Aaron Marks

Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy, better known by his stage name XXXTentacion, is a rising star in the music world. Riding a wave of underground buzz from his single “Look At Me,” the 19-year old rapper hailing from Florida’s Broward County shot to stardom nearly overnight in 2017. His debut album “17” hit No. 2 on the Billboard charts, he was named to XXL Magazine’s freshman class of 2017 and soon began collaborating with some of hip-hop’s biggest stars. D.R.A.M brought XXXTentacion out for a guest song in front of a sold-out crowd at the Staples Center on August 10th, and the astoundingly popular Kendrick Lamar used one of his few tweets to promote “17”, urging his more than nine million Twitter followers to “listen to this album if you feel anything,” in an Aug. 25 post. 

This would all be an inspiring story if not for one key fact: Onfroy is an accused domestic abuser with an alleged history of violence that he shows no signs of moving past. “Look At Me” became an internet sensation in 2016 as Onfroy sat in a jail cell, accused of imprisoning and battering his pregnant girlfriend. Pitchfork Media recently got ahold of details from the victim's testimony, and they are beyond horrifying. 

According to a Sept. 8 article in Pitchfork, when asked to “pinpoint the exact days [Onfroy] threatened to kill you,” the reported victim responded, “Well, when we lived in Orlando, it was literally like every day.” The innocuous act of singing along to the guest verse on Onfroy's own song was enough to send him into a rage in which he punched and kicked her as he threatened to cut her tongue off, the victim said. After a particularly gruesome incident where Onfroy stomped her head into the curb as she attempted to leave his house, he trapped her inside a room for two days so that no one would see her in public with the bruises he had inflicted upon her. “If you’re smart, you would stay with me until you get a car and you have enough money to move into an apartment,” she said he told her, adding, “Because if you leave now, you’re just setting yourself up for failure. You’re going to be homeless.” This pattern of abuse lasted from May of 2016 when she moved in with Onfroy until October of that year when she fled to escape further violence. 

This wasn’t some well-guarded secret kept from the listening public only to be exposed after initial success. X’s breakout single “Look At Me” used Onfroy’s menacing mugshot as its cover, and legions of newly converted fans flooded social media demanding that the Miami-Dade police department “FREE X,” accusing the victim of fabricating Onfroy’s crimes for attention. When XXL chose to feature him as part of the “next generation of hip-hop,” they fully leaned into his abhorrent reputation. In a June 30 article by XXL, he was titled their most "controversial freshman ever,” treating both Onfroy’s public struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts and his domestic abuse allegations as mere marketing gimmicks. When D.R.A.M brought XXXTentacion out on stage, he knew the gravity of the accusations against Onfroy and promoted him anyway. Kendrick Lamar is fully aware of his status as a tastemaker — anything he touches becomes the next big thing — and he chose to spend this limited cultural capital promoting a man accused of subjecting a pregnant woman to literal torture. 

Compare this to how the punk community reacted when it was revealed that Ben Hopkins, the frontman of queer punk band PWR BTTM, was revealed to be a serial sexual predator with a history of preying on young fans and anti-Semitic behavior, according to a May 15 NPR article.  Although the victims did not press charges, as soon as the allegations against Hopkins were verified with multiple testimonies and photo evidence, both the punk and LGBT communities severed all ties with PWR BTTM, effectively ending the band's career overnight. PWR BTTM’s label did not attempt to brand them as “dangerous” or “polarizing” as a marketing ploy. The venues they were set to play did not try to parlay the social media firestorm over Hopkins' abhorrent behavior into buzz for their upcoming tour. As soon as Hopkins’ deeds came to light, he and his band were done for. 

The example of PWR BTTM shows that a music community can disassociate itself with a popular act that carries significant moral baggage with it, but XXXTentacion is hardly the first hip-hop act whose abuse failed to end their career. The infamous Chris Brown still manages to find work these days even after he shows time and time again that his brutal beating of his then-girlfriend Rihanna was hardly a fluke. Prominent acts like The Game and 50 Cent have had the accusations of abuse against them brushed off, relegated to the dustbins of celebrity drama when they should have been career-enders. Even the legendary Dr. Dre, now a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Apple’s corporate brass, has a history of abuse himself. When reporter Dee Barnes attempted to question him over the accusations leveled against him, he proved her point by throwing her down a flight of stairs, an incident for which he only apologized this past year, according to a July 11 article in the Washington Post.

This goes well beyond hip-hop, or even music — figures like Johnny Depp and Mel Gibson remain in the upper echelons of Hollywood royalty despite their abuse. Floyd Mayweather received more negative publicity for boxing too cautiously than he did for assaulting his ex-girlfriend in front of their children. XXXTentacion’s actions may be beyond reproach, but they represent nothing new in the grand scheme of things. Onfroy is simply the current public face of our ugly inability to confront domestic abusers or properly give victims their day in court. The artists, industry members and fans that provide support for these men need to step up and confront abuse in all of its forms instead of abetting and excusing it. XXXTentacion is not the cause, but rather a symptom of a much broader disease.