XXXTentacion, Rising Rapper Accused of Violence, Shot Dead at 20

Jahseh Onfroy, the rapper and singer known as XXXTentacion, whose surge in popularity in the last year and a half — including a No. 1 album — came as he was facing accusations of violent crimes against a woman, was shot and killed outside a motor sports store in Deerfield Beach, Florida, on Monday afternoon. He was 20.

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Jon Caramanica
Joe Coscarelli, New York Times

Jahseh Onfroy, the rapper and singer known as XXXTentacion, whose surge in popularity in the last year and a half — including a No. 1 album — came as he was facing accusations of violent crimes against a woman, was shot and killed outside a motor sports store in Deerfield Beach, Florida, on Monday afternoon. He was 20.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office confirmed the victim was Onfroy. Videos taken at the scene Monday and shared on social media showed the rapper’s slumped body in the driver’s seat of a black BMW sports car as a bystander attempted to take his pulse. TMZ first reported the news of the shooting.

Onfroy had been approached by two armed suspects shortly before 4 p.m. Eastern time, in what appeared to be a robbery, the sheriff’s office said. At least one of the suspects fired a gun and struck the rapper before fleeing in a dark-colored SUV. Onfroy was transported to a local hospital. Just after 5:30 p.m., the authorities said that he had been pronounced dead.

In the last 18 months, XXXTentacion quickly became one of popular music’s most controversial and, in some circles, reviled figures. In early 2017, “Look at Me!” — a bratty, caustic, distorted song — became the first breakthrough hit of the SoundCloud rap movement. But at the time it was soaring in popularity, XXXTentacion was in jail following his arrest on charges including aggravated battery of a pregnant victim and false imprisonment.

By the time he was released from jail in March 2017, “Look at Me!” was climbing the Billboard Hot 100; a month later, it would peak at No. 34, cementing the rapper’s place as a disrupter whose serious personal issues only led to more attention and, for some, shored up his outlaw mystique.

Onfroy was born on Jan. 23, 1998, in Plantation, Florida. He was raised primarily by his grandmother, and had multiple scuffles with the law. In 2013, he began recording and releasing music in earnest following a stint in a juvenile detention center. During the next two years, he self-released several projects, both as a solo artist and also as a member of the Members Only collective.

Sonically, his music was foundational to the rowdy, genre-crashing approach that has become popular on the music streaming service SoundCloud over the past three years. Of the artists who got their start in that scene, he was one of the most commercially successful. His debut album, “17,” was released last August, and has been certified gold. In March, he released his second album, “?,” which made its debut at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart.

At the time of his death, Onfroy was awaiting trial on charges of battery, false imprisonment and witness tampering. He pleaded not guilty.

In a deposition before the trial, as well as an interview earlier this month, Onfroy’s onetime girlfriend said she was a victim of frequent domestic abuse from him. “His favorite thing was to just backhand my mouth,” she told the Miami New Times. “That always left welts inside my lips.”

She said the violence culminated in an attack in October 2016, while she was pregnant, during which Onfroy punched, strangled, kicked and head-butted her. She said Onfroy then took her cellphone and moved her to an associate’s home for two days before she escaped.

Onfroy was arrested the next morning and ultimately charged with aggravated battery of a pregnant victim, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment and witness tampering.

Roger Gengo, the proprietor of the website Masked Gorilla, which chronicles the SoundCloud scene, said that XXXTentacion was both an early beacon for this burgeoning brand of underground hip-hop, and its most polarizing figure.

“It was always this internal struggle for me — he’s so popular and shedding light on this scene, but he’s been accused of these terrible things,” Gengo said. “Taking into account what he’d been accused of doing, his music was still incredibly authentic. His true self bleeds through into his lyrics and his music.”

Gengo added, “Wanting somebody to be held accountable for their actions doesn’t mean you want them to be killed in the street.”

The divisive terms of XXXTentacion’s rise only seemed to embolden his devoted followers. “Kids just represented for him so strongly,” Gengo said. “They wanted to defend him and to believe that the allegations aren’t true. That builds the strongest fan base.”

XXXTentacion rarely gave interviews, but he often used social media to communicate directly to his fans. In a video posted to Instagram’s live feature, he spoke about what he hoped his legacy would be: “If I’m going to die or ever be a sacrifice, I want to make sure that my life made at least 5 million kids happy, or they found some sort of answers or resolve in my life, regardless of the negative around my name, regardless of the bad things people say to me.” XXXTentacion was also at the center of an industry uproar last month when Spotify, the leading music streaming service, said it would stop promoting artists whose real-life conduct it found to be “hateful.” Along with R. Kelly, who has faced decades of allegations regarding sexual abuse, Spotify cited XXXTentacion as someone whose songs would be removed from the company’s influential playlists.

But following a backlash that included Kendrick Lamar’s label TDE, which called censorship a “super sensitive topic,” Spotify rescinded the policy three weeks later and restored XXXTentacion’s hit “Sad!” to its prominent placement on the playlists. “Sad!”, with its deceptively bouncy chorus about suicide, has been streamed more than 270 million times on the service (and another 174 million on YouTube) and currently sits at No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100 after peaking in the Top 10 earlier this year.

Lamar was one of many older, establishment artists who expressed admiration for XXXTentacion’s music despite his charges. “listen to this album if you feel anything,” Lamar wrote on Twitter last year. “raw thoughts.”

Following news of XXXTentacion’s death, rapper J. Cole wrote on Twitter: “Enormous talent and limitless potential and a strong desire to be a better person. God bless his family, friends and fans.”

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