Each generation gives birth to its own disruptor.
Like a force of nature, this game-changer descends on pop culture, shakes up
perceptions, and dispels everything previously thought to be true. It happened with
N.W.A. It happened with Marilyn Manson. It happened with Eminem. It’s happening
again with XXXTentacion—pronounced “ Eks - Eks - Eks - Ten - Tah - See - Ohn . ”
In 2017, his quiet cult fan base blossomed into a burgeoning movement of 809K
Soundcloud “followers,” uploads regularly averaging millions of plays, and an RIAA
Gold-certified single “Look At Me!” In under six months’ time, the latter earned over 55.6
million Spotify streams and 62.1 million Soundcloud plays, became a Billboard Hot 100
hit, and turned into a veritable phenomenon. The 19-year-old Broward County artist
bends and breaks genre barriers, stirring together a brew of rap, R&B, punk rock, and
metal that snaps without warning from moments of emotional crooning to cathartic
screams like the musical equivalent of Wolverine . Pitchfork , XXL , HotNewHipHop , and
more have pondered his rise, while he attracted praise from Lil Yachty, Erykah Badu, Lil
Uzi Vert, and A$AP Rocky who dubbed him, “The hardest in Florida” on social media.
Up to this point, his story remains just as characteristically wild as his style…
XXXTentacion associated singing with therapy from a very early age. Born Jahseh D.
Onfroy in South Florida with “a melting pot of Jamaican, Syrian, and Italian” heritage, he
vividly recalls the cathartic effect music exerted on his mother as she sang along to the
radio in the car.
“When I was younger, it was hard on my mom, because she didn’t have my father
around or her mother around to even remotely help her,” he says. “When she would
sing, I saw how her mood changed. During work, she used to leave me with people to
take care of me. I felt alone, so I would use records as my company. I’ve found that
music can silence the brain altogether and alter your thought process to where you
reach a meditative state. I really connected with artists that displayed real emotion.”
In between participating in choir during grade school, he found solace in favorite albums
such as Eminem’s Encore , Papa Roach’s Infest , The Fray’s How To Save a Life ,
Nirvana’s Nevermind , and more as well as anime, including One Piece and the work of
Masashi Kishimoto. Two heart murmurs dashed his dreams of becoming an MMA
Fighter or playing in the NFL, but he dove headfirst into recording at 17. Tracking in a
cramped closet over a cackle of grunge-y lo-fi beats, he started uploading his
compositions to Soundcloud in 2015. Accompanied by controversial, headline-grabbing
social media antics and a controlled insanity, listeners fell under his spell…
“Music saved me as an individual, because I was literally haunted by myself,” he admits.
“As a person, I was lost. It gave me a purpose. Within that purpose, I became able to
display my pain for others. Initially, it just felt good. After a while, I wanted to be like a
therapist for these kids. Anyone that was even slightly depressed could feel it. I was
doing this for them as much as I was for myself. I gave them something to feed on. I
gained attention from networking, marketing myself, and being an idiot on the internet,
but the cult following is purely because of the songs.”
As tracks like “I Don’t Wanna Do This Anymore” and “#ImSippinTeaInYoHood”
simultaneously cracked 10 million Soundcloud plays each, “Look At Me!” caught fire in
late 2016. His unpredictable flows and war-cry refrain land a gut-punch over sparse
About “Look At Me!”, he elaborates, “It’s purely fun. It’s for kids to lose their fucking
minds to. The response was a blessing. It was what I needed to get in the door.”
While the single infected the mainstream, Drake blatantly copped its style in a
questionable viral video live from Amsterdam—XXXTentacion maintains, “His song was
inspired by it. He didn’t call us back. He knows what he did, and we’ll leave it at that for
Other anthems like “Riot” go for the political jugular, urging to “Make sure what you’re
trying to change is bigger than yourself or your skin color.” Showcasing his alternative
side, “KING” confronts “all of the madness in my head,” as he puts it.
Everything sets the stage for the release of his first full-length project, 17 .
“The concept behind that is purely heartbreak, pain, and putting my more sensual,
brittle, and meek emotions into an album,” he continues. “Long before I turned 17, I
knew what heartbreak was, but I didn’t fully understand the concept until that age.
That’s also when I started to put music online. By the same token, 2017 is my year. The
number is very special. Everything in the record is real. It’s me letting you into my mind
and giving you a piece of my soul.”
In many ways, the name XXXTentacion represents his movement. “It means unknown
temptation, because that’s all life is,” he explains. “I understand what temptation is
whether it’s the media, electronics, or women. I am unknown temptation.”
Now, he’s carrying the charge for a generation, and he’s about to rewrite the rules for
the entire game.
“I want everyone who listens to me to know, ‘This is your universe,’ ” he leaves off.
“Nothing is gifted. No one is born with opportunity. You build your own bloodline. I hope
they see you can have full control of your emotions and make something real happen.”
— Rick Florino, March 2017