Ever since Spaceghostpurrp shed light on South Florida’s niche hip-hop scene, it has grown into a rich and burgeoning culture, birthing the likes of Denzel Curry, Kodak Black, and many others. The most infamous from this scene is Jahseh Onfroy (AKA XXXTENTACION), a hardcore rapper/artist who is currently serving time for six felonies, including allegedly fracturing the skull of his former, then-pregnant girlfriend. A cult of fans have stormed the internet with “#FreeX” as their call to arms. However, as a non-partisan bystander who honestly enjoys Onfroy’s music, I feel quite removed from this movement. I firmly believe that one may compartmentalize an artist’s work. Whether or not Onfroy committed those crimes, I may still enjoy his music without feeling that I promote his actions. Many of his followers, however, seem to not care about the legitimacy of his actions and desire his immediate release to expedite his music-making process. Is that wrong? Is that selfish? Simply put, yes and yes.
Perhaps the most in depth portrait of Jahseh Onfroy’s past and present is his No Jumper interview, which shows a serious, logical, and enigmatic kid with a rough background. Having grown up in Broward County without a father, a young Jahseh stumbled into trouble in every corner of his life. Most notably, he delivered a story about how he beat a man to the brink of death for looking at him in a seemingly erotic way. By the time of the interview, he had already spent time in juvenile correctional facilities for his violent tendencies. He is best known for his aggressive and confrontational music, as his hit single “Look At Me” entered the Billboard Hot 100 Chart.
However, he refuses to pigeonhole himself as a rapper, and his discography tells a very similar story. His music, which can be found primarily on SoundCloud or YouTube, has jumped back and forth from horrorcore to smooth R&B to emo and soft rock. For a man who previously expressed his hatred for notes and harmony, he has an undeniable knack as a musical chameleon. He is very open about the depression that has risen from the ashes of his turmoil, and he cites music as his sole escape. His favorite artists include Immortal Technique, Odd Future, and Asking Alexandria. In an interview with XXLMag he spoke about “17” and “I Need Jesus”, music which he is set to release upon his own release. His publicity has created an aura of unadulterated anticipation around him.
This anticipation has led many of his fans to pick up the hashtag “#FreeX” in hopes that he be released as soon as possible. This sentiment began amidst comments by Onfroy himself vigorously refusing culpability, claiming that he is being framed. No hard evidence in the case has been found to either corroborate or deny his claim: it is currently his word against the justice system. However, having a very long history with physical assault, which a quick google of ‘xxxtentacion fights’ would do more than enough to show, Onfroy does not have much credibility in legal eyes. His fans, however,, do not seem necessarily convinced of his innocence, but regardless demand his freedom; almost as if his capacity to create puts him beyond legal authority.
This is not the first time an artist’s work has been heavily intertwined with nonprofessional actions. Perhaps, instead of XXXTENTACION, there is more interest in discussing the actions of people like Kanye West, Andres Serrano, Andy Warhol, (dare I mention Richard Wagner?) and how they may complement or add context to their work as artists. However, What makes Onfroy’s situation so unique is that his fans take a reversed approach to his persona: they use his music to ameliorate his actions. That is not okay. Although the justice system is flawed, there is no unbiased way to look at Onfroy’s case and genuinely be convinced of his innocence. The most one can do is hope that he did not do it and accept whichever outcome follows.
Jahseh Onfroy is currently expected to be released in April. The only serious concern is whether he will be able to avoid legal problems in the future. Right now, the only thing stopping him from blowing up in the hip-hop scene is himself. Perhaps “#FreeX” will persist throughout the course of his career, or at least as long as it entertains his fans.