Art or Artist?

The cover art for XXXTENTACION’s debut album 17 (Courtesy of Brain Bakery)

Staff Writer

Florida rapper XXXTentacion released his official debut album 17 this past August to rave reviews.  17 has an alternative, R&B sound compared to XXXTentacion’s previous works which explore opposite genres such as rap and punk/metal. Trippie Redd, an Ohio rapper, is the only artist featured on the tracklist.

17 deals with roots of depression, suicide and heartbreak. “Jocelyn Flores,” a partially rapped and sung dedication to his friend who ended her life earlier this year, conveys his pain for someone who is no longer alive. “Dead Inside (Interlude)” is sole piano mixed with X’s thoughts about how even though X is physically living, he feels numb on the inside, due to family, love and legal problems tormenting him and leaving him “dead inside.”

Only 5 of the songs out of 11 on the album make it past the two-minute mark, making them feel like “unfinished” thoughts. Anyone who has ever experienced depression will understand the feeling that X is trying to convey in the album.

Albums like 17 are an example of how genre boundaries have dissolved and rappers have become known for the recent resurgence of emo, rap-rock and Hot Topic aesthetics beyond just the millennial nostalgia. Part of the reason why hybrid genres like rap-rock were so maligned in the past was because it often seemed to awkwardly sit in between both rap and rock as it attempted to merge.

Many say XXXTentacion should not receive the public’s sympathy. After the controversial rapper’s release from jail on March 29th, 2017, he yet remains impenitent for his three arrests in 2016 alone, including charges of robbery and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Later in October, he was charged with aggravated battery of a pregnant victim, and again in December for violating his pre-trial agreement.

X had something of a rough upbringing in South Florida, often getting into violent and troubling situations. He plunged a glass shard into a man at age 6, who he believed was threatening his mom. He was expelled from middle school for punting the mouth of a kid who had ridiculed his mother. He has a complicated relationship with his mother, who kicked him out of the house for delinquent behavior when he was barely a teenager.

“Mom just had it hard, bro… Raising a kid was not her priority,” X told No Jumper, a podcast where Adam Grandmaison interviews rappers, comedians and social media stars.

Many agree that his aggressive aura is the result of the environment he grew up in. This leads us to the question whether art and artist should be taken into account separately.

Personally, I and many others would find strangling another, specifically a pregnant woman, more malevolent than your standard battery charges.

“I believe that anyone who commits domestic assault, rapper or not, is not deserving of praise. I can’t fathom why people would adore someone who allegedly beat up his pregnant ex-girlfriend,” said Rishan Ephrem (Jr.).

Despite his past offenses, X has accumulated a massive and passionate fanbase of over one million followers on SoundCloud and nearly three million on Instagram. The core of his following tends to find his increasing list of offenses either completely falsified in order to impede his success or insignificant to their appreciation of his artistic talents.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of X himself, but rather the content he released (17). I do enjoy his music but I cannot say much for the creator behind it,” said Katherine Baek (Jr.).

Regardless of whether you continue to listen to his music or not becomes a question of whether you categorize or compartmentalize an artist’s work with their actions unless you take no stance on gender violence.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars, 17 is now available on iTunes for $9.99.