XXXTentacion's sudden passing exposed some of humanity’s most deplorable tendencies.
It's an image that Twitter unceremoniously branded in the minds of countless viewers on Monday, June 18: XXXTentacion slumped forward in the driver seat of his black BMW i8, his unconscious body the focal point for bystanders documenting the moment on their phones. Following the sudden attack outside a motorcycle dealership, which is being reported as an armed robbery, only one person at the scene of the crime had the decency to check X's pulse before first responders whisked him away to the hospital. He was pronounced dead an hour later by the Broward County Police.
X, born Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy, was an artist without precedent. He rose to prominence despite a laundry list of criminal allegations that included domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment, and aggravated battery of a pregnant woman. In spite of, or perhaps because of these grisly details, he quickly became an inescapable media persona and generational voice whose work attracted a cult-like fanbase with an insatiable appetite for his music. Some of his fans were unaware, or conceivably in denial, of his past, while plenty of others didn’t bat an eye, choosing to continue to support him despite the heinous allegations. Others were torn. Onfroy's undeniable talent had an especially intoxicating power that made separating the artist from the individual, a debate that has engulfed some of music’s most enthralling acts, all the more complex. His gift of putting into words the pain and raw emotion of his mental struggles yielded a transparency that struck a chord with the young generation, one that is now more than ever “seeing increases in experiences of persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness and suicide ideation and behaviors.”
Onfroy was a young man who was viciously robbed of a future that he can never get back. For someone who was so open and upfront in his music, he died a deeply flawed and controversial enigma. It would have been just for him to face the consequences of his alleged crimes. Yet the world once again proved itself an unjust place, snatching Onfroy as another victim of senseless violence. The tragedy was further exacerbated by the most depraved motives of society, which reared its ugly head to reflect and ultimately pass judgement. On social media, many wasted no time in celebrating Onfroy's demise, offering forth the reasoning that his despicable, physically abusive transgressions warranted the fatal outcome, as if his passing was some twisted form of karma where death finally got it right. Keyboard warriors clamored to get front row seats to the sickening affair, drawing satisfaction from the fact that an abuser was getting the “justice” that the legal system seems incapable of doling out when it comes to male celebrities.
Yet finding joy in the death of 20-year-old, even one with a reprehensible past, is wrong. Onfroy’s criminal acts and the way that he treated and spoke about women are inexcusable. But no one has the right to take someone else’s life in a manner such as this. Nor should we be cheering the death of someone who not only had a great deal of life ahead of him but also had an opportunity to make amends for his actions in the eyes of the law. Social media is stripping away empathy with unsettling ease, drowning our humanity in a bottomless pit of hatred and revenge that has a terrifyingly cyclical grasp.
Those close to Onfroy have noted that they sensed a change in him in recent months. He had readily adopted his mantle as an advocate of underprivileged and downtrodden communities by becoming more actively involved in neighborhoods across his home state of Florida. It's possible that he truly was in the midst of a turning point. Maybe he was finally coming to terms with the vile misdeeds of his youth, a factor which, mind you, in no way excuses his egregious behavior. During an Instagram Live appearance just days before his death, Onfroy revealed that he was working on a charity event in Florida. With the same candid clarity that captivated his audience from the start, he foreshadowed his posthumous legacy:
“Worst things come to worst, I f**king die a tragic death or some sh*t and I’m not able to see out my dreams, I, at least, want to know that the kids perceived my message and were able to make something of themselves, and able to take my message and use it and turn it into something positive, and to at least have a good life. If I’m going to die or ever be a sacrifice, I want to make sure that my life made at least five million kids happy, or they found some sort of answers or resolve in my life.”
Onfroy’s death drew out of the woodwork a host of unsavory, callous individuals. It also exposed the grotesque way that our society treats violence. Death is now a spectacle for the masses, something to be openly gawked at and consumed for entertainment purposes. We have become so desensitized to the loss of life that we no longer care for the safety or well-being of individuals. Those who have passed beyond the veil suddenly become the target of jokes and public ridicule, while morally corrupt pundits dance on the grave before the coffin has even been lowered into the ground. And after the novelty of the experience has worn off, they continue as if nothing happened, blissfully oblivious to the tragic truth. Childish Gambino said it best: "this is America."