How XXXTentacion's rage-filled music describes the modern American landscape of a lost, broken generation

Abhinav Jai Singh

Jun,19 2018 20:06:56 IST

XXXTentacion is dead.

The mysterious and viciously hated XXXTentacion, whose real name was Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy, was only 20-years-old when he was gunned to death. The online world, the same place where XXXTentacion gained widespread recognition, reacted to his death in different ways. His fans, who stuck by X through the highly disturbing phases of his short life, went into grief and subsequent mourning. Others—the ones who detested X for his frightening acts of violence and over-aggressive style of music—celebrated his death.

But what most people fail to see is that XXXTentacion—an obscure, troubled teenager who went from putting out mixtapes on SoundCloud to mainstream popularity—was the perfect pop-culture reflection of a lost, broken generation continually seeking gratification in places that get increasingly unfulfilling with time.

XXXTentacion performing live/Image from Twitter.

XXXTentacion performing live/Image from Twitter.

XXXTentacion wasn't alone. Lil Peep, who passed away aged 21 in November last year, was also shrouded in a mysterious aura. Both XXXTentacion and Lil Peep emerged at the forefront of what is today called SoundCloud rap.

Characterised by simplistic beats and lyrics that range from arrogant bragging to nihilism, sex and drugs, SoundCloud rap existed on the fringes of mainstream rap before artists like Lil Uzi Vert starting scoring gold certifications for mixtapes. Soon, a number of new-age rappers with face tattoos, strikingly colorful hair, high-end street-fashion clothing, and an unwavering love for prescription drugs took over the scene.

While many argued that 'SoundCloud rap' is a fad, and 'SoundCloud rappers' aren't real rappers, these artists—who sang-rapped about death, unshakable need for perpetual intoxication, and righteous self-harm—gained massive online following. The plays on XXXTentacion's SoundCloud started to rack-up ever since he posted his first track 'Vice City' in March, 2014. What separated X from the rest was the promise of something bigger to come. His sound was raw, unfiltered and deeply real. The lyrics on his tracks came from a place of fervent anguish and thwarting desperation; from a place of unbridled emotional turmoil.

But XXXTentacion's success as a musician was eclipsed by his ongoing involvement in criminal activities and accusations of harrowing domestic abuse.

In November 2015, X was charged with committing home invasion, robbery, and aggravated battery, according to court documents. He was arrested on these charges on 9 August, 2016. It was around this time that X was accused of domestic violence against his former girlfriend.

XXXTentation allegedly kicked, punched, tackled, and “stomped on” his ex-girlfriend, because he heard her singing another artist’s song. While under house arrest, X allegedly assaulted his ex-girlfriend again after she confessed to sleeping with another man.

In October, 2016, the rapper was arrested and charged with aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment, and witness tampering. He was released from prison on 26 March, 2017. He was jailed once again in December, 2017, before being released five days later.

XXXTentacion performing live/Image from Twitter.

XXXTentacion performing live/Image from Twitter.

Mainstream success

XXXTentacion climbed the Billboard charts gradually with the single 'Look at Me'. The confrontational nature of 'Look at Me'—coupled with distorted, lo-fi production and mumbled, angry words—made it an instant hit. The song, which has been certified platinum in the United States, was oozing with issues of unresolved rage. XXXTentacion appeared to be someone who has been torn apart from within and cannot decide who he is. Is he the guy who seeks nothing but love and affection from women? Or is he someone who hates women with a white-hot vengeance?

X's songs were filled not only with elements of strong aversion towards women; it was also full of modern day effects of toxic masculinity. Here was a boy who had always wanted his mother to pay attention to him; something he never had. As X grew up in a culture where men were always tough, determined and responsible, the only way someone like him could express themselves was through unrestrained rage and the ever-so-familiar traits of masculinity.

The emotional turbulence in his songs was extremely apparent. Depression, suicidal thoughts, long stretches of mental suffering paused only by heavy dependence on pharmaceutical drugs; this describes not only XXXTentacion's music, but also the modern American landscape.

On 'Jocelyn Flores', X sang about the sadness in his heart for a friend who committed suicide. His tone reflects his sadness, and also his familiarity with such a situation. On 'I Don't Wanna Do This Anymore', X once again appears confused about his feelings towards women; and people in general. Just like the generation that listen to his music, his songs painted him as someone who is constantly looking for approval and recognition. The only catch here was that the approval was never coming. The unavailability of large-scale public validation is what kept him going. That basically is our generation in a nutshell: On a never-ending search for approval that will never come.

On 'R U N', X explores how materialistic things can't ever help him overcome depression, but he'd keep trying anyway. 'Teeth' deals with the break-up from his girlfriend and the pointlessness of love. In his songs, he shows a certain disregard for his own life; and for life in general. On 'I spoke to the devil in miami, he said everything would be fine', X raps about his troubled upbringing, and how pain and sadness have plagued his brief time on Earth. Human life is portrayed as a burden rather than a boon, something observed in art since time immemorial. Similarly, on 'Wing Ridden Angel', X raps from the point-of-view of a man who lost his girlfriend to suicide.

Every decade has its own musicians who embody the ruthlessness, disillusionment, and hopelessness of the times. Be it Kurt Cobain, who was so immensely affected by the divorce of his parents that its anger spilled onto some of the greatest rock records of all time; or Trent Reznor, whose drug-addled genius produced some of the most wrathful and depressing records of all time; or The Sex Pistols, whose uncaring, provocative antics kick-stared the punk movement; or even Eminem, who took the pains of being a white trash loser and turned it into obscene rap lyricism. For the internet generation, artists like XXXTentacion are the answer.

Today, the world is a place where suicide rates soar constantly, addiction patterns worsen, and capitalism reduces people to 'likes' and 'hearts'. The most astonishing part of all this is that we're blatantly aware of it. For the disenfranchised urban youth—who find happiness in things like watches and cars—XXXTentacion wrapped their feelings into a digestible form of trap music. His music, frequently fused with elements of alternative metal and emo, is erratic, uninhibited and soaked in torment. XXXTentacion's music was the perfect encapsulation of what the modern world is, and what we should do to get through it.

While no one can defend X's violent actions, his music was a symptom of much larger issues; issues of superficial and crumbling camaraderie, living in a painfully individualistic and materialistic society, and the constant search for meaning.

Updated Date: Jun 19, 2018 20:08 PM