If you’ve been on the internet in the last week, you know that the death of XXXTentacion, or 20-year-old Jahseh Onfroy, is old news now. Responses to his passing are numerous and varied, with some crediting the artist with helping them cope with their mental illnesses and others vilifying him for the alleged abuse of his ex-girlfriend and harassment of the LGBTQ community. XXX was a growing musical talent, and his genre-bending music provided an outlet for the angst of much of his audience. He was also extremely volatile; his music blared out his violent tendencies and wildly changing personality.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I haven’t listened to his music. I have, and I'll admit that I enjoyed certain songs. But something that I have struggled with is whether it’s possible to listen to music ethically in the age of #MeToo and differing, divisive political opinions.
Last month, Spotify rolled out its Hate Content and Hateful Conduct Policy, essentially phasing out the music of artists that don’t align with Spotify’s moral values. The two artists affected by this were R. Kelly—an alleged domestic abuser—and XXXTentacion; both artists were removed from Spotify premium playlists. This was the music industry’s first real response to the #MeToo movement, one that has already consumed Hollywood and held many perpetrators responsible for their crimes.
In contrast to Hollywood, the music industry kept on churning, with artists like Chris Brown and producer Dr. Luke continuing on with their lives with limited to no repercussions for their actions. The rollout of Spotify’s policy was the first time the music industry had attempted to hold artists to their alleged crimes. However, the backlash was swift and relentless, with complaints ranging from the racist nature of the policy, which only removed two black artists, to the murky rights Spotify has to be judge and jury. Just a few days later, Spotify pulled the policy.
So, is it possible to listen to music ethically? We now live in a world where political tensions are at their highest, an opinion can cause divisions, and listening to an artist who may not align with your beliefs is controversial. XXX represented a rejection of this thought. His music spanned all genres and was loosely labeled as “hip-hop,” although much of his music dipped into punk, metal, and Latin pop. He put all his pain out on a platter, which his listeners latched onto. He was honest about his upbringing, brutal about his emotions, and compassionate toward his listeners. On the opening track of his album 17, XXX says, “put my all into this, in the hopes it will help cure or at least numb your depression."
Still, this isn’t an excuse for his behavior. Beating up a pregnant girlfriend and harassing a gay cellmate shouldn’t be labeled as “growing pains” or excused as a part of his “troubled childhood.” But, I guess we all have our problematic faves. Sometimes, the fervor of being a fan can excuse even the most inexcusable words and actions on the basis of being a musical genius. Many people partner eccentric, problematic behavior with the traits of a rising protege. So, who’s at fault here? The fans or the patterns of fandom? Whatever the case, the death of XXXTentacion caused an internet shockwave, and the debate of his life—whether right or wrong—was enough to propel his music to number one on the billboards posthumously.
Even dead, he’s making bank.