XXXTentacion and the Struggle of Separating the Man from the Music

by Flaunt Intern

Before this week, I had never given XXXTentaticion the time of day to listen to any of his music due to his past. He's been charged with robbery and assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment, witness tampering, aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, almost murdered a gay man in jail for staring at him, and even punched a fan at one of his concerts. I've taken a personal stand to not support artists who go against what I morally believe in, even if the music is good. But I recently had a moment of weakness and was convinced by a friend to check out X's new music video (shown above).

X dropped his music video for "Look At Me! (Official Video)" on September 12. I expected the clip to match up with the lyrics--fervent proclamations of X's incapability of not keeping his dick in his pants (example: "Ayy, can’t keep my dick in my pants"). And that's exactly what it was. The vid's set in a classroom, until X disrupts the class and charges at the teacher with a dildo in his hand. X slaps him with it and ends up jumping the teacher, along with the rest of the class. This was the first 50 seconds. 

The scene then cuts and the song, mood, and visuals turn toward a new route. His song "Riot" drops, and the scene opens with several Black men--X included--hung on a tree. Clips of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy who was lynched in 1955, Philando Castile, a Black man shot seven times by a cop last year, Rodney King getting beat by cops in 1991, and Heather Heyer ran over by a white nationalist at the Charlottesville rally last month, flashes throughout the video. The visuals end with an interesting message about equality and criticism against confronting hate and violence with even more hate and violence. To get his message across, the video even shows the extreme act of a child being hung at the end of the video.

Dropping the music video as just "Look At Me" rather than "Look At Me/Riot" was a clever way to grab the attention of X's fans and those who only listen to X for the fun of it. If my friend didn't tell me that I had to watch the full video through, I would've scrolled right past it. X went from not being able to keep his dick in his pants, to speaking out about equality and hate within seconds. 

"Look At Me" lyrics: “Ayy, I’m like 'Bitch, who is your mans?' / Ayy, can’t keep my dick in my pants / Fuck on me, look at me / Ayy, fuck on me, yah, look at me / Ayy, look at me, look at me"

"Riot" lyrics: “You rather hear me say ‘Fuck Black prejudice’ / Let’s murder different races, grow hatred, and form irrelevant views and ecetra / Knives thrown / Damage them lives blown”

Music off of X's debut album 17, also dives deeper and gets more personal than "Look At Me," exploring intense feelings of depression and thoughts of suicide. Like many others, I was easily engaged by his ability to express his emotions, and found comfort in the many moments when his feelings of depression aligned well with feelings of my own.

In the opening track "The Explanation," he revealed what the album meant to him and what he hopes his music could do for listeners. “Here is my pain and thoughts put into words / I put my all into this, in the hopes that it will keep cure or at least numb your depression.” His desires are what any core hip hop fan would hope to find in music--relatability, content, and honesty. 17 proves that XXXTentacion is truly a troubled teenager who's been through trauma, but that does not mean his actions are excusable.

Many cult followers of X say "just listen to the music" and that "you just have to separate his music from his personal life," but I believe that doing so only gives X an inexcusable pass for his actions. So many fans and listeners of hip-hop, including myself, have a bad history of doing so in the past. When Chris Brown violently assaulted his then girlfriend Rihanna, I accepted his apology and still hit play on his latest hit.

And, when it was revealed that Dr. Dre had physically abused his former girlfriend, I still continued to bump his Cali' classic, The Chronic. But now, I'm more mature, I have a much deeper and solidified love for hip-hop, and I am more capable of sticking to my moral compass.

I do believe in redemption and I am capable of feeling empathy, sometimes far too easily. After attempting to understand the complexity behind XXXTentacion more acutely through his music and various interviews, I genuinely hope one day I could come to fully enjoy and support X as an artist and human. But for that day to come, X would need to work on himself and have the capacity to hold himself accountable for his actions.

At least feeling some type of remorse would be a great first step. While awaiting for X's upcoming trial in October, Pitchfork acquired and uncovered 100 pages of transcript regarding X's ex-girlfriend's testimony. Her testimony recounts the extremely graphic details of how X abused and threatened her, and how she normally feared for her life. Instead of an apology or attempting to clear the air on the newly surfaced details, X responded by threatening to "domestically abuse y'all little sister pussy" in a new video posted by Baller Alert@balleralert days ago. 

I gave X's music video and debut album a chance, and ended up enjoying it a lot more than I expected. But despite X's ability to be musically creative, generate relatable music, and even gain Kendrick Lamar's co-sign@kendricklamar, I don't stand with X and cannot listen and support his music any further right now. The artist and their art goes hand-in-hand and cannot be separated, for the art is an extension of the artist. X will have to grow and own up to his troubled past before I ever raise the volume on his music again.

Written by Kelly An