With the release of the late XXXTentacion’s ‘SAD!’ music video on the 28th of June, I had planned to publish an article examining the late rapper’s political and social views, as well as how one should make sense of the man’s often cryptic lyrics and music. However, my plans were confounded after watching a number of X’s videos, reading his lyrics and trying to dig up the themes behind his musical composition. Doing this revealed to me an insurmountable problem that almost permanently shelved this piece:
I don’t understand XXXTentacion at all.
It was always clear that the man was a tormented soul, someone who seriously suffered from his rough upbringing and time spent incarcerated, however, the extent of the man’s pure disjointed insanity is mind-boggling. X seemed to have only two settings, paragon of love or prophet of hate. He could rap about how his emotions are running wild in one line, only to then say that he’s completely numb in the next. This would usually be a sign of a poor artist, except for the that X’s lyrics and musical composition are deeper than the Mariana Trench in terms of symbolism and meaning.
This duality within the rapper’s mind, especially the duality between his politics and his violent urges, are made very clear in his track Riot. The lyrics of this song are very much targeted at the likes of militant ‘Black Lives Matter’ supporters, specifically those within the movement who blame frequent police shootings on racism and racism alone. X has been rather outspoken on this topic in the past, saying that trying to claim that the police attack you solely because of your race is actually an attempt to create a sort of ‘Black Privilege’, and is inherently against his goal of racial equality.
X continues this theme in Riot, asking why those who engage in rioting, vandalism and looting then question the use of power by authorities. However, he also questions his own preaching of peace and love in regards to this issue, because whilst he seems to not doubt the immorality of violence, he admits he would probably enjoy the violent world brought about by stoking the flames of racial hatred:
“But yo, you’d rather hear me say, ‘Fuck black prejudice!’
‘Let’s murder different races, grow hatred, and form irrelevant!’….
[…] I won’t dare say that you should stop the fuckin’ ignorance
Murder ops, killin’ shit, I’d enjoy the thrill of it
Bathe in blood of officers, different corpses…”
X’s carnal desire for violence is not something he had been scared to talk about before his death. Possibly the most famous line in regards to X’s violence is from a freestyle relatively early in his professional career:
“And if the world ever has an apocalypse
I will kill all of you fuckers
Fear will be plentiful, death will be bountiful
I will spare none of you peasants”
X goes on to refer to himself as a ‘Son of a Serpent’, a clear allusion to the biblical illustration of the Devil in the Garden of Eden, but possibly also to other, much lesser known occult depictions of supernatural entities that most people only hear about from horror films or fluoride-filter salesmen.
Which brings us to perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of X, the difference between him and the likes of Eminem. Where the latter is only talks about shooting kids from Columbine to be a little edgy, when X talked about his desire to destroy, his desire to brutalize, his desire to kill, it is in a context not only of his previous convictions, but also of his journey into the occult. His life’s history sharpens the edge of his viscerally destructive lyrics, and combined with his evocation of an apocalyptic archetype, they strike a powerfully ominous chord in the mind of the listener.
X wasn’t shy about his relationship with the metaphysical. Whether there is actually anything more than the physical or not, it is clear that X believed there was, and that he was constantly torn between what he saw as the light and the dark. A whole lot of his art references the occult, but most overt of these is definitely ‘I spoke to the devil in miami, he said everything would be fine’. In it, he converses with a ‘baphomet’ who promises him salvation from his troubles. X then describes his life and the world around him as always being “Ten for the wolf and three for the shepherd”, an allusion to how his violent urges always seem to have a greater pull on him than his virtuous worldview.
However, I wonder if it might have a more literal meaning. X also talks about how he took “a bite of [the devil’s] apple’, and how he made a deal with the devil when the devil promised to “save him”. What follows can only be described as chilling:
“And as I spoke, my fangs were shown
Taken aback, he smiles and tells me
‘What you crave will soon be yours
But what I crave is already mine’
Many will say the baphomet is simply an anthropomorphisation of X’s depression, anxiety and anger, or perhaps of a shady person in the music business promising him wealth and fame for his musical integrity, but the intense nature of the outro leaves me with my doubts.
This brings us all full circle. On the 18th of June 2018, XXXTentacion was shot dead outside a motorbike dealership by a man wearing a red mask. As of the time of writing, it is thought this was a random robbery gone wrong. On the 28th of June 2018, in the music video for his song ‘SAD!’ the late rapper attends his own funeral, and fights his own dead body. This coincidence has sparked a number of conspiracy theories, from the idea that the rapper actually faked his death and is still very much alive, to the idea that X was in fact expecting his death, even supposedly writing a will a month before hand. These theories are all probably false. Probably.
But that’s the thing. I don’t understand XXXTentacion at all. I don’t get how someone with such a political desire for peace and harmony could be so violent. How can someone be both violently emotional and numb at the same time? How can someone ask for peace, but at the same for time desire war? Most of all, one has to wonder: if all of this talk of baphomets, prophets, shepherds and wolves was only metaphor, or did X one day really meet a devil in Miami like he said he did?
Honestly, in regards to the late XXXTentacion’s art, perhaps the answers to these questions don’t actually matter all that much. What matters more is that I feel the need to actually ask these questions, since the music itself is made with such forceful sincerity that it’s hard sometimes not to take it at face value.
In the end, I will never fully understand XXXTentacion, yet that’s probably why I love his music so much.