The nucleus of SoundCloud rap’s apparent peak can be greatly attributed to the “virality” of a modern-music icon, Jahseh Onfroy; commonly regarded by his alias, “XXXTentacion”, was brutally murdered June 18th, 2018. Alas, Jahseh is still receiving millions of streams every day…let’s investigate.
The certainty of XXXTentacion’s fate is nearly confirmed and sealed in his obituary…or is it? Fresh off a posthumous album release, SKINS (courtesy of Empire), fans around the world question & debate: Is this what X wanted? Leaving behind hundreds of unreleased snippets, verses, and articles of media (including photography, videography, recordings, and hand-written notes) it has become the noble duty of his family, friends, and fans to piece together the puzzle of XXXTentacion’s future. With the accessibility of our cell phones, through remembrance & respect, the legend of Jahseh Onfroy still lives on through the diligence of love & justice. Whether it is an unreleased verse or hand-written poem, Jahseh’s artistic impact on our global village at large can only be uttered in a breath with a name like Tupac.
Artists like Lil Pump & 6ix9ine may have taken notice of Jahseh’s viral marketing campaign to complement his music. With legal trouble at nearly every turn, these mainstream celebrity-musicians know their every action is being watched. Imagine not being able to walk outside of your home in peace; charades of martyr-like fans screaming your name & interrupting your privacy…these are the daily trials and tribulations of your favourite artists.
Although SoundCloud has consistently remained relevant since its launch in 2007, the new “trap” sound did not emerge into the mainstream until Panda, Desiigner’s 2016 breakout hit, smashed airwaves and landmarked a breakthrough for a new wave of hip-hop. XXXTentacion had already been “out”, but hadn’t gone viral. Understanding Jahseh’s timeline in hip-hop means understanding that allowing a song to grow for 2-3 YEARS after its release will bring the song’s gravity to fruition. What does this mean? As stated earlier, “Panda” was released in 2016, and only started to receive viral traction after memes surfaced comparing Future to Desiigner, not to forget the epic Kanye West co-sign on “(Father Stretch My Hands) Pt. 2”…we see a loop of multi-media co-signs, millions of clicks, and a viral pattern of media coverage & notable press exposure.
This is my original “XXXTentacion Loop Theory”. Through his manipulation of social media, he coaxed millions of curious users online to convert his radicalism into clicks, views, likes, comments- igniting a viral campaign without any notable paid advertising.
My theory is this: When one revolutionary makes a statement, it inspire millions of prospective revolutionaries to follow the trend.Jack Dylan Cohen, January 2019
Intoxicating, over-compressed drums and a haunting sample ignite XXXTentacion’s raw flow on “Look At Me”. Released in December of 2015, the song did not chart on Billboard until February 2017.
“I’m like b*tch, who is your mans? , aye/
Can’t keep my dick in my pants, aye”
Similar to Desiigner’s explosion online, but notably more powerful, Jahseh Onfroy quickly did a 180 from songs like “Look At Me!” in his Kendrick Lamar co-signed project (via Twitter) “17”, highlighting standouts like “Jocelyn Flores”.
Maturity, growth, and forgiveness became cornerstones of XXXTentacion’s life as he dealt with the grotesque reminders of his past. From disturbing videos posted online of X beating human beings senselessly to demonic-trap songs centered around a distorted 808 bass line, the enigma of X as a person seemed to be a consistent COI (Conflict of Interest) between drawing a line of separation between the art and the artist himself.
The pain over every refrain and verse Onfroy recited is a reflection of his dark past and uncertain future; as posthumous releases continue to trickle, speculative corporate milking of his early death is continually exploited. He had a rather extensive, influential vocabulary silhouetted against the Gen-Z’ers of the mumble-rap ilk. It is quite apparent that the government played a role in the censorship of his actions. Many super-fans of XXXTentacion debate the various roles the suspected criminals in his blurry murder played, and whether or not the entire situation was either a painful coincidence or a well-planned attack by an underground Florida group of spiteful stans. Broward County, where Jahseh lived alongside his mother Cleo and other family members, is home to its own niche of SoundCloud rap; although there are many different styles approached by these unique artists, their link to late rapper XXXTentacion is inevitably most prevalent in the form of tribute, in extreme cases- worship.
John Cunningham, sound engineer & music producer, has been the “missing link” to the posthumous SKINS album release in 2018, in coordination with X’s label Empire. An unsung hero behind the likes of pro-DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) mixes for XXXTentacion, with credit on records like “changes” & “SAD!“, Cunningham was a close friend and deep musical affiliation with the late XXXTentacion. As he frequently cites on his Genius edits, Jahseh’s obsession with “raw” sounds and organic production has become a staple of the new X sound, prefaced on early SoundCloud uploads such as “i dont want to do this anymore.” Cunningham goes in depth when mentioning his connection to X’s voice memo recordings; Lofi (or lo-fi) music has finally carved its niche into the mainstream framework of popular music.
Whether or not Jahseh would have given his thumbs up on these songs, in this format, to release as an album is up for debate & speculation. As an innovator, X saw mainstream success after having “17” chart on Billboard and reach #1 on R&B albums in September 2017, it is clear that Jahseh embraced the idea of a “musical renaissance”, ditching traditional trap beats and diversifying himself as a Pop/R&B icon with sweet production by Potsu on his smash hit “Jocelyn Flores”, among a tranquil, yet randomized, collection of X musical moments. Structurally, one might compare “17” to “REVENGE”, a Spotify-shocker that connected young XXXTentacion’s BadVibesForever to EMPIRE, a music distribution company, independently owned, based out of California.
This is my argument: How can one validate the release of music without the artist’s verbal consent and approval? I’m not pointing fingers at John Cunningham, Cleo, or EMPIRE. I’m pointing fingers at social media as a whole. Our reliance on social media to provide us with entertainment, media, and gossip has gotten out of control. Instagram’s growth is projected to easily surpass 1 billion users by 2020. Jahseh Onfroy blessed the world with his unique style and undeniable originality. The inevitable marks he left on SoundCloud, Spotify, and mainstream music are everlasting- eternal. There is no denying the impact of powerful political statements from artists, case-and-point Kanye West’s support for President Donald Trump. It raises eyebrows, sparks controversy, and keeps the artist’s name relevant and in circulation at smoke sessions & conversations around the world. In addition, we cannot look past how far X & Ski Mask The Slump God grew “Members Only” into a brand; from distinctive clothing to a myriad of mixtapes, the proof is in the following. The continued extortion of posthumous music releases from deceased artists is a topic that gets swept under the rug. Whether morbid curiosity or cryptic reality, it is no surprise that artists like Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, Tupac are non-living victims to the contracts verified by their handwritten signatures. In a different scene, we can observe the corporate impact that major record labels have had on legendary rock groups like The Beatles & Tool, delaying their music to be available for years on popular streaming platforms like Spotify due to collusion. Picture this. #1 charting artist “Drake” utilized a Michael Jackson sample in his viral project “Scorpion”, much to the chagrin of the Jackson family. Would XXXTentacion have approved the release of all the posthumous releases coordinated by major record labels?
Some questions have no answer. Conspiracies & controversy will continue to circulate as long as we live. As for X, having impacted as many people as he did while alive on earth, his brand carries hope, forgiveness, and a cloak of mystery as details of his personal life & music continue to surface.
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Article originally written by Jack Dylan Cohen for Thrive Global, January 2019.