It's Impossible To Reconcile XXXTentacion's Art With His Violent Life

Jun 22, 2018
Originally published on June 28, 2018 11:36 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A suspect was arrested on Wednesday night in the shooting death of the 20-year-old rapper known as XXXTentacion. He was one of the most controversial figures in hip-hop, charged with multiple violent crimes in his short life yet really vulnerable and honest in his writing. Just listen to a bit of a song he wrote about a friend who took her own life called "Jocelyn Flores."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JOCELYN FLORES")

XXXTENTACION: (Rapping) I'm in pain - want to put 10 shots in my brain. I've been tripping about some things - can't change. Suicidal same time I'm tame. Picture this - in bed, get a phone call.

GREENE: Rodney Carmichael writes about hip-hop for NPR Music, and he's with me. Hi, Rodney.

RODNEY CARMICHAEL, BYLINE: Hey, David. How are you doing?

GREENE: I'm good. So I want to learn more about this young man. I mean, such a long history of murdered rappers whose deaths go unsolved forever, right? So what do we know so far about his murder?

CARMICHAEL: Well, a 22-year-old suspect was arrested Wednesday night according to Broward County Sheriff's Department. There's been some early speculation that it may have been a robbery, but police really haven't released any substantial details yet. And, you know, there may have also been a second person involved.

GREENE: OK. So this is in Broward County, Fla., we're talking about. I mean, this young man - 20 years old. It seems like he's done so much in those 20 years - some very good things and some truly awful things.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, so XXX was really among the rising wave of young SoundCloud-based rappers. And among them, he was really the hallmark. He garnered millions of streams for a sound that was really genre-bending. You know, it mixed rap with emo and punk and alternative rock in ways that were really kind of unique. He first began to gain popularity, like, in early 2017 while he was still locked up on charges that eventually grew to include aggravated battery of his then-pregnant former girlfriend, a domestic battery by strangulation...

GREENE: Wow.

CARMICHAEL: ...False imprisonment and witness tampering around that case. The breakout hit for him, though, was a song called "Look At Me!", which was off of his 2017 mixtape "Revenge." And it really became something of a mosh-pit anthem for him. You know, a lot of the violence that really seemed to plague his personal life - it really played out on stage. You know, he was known for wild stage diving and sucker punching a fan once and even getting knocked out cold once in the middle of one of his own shows. He also has another song "Yung Bratz" that gets at that same kind of energy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YUNG BRATZ")

XXXTENTACION: (Rapping) Try me. Might fight. Fist - on sight. Wrist heavy, fat - pop - Mike Ike. I got glacial...

GREENE: Well, Rodney, how do you explain what a lot of people see as a real generation gap here - that it's younger fans who really appreciated this young musician despite the harshness of these crimes that you listed and that he committed?

CARMICHAEL: Well, you know, a lot of it had to do with that outlaw shadow that he cast. You know, but it also had a lot to do with his talent. I mean, he was a uniquely gifted songwriter, and he was able to really synthesize a lot of sounds and touch on a lot of emotions that I think just really resonated with his generation. But how do we explain the popularity of a man who commits vile acts in private while playing to our public sympathies? I'm not really sure how to answer that. But the truth is that XXX made beautiful music that really resonated deeply with young people, especially young people experiencing loneliness and depression and a lot of those feelings that he expressed in his music.

GREENE: All right. That is Rodney Carmichael from NPR Music talking about the late XXXTentancion, who was shot and killed on Monday. Rodney, thanks.

CARMICHAEL: Thanks a lot, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAD N LOW")

XXXTENTACION: (Rapping) Who am I? Someone that's afraid to let go. You decide if you're ever going to let me know. Yeah. Suicide if you ever try to let go. I'm sad and low. Yeah. I'm sad and low. Yeah. Who am I? Someone that's afraid to... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.