• Joshua De Oliviera

XXXTentacion: The Story of One Man and his Road to a Cult Following

XXXTentacion: The Story of One Man and his Road to a Cult Following

XXXTentacion, birth name Jahseh Dwayne Ricardo Onfroy, was an artist who came from South Florida who was killed on June 18, 2018. This 20-year-old became one of the biggest names in the music world with a diehard cult following to go with it in just a few years. He was born into a poor family where he struggled to live a normal life. At the age of six, XXXTentacion attempted to stab a man who was attacking his mother and, later throughout his childhood, would be in and out of correctional facilities for other violent charges.

XXXTentacion got his start on Soundcloud and YouTube, where he uploaded his songs for the world to hear. He burst onto the hip hop scene with his aggressive sound in early 2017 with the official release of his single, Look At Me!, but his cult following had already started snowballing by this point. He won the hearts of the youth with his brutal sound and unfiltered attitude. This song was also heavily talked about in hip hop communities, as many of his fans claimed that Drake took the young rapper’s flow from Look At Me! and reused it as his own on Drake’s song KMT.

At the time, SoundCloud was experiencing a new wave of artists and it wasn’t just XXXTentacion gaining popularity alone. Along with him came a plethora of his friends/collaborators such as his best friend, Ski Mask the Slump God, Denzel Curry, who already had a wave of hype behind him since 2014, and Lil Pump and Pump’s best friend Smokepurpp, who many would come to know for memes like, “Esskeetit”. XXXTentacion came to be seen as the face of this sort of new wave now commonly referred to as “2017 SoundCloud Rap.” XXXTentacion’s fanbase was often seen as a sort of modern-day cult, defending him and promoting him in any way, shape, or form possible, while utilizing social media sites such as Instagram and Twitter. He was co-signed by many in the industry like Kendrick Lamar, J Cole, and many more. Co-signs hold a large significance in hip hop culture, as it’s a sort of way for these big artists to indicate who they believe have amazing potential. These co-signs came with mixed feedback as many fans of these artists claimed that this was a step in the wrong direction socially, as they were giving someone with a controversial past, from violence to accusations of beating his girlfriend, some legitimacy. In an article assembled by Marc Hogan for Pitchfork magazine, they would go on to release a piece in September of 2017 detailing his abusive behaviors and providing examples such as, “Then, XXXTentacion head-butted her, punched her, stomped on her, and put her in the bathtub, where he continued hitting and kicking her.” This is barely scratching the surface of all of the abuse that was mentioned in the article. Even through the constant abuse claims that were surfacing, his fans stuck by his side and he continued to grow at an exponential rate. It was an odd contrast, seeing that the popularity of the #metoo movement at the time, as well as the ends of many other artists’ careers came about due to this movement. He would become this sort of villain personality in hip hop news. He became one of the most vilified artists, whose fans saw him as a savior, while his haters saw him as a menace that only endorsed evil. So many people questioned why these fans could endorse this sort of villainous behavior, but his fans saw him in a different light.

To his fans, XXXTentacion was trying to abandon his violent nature. Even XXXTentacion would discuss his violent past with disgust and regret, often telling his listeners to be better than he was. He claims he realized how many kids looked up to him and he couldn’t let the evils he grew up in corrupt him anymore. He shaved his eyebrows and dyed his hair a pure white color, in an attempt to signal a rebirth in himself, and a sort of new era of his life. He went on to start charities that support people across the country. His fans saw him as a victim of circumstance, and a product of his environment; many felt as though they could relate to this sort of redeemable villain personality he seemed to embody. He became this symbol for his fans that it’s never too late to be saved and turn your life around. He took to Instagram, often posting videos of himself wishing people the best and telling people that no matter what happens in life, they should never give up and keep fighting the negative energy in the world. During these Instagram sessions, thousands would watch live as he talked about his struggles in life and his emotional issues because he wanted people to know they are not alone in this world, creating a sense of digital intimacy with his fans.

But this change in his life would not last long, as he was killed in a mugging in June 2018 at the age of 20. His fanbase exploded and took to social media in every form, fighting those who were glad about his death, while also spreading his message of love and peace, mimicking the duality that XXXTentacion displayed throughout his own life. At the same time, many other celebrities came out in support of XXXTentacion’s life and impact on the music scene and the world as a whole. Many celebrities all around the world took to social media to pay their respects to the fallen artist. Kanye West took to social media and made a statement that seemed to capture the essence of the celebrity reactions, as Kanye talked about how he was scared of how the media and “cancel culture” would attack him for speaking out in support of X while he was alive. This sort of fear is not completely unreasonable, as Kendrick was an example of a big artist who was shamed for his support of XXXTentacion while he was alive. As time went on after his death, his popularity only grew. Only around the end of 2019 did it begin to slow down. As new and old fans alike became united in living on the ideals he often spoke about, fans of XXXTentacion took to social media with the hashtag, “#LLJ”, which stands for “Long Live Jahseh”. This sort of cult following kind of mirrors the late 90’s cult following around Tupac Shakur, an artist who defined 90’s era hip hop, was also killed at a young age, and amassed a following that remains today.

XXXTentacion’s career and life was this enigma in our modern social climate, but somehow he still grew a cult following that adored him. It would be difficult to talk about artists that defined the 2010’s without his name being thrown into the conversation, for better or for worse.

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