Near the end of August, Kendrick Lamar drew ire from the hip-hop community after going out of his way to cosign Florida newcomer XXXTentacion.
After releasing his album 17 on August 25th, the XXL freshman found himself under the spotlight and acclaim of arguably one of the best to do it. Kendrick not only praised X’s content but came back to say that he couldn’t stop listening to the effort.
— Kendrick Lamar (@kendricklamar) August 26, 2017
— Kendrick Lamar (@kendricklamar) August 26, 2017
Under any other circumstance, a shout out would be fine. Bigging up a lil homie in rap is one of the primary ways to move the culture forward. But this isn’t any other circumstance.
For one, Kendrick doesn’t just consign artists. If you look at his Twitter timeline, not counting Jay-Z and 2Chainz, there isn’t an artist outside of the west coast that’s received his public acknowledgment. Certainly not any “freshmen” for that matter.
Secondly, for someone like Kendrick — who’s an ambassador of hip-hop — on paper, XXXTentacion isn’t exactly the artist his PR team would be excited for him to endorse.
Born Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy, XXXTentacion, at the tender age of 16, spent a year at a youth detention center for petty theft and gun charges. A year later in 2015, X was involved in an incident where he allegedly entered the home of Che Thomas and robbed him at gunpoint, earning him both a robbery and an assault with a deadly weapon charge.
X was later released earlier this March after posting a $10,000 bail and pleading no contest and was ordered to complete a six-year probationary period under court-mandated conditions.
Then, almost simultaneously as he began gaining national recognition, he was ordered to appear in court this past May 1 for charges stemming from an October 6, 2016 incident in which Onfroy allegedly strangled and battered his pregnant ex-girlfriend.
And if that’s not enough, he wasn’t making himself easy to like in the industry.
Xxxtentacion punches fan at concert pic.twitter.com/DETyhre0RP
— Rap Spotlights (@rapspotlights) June 18, 2017
So what’s the appeal to Corn Roll Kenny? I, myself, was confused and a little off-put at the recommendation.
X’s biggest song leading up to 17 was “Look At Me.” While catchy and viral — so viral in fact that his 665,000 plus followers on SoundCloud let Drake know he stole X’s flow on “KMT” — it still appeared to be on par with the rest of his class’ melodic trap flow. Certainly not something Kendrick would listen to five times in a row.
Even if you look back at his catalog, which, to be honest, I hadn’t leading up to his debut, you hear what seems to be an angst-inspired even more hardcore, punk rock inspired version of what Waka brought to the stage.
With members of his crew who go by the names like Ski Mask The Slump God and songs like “Maxipads For Everyone” I didn’t think the in-your-face rock elements reminiscent of an early Tyler were Kendrick’s speed, but that’s because like everyone else, I had XXXTentacion pegged all wrong.
Not only is X more than the trendy triplet rapping style you hear on “Look At Me,” he’s something completely different than the genre of rap itself.
Like the contrast of hair color that splits in the mid-section of his head, his music, to anyone who did not study it in depth, is as different as night and day.
17 is a breath of fresh air. The lo-fi acoustic melodies provide a grayish filter you can’t help but hear the music through. Every song feels like it’s setting the theme for something tragic. And it is. It’s “raw thoughts” as Kendrick put it.
And all of a sudden you get it. You knew he had flow from “Look At Me,” but to hear it with the elegant songwriting and vocal arrangements is something else.
I listened to 17 six times in a row.
But upon further review, he never hid this side of himself and we honestly shouldn’t be surprised.
In one of his rare interviews with the No Jumper podcast, he talked about growing up going to choir, but quit because he hated learning the notes. He also spoke on listening very heavily to artists such as The Fray, Two Days Grace, Papa Roach, and Blood On The Dance Floor. “That’s where the versatility comes with me,” he said.
“I was completely and utterly mesmerized by music,” he continued later. Not to mention his songs like “I Don’t Wanna Do This Anymore” and “Slipknot” which show homage to these very influences.
Then you have his XXL freshman cover freestyle where he goes completely left. All these were telltale signs that there was something more than what meets the eye with X.
It makes sense why Kendrick stands behind and wants people to check out XXXTentacion’s music — he’s an elite talent with a story to tell. It also makes sense why people would be shocked — most didn’t see this kind of artistry from him.
So where do we go from here?
Right now Onfroy faces a minimum of 21 months and a max of 15 years in prison if convicted of aggravated battery. If found guilty of all other charges, he faces up to 30 years. Even if he isn’t convicted, he still faces six years in which he will have to keep his nose out of trouble to an impeccable degree.
It seems like more often than not we come to these crossroads of content and ethics that inevitably sparks discussion. On one hand, we have a kid with a history of violence accused of harming a pregnant woman and on the other hand, we have a damaged soul who finds freedom through music.
Should we ban and boycott his music? Is he “canceled” as they like to say? Or can we give him a chance to redeem himself through music?
Between XXXTentacion, Kodak Black, Kevin Gates, and others, it’s hard to know when we should or shouldn’t support someone’s work and they are giving us more reasons not to. Like Kendrick, I think it’s important to know when to step up and call a piece of art good when it is, such is the case with 17. It doesn’t mean you condone said person’s behavior or attitude, it just means you recognize the talent.
17 deserves every praise it gets and, regardless of the man behind the lyrics, deserves to be in AOTY contention. Let’s see if society agrees.