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Hip-hop, media, authority, and the differing perceptions of XXXTentacion's death

Trey Alston

 // Jun 20, 2018

XXXTentacion's sudden death lit the match of an impending explosion. Gunned down at 20 years old after contemplating a motorcycle purchase, and while riding in a BMW I8 that, according to KBB, costs $165,000. The success that got him in the position to sit upon these expensive decisions ran parallel with a trail of alleged abuse, self-professed gay-bashing, and animosity that radiated from his body like a foul stench. But as horrendous as his past may have portrayed him , there were traces of light within the darkness. He'd been planning on instilling charity events in his city, this upcoming weekend actually. In a recently unearthed video from Instagram Live late last year, he relayed that, if he were to die, as long as he impacted millions of children's lives to make the most of their existence, he'd be okay.

It may have been the prickly "Look At Me" that garnered him the attention that would put him on the fast track to success and its pitfalls, but this antagonistic sound wouldn't define his aesthetic. He created unnecessarily violent records that spoke to the inner demons in his listeners, but he also crafted touching hymns that examined the relationships between mental health, heartbreak, and existence itself. He became a champion for the misunderstood and the troubled, carrying the weight of his actions unknowingly on his shoulders.

Despite his horrendous backstory and troublesome antics, hip-hop mourned for the loss of another soul destined for a bright future. That same day, Jimmy Wopo, a rising rapper out of Pittsburgh, also fell in a hail of gun smoke. It was a dark day in the midst of what should be a great month of June — no matter how many albums come out now, the stench of death will forever remain entrenched in it.

When it comes to media coverage, journalism has had a rough time deciding the proper course of action. It's been extremely divisive. Websites that normally forbade covering his music because of his past have been eager to post thinkpieces about his career and the very music that they swore to be no parts of. New profiles and analyses of his career spend more time on his abuse than what came after, as if to define his entire life by it.

This air of animosity that's covered both the music world and journalistic world has been inhaled by fans, so when a memorial in Los Angeles took hold of Melrose Avenue to pay respects to the fallen artist, all hell broke loose. On Tuesday night, fans stormed vehicles, sidewalks, and buildings, which they climbed and jumped off of. Police quickly became involved, treating the situation as a riot and fired rubber and pepper bullets into the crowd once mourners began throwing rocks. Almost two hours after it began, the situation devolved into anarchy. Police regained control, but the message had already been implanted — authority and XXXTentacion fans don't mix.

The arrival of the police on scene may have been the cause for such a violent kneejerk reaction. Do police officers show up at candle light vigils when others pay respects to recently deceased individuals? XXXTentacion's fans were already upset at his passing. Adding a police presence, especially in hip-hop where the profession is endlessly frowned upon, created the necessary environment for violence to thrive. That's probably not what he would have wanted either.

But then again, when you paint an image of conflict such as his, this kind of response would be absolutely necessary. His career had a schizophrenic streak to it. It was necessary to prepare for the worst of the worst. As fires blazed on and blood boiled on Tuesday, I can only wonder if, at the root of the situation, XXXTentacion didn't bring on this kind of energy to his fans through his life.

Yet while the media rushes to cover his death from every angle, those left to mourn his passing are subjected to the same treatment as protestors. Thus, when reported, the vigil looks animalistic and uncivilized. Quite the recipe for continued disruption since the public already views fans as this. But the entire situation throws me off, making me see both sides.

If anything, XXXTentacion has successfully achieved martyrdom. Inspiring a riot with his passing, and making outlets that forbade covering him rush to be the first to put something out about him, has only added fuel to the conversation of where he will go down in history. Some say that he'll go a Tupac route, a gunned down iconoclast that was ultimately convicted of sexual abuse, yet still be seen as a revolutionary icon. Others believe that he'll slowly fade from time since his antics have finally reached a close. But his last grand move came in death, sparking a fiery meeting of souls to enact the irate persona that manifested in his music.

XXXTentacion's death sparked a much-needed conversation about how media coverage of death and its aftermath for rappers needs to be carefully handled to avoid creating inconsistencies. He was by no means a saint, but his death places the lid on a story that was growing and evolving. Now opens a new chapter in hip-hop where XXXTentacion's influence on coverage remains fresh in the air. It's safe to say I wonder how it will impact the troublesome artists that we currently have and will see in the near future.


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