August began as a relatively slow month for new music, but last Friday we experienced a tidal wave of tunes. In less than 24 hours, hip-hop and R&B fans were inundated with new projects from Lil Uzi Vert, A$AP Mob, Action Bronson, BROCKHAMPTON, Daniel Caesar, Daz Rinko and XXXTentacion.
Out of those seven releases, we have covered (or plan to cover) six.
The exception? XXXTentacion.
In an email to DJBooth, one of our readers, Jarell, wrote the following:
I am here to talk about the lack of coverage about XXXTentacion's new album. Almost all new major albums got coverage on this website today: Action Bronson, A$AP Mob, Lil Uzi Vert, and even Brockhampton. However, X is nowhere to be seen, which for a young rapper can be quite damaging to their exposure. I have read posts on this site chastising the actions of XXXTentacion and Kodak Black, which I agree with. Sexual assault or domestic abuse should never be accepted in any situation. On the other hand, I feel both Kodak Black and XXXTentacion represent a troubled youth. Kodak Black has already been covered on the site discussing his rise to stardom and his inability to not fuck up. However, XXXTentacion has received next to no positive coverage on this site. Any coverage of him is negative. This is not fair in my opinion.
I can understand your lack of support for such a controversial figure as you have stressed your lack of appreciation for his lyrics, such as his song "Look at Me," where he states he cannot keep [his] dick in [his] pants. I understand how you may find these lyrics revolting. Contrastingly, if hip-hop has taught me one thing, ignorance towards ones form of expression is how you miss out. Before I had ignored Young Thug because of his feud with Lil Wayne, Future's tape Monster due to the reception of Honest, and Brockhampton because they refer to themselves as a 'boy band.' Idiotic, I know. However, the media sometimes blinds us from seemingly breathtaking music. I am not here to force X down your ears, [but] rather [to] explain that you should have an open mind towards every release.
In my opinion, although X may seem like another idiot, he is the troubled person he says he is in his music. He openly admits to suffering from depression but you won't cover that. You will cover Kamaiyah openly suffering depression, though. He is authentic about his inner problems, however, your site would rather keep whining about Future and The Weeknd's lies about depression and drug addiction. You outcast him from your website without batting an eye, even though he obviously needs help. Instead of complaining about fans supporting songs like "Look at me," try understand [his] problems. He is the new generation's troubled mind. Depression will have you become a person you're not. I truly don't believe X is an idiot. I believe he is someone who has yet to fully come to terms with himself. I really enjoy reading this website's content, I really do. It's opinionated and biased but that's what makes it too compelling. It's quick to slam artists, yet open to praise them too. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I disagree, but everyone's entitled to their own opinions. I am just trying to open your minds to X's music and his problems.
P.S. Keep up the good work.
The majority of individuals—unsurprisingly, all of them male—who have reached out to DJBooth about our decision to not cover or review XXXTentacion's debut, 17, did so in an offensive, highly-unprofessional manner—which is nothing new, we've been doing this for over a decade—but Jarell impressed us with his thoughtful, mostly well-informed commentary. As such, we felt it was appropriate to offer a response.
Over the past 12 months, the 19-year-old Florida rapper born Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy has risen from SoundCloud buzzmaker to mainstream phenomenon, but we have refused to cover his meteoric ascent.
In 2016, Onfroy was charged with armed home invasion robbery and aggravated battery with a firearm from an alleged incident that occurred in November 2015 in Broward County, Florida, for which he pleaded no contest this past March and is serving six years of probation. In addition, Onfory is still awaiting a trial hearing in Miami Dade County, where, according to court documents, he is being charged with aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment, and witness-tampering.
No, XXXTentacion has not been found guilty of any of the charges he is currently facing (pleading no contest is not the same thing as going to trial and being found not guilty), but our writing staff, collectively, decided to take a moral position. After decades of acceptance, both by society at large and, more specifically, the hip-hop community, we felt we could no longer stand on the sidelines, watching rap's ugly embrace of sexual assault and domestic violence.
Given the checkered past of countless A-list rap stars, our decision to deny an artist coverage or the opportunity to have their work reviewed might seem hypocritical given our archive of past features. What about Tupac? What about Dr. Dre? What about Chris Brown? What about Rick Ross? The short answer is that not all transgressions, accusations and crimes are created equal. Also, we're not perfect. You have to start somewhere, though, right?
In his email, Jarell stated that our decision to not cover XXX's 17 could be "quite damaging" for his exposure. As much as we believe in what we're doing here at DJBooth, we don't have that power. In fact, no one single outlet has that type of power in 2017. Also in his email, Jarell labeled XXXTentacion as a "troubled youth" who owns up to his imperfections in his music. That assessment is spot on.
Over the weekend, I pressed play on 17. After reading countless court documents and think pieces over the past 10 months, this was the first time I sat down with his music.
I was blown away.
I don't know what, exactly, I expected from 17, but XXXTentacion threw me a curveball. The album is a heartbreaking body of work from a deeply-troubled young man who, by all accounts, had an insufferable upbringing that was filled with violence and absent parents. Like so many younger artists in today's rap landscape, XXXTentacion is operating at the intersection of race, sexism ("Can't keep my dick in my pants, aye / My bitch don't love me no more, aye") and mental health ("Depression and obsession doesn't mix well / I'm poisoned and my body doesn't feel well")—three topics we have covered extensively over the past two years—but that doesn't mean we're comfortable with excusing, ignoring or minimizing his actions.
"I put my all into this, in the hopes that it will help cure or at least numb your depression" - "The Explanation"
Given his age (he was 18 when he was arrested), it's no wonder XXXTentacion has built an adoring fan base who are themselves young and impressionable, and if these fans are able to better cope with their own mental health issues through his music, that is actually quite wonderful. But at what cost is XXXTentacion able to deliver this advice?
Hip-hop has done a pathetic job looking out for the well-being of young women. In particular, young Black women. In an effort to counteract this unfortunate reality, we've made the decision to not provide XXXTentacion valuable real estate on our platform or mobile app. Publishing this article even goes against that sentiment. Hopefully, though, the effective cost of our position inspires others to take a similar stance, which ultimately will create a culture change that is able to impact an audience far wider than XXXTentacion's current following.