Twenty-year-old XXXTentacion was shot dead Monday by masked assailants who allegedly fired at the rapper in his car after he left a motorcycle dealership in South Florida. Some fans, collaborators, and admirers posted heartfelt tributes and expressions of shock and sadness on social media while others criticized their praise in light of XXXTentacion’s (real name Jahseh Onfroy) disturbing criminal record.
Onfroy debuted his early work on SoundCloud after dropping out of high school. He burst onto an underground, Generation Z-driven rap scene that’s grown into a mainstream, Billboard-topping phenomenon of lo-fi trap and harsh 808s. While tracks like “SAD!,” “Jocelyn Flores,” and “Fuck Love” brought him adoring fans, his violent behavior and hateful rhetoric landed him in legal, not to mention moral, uncertainty.
The masochistic cycle of abuse Onfroy directed toward his ex-girlfriend included allegedly attempting to rape her with a barbecue pitchfork, beating her until her eye sockets leaked blood (while she was pregnant), and coercing her into dropping domestic abuse charges — all allegations he would have faced in court but are backed by extensive testimony and investigative reporting.
Onfroy has also admitted to strangling and nearly killing a gay man, whom he referred to as a “faggot,” for looking at him in their shared jail cell. He has been recorded punching fans. His former collaborator Ski Mask the Slump God alleged that Onfroy threatened his family. He posted, “Anybody that called me a domestic abuser, I’m finna domestically abuse ya’ll little sisters’ pussy from the back” on Instagram.
In the time that it took for the news to develop that Onfroy had been shot — and within two hours, confirmed dead — public opinion on social media took four general positions. One, that Onfroy should be remembered as a creative genius and positive influence. Two, the same, with the caveat that he had a controversial past but didn’t deserve to die. Three, that it wasn’t appropriate to mourn a person with such a brutal record of violence toward others. And four, that the news called for celebration and mockery.
The attitude of the most retweeted and liked posts stays firmly in the first two categories, but after the initial reports, other users digested the news differently. Artist Jidenna compared Onfroy to Malcolm X, then backtracked to say that women enduring sexual abuse are the real martyrs. Comparisons to Tupac have run rampant, but so have criticisms of Onfroy’s legacy. Spotify, the streaming service that removed XXXTentacion from its playlists during its short-lived “hate content” policy, added his songs to their popular “Rap Caviar” mix. Backlash followed.
There will be no consensus, as there never is, on Twitter in regards to Onfroy’s legacy. Some will shame him, some will develop elaborate conspiracy theories about him, and fans will continue to promote his music. If the investigation of his murder uncovers any suspects or eventual culprits, XXXTentacion may trend once again, but in the complicated, ongoing #MeToo paradigm shift, it’s impossible to say whether Onfroy will be remembered as a masochist or a mastermind.