2) that none of us are that far from acting like XXXTentacion did, if given the same circumstances (upbringing, social conditions, cycle of abuse), which would explain why the feeling expressed in his music resonated with people, to some degree.
Same logic goes for other SoundCloud hip-hop casualy Lil' Peep, who was more self-destructive than abusive. While I believe Peep was more original and had a better ear for beats, it's bars like: Fuck my life, can't save that, girl and Bother me, tell me awful things/Help me get through this without you that made his popularity. If there's anything we need to learn from SoundCloud rappers, it's that their music (and especially their lyrics) were as an unadulterated expression of a distressed mind as it gets. And sharing that distress in a seemingly harmless form actually helps people.
Not that I believe that XXXTentacion's career should be analyzed as a balancing act between helping and harming people, but now that he's dead it's up to us to decide what he's going to be remembered for. If his legacy and his death teach us something, though is that you shouldn't dismiss the music. Because it will live for long after he stopped being a danger to himself and others and it was the good part of him.
* Fuck, I'm 35 years old and I talk about young people like I didn't belong. IT'S OVER.