Artist Case Study

Erik Blomgren

XXXTentacion Case Study

  • What makes you and your work unique?

XXXTentacion, born Jahseh Dwayne Ricardo Onfroy, expresses instability, pain, and emotion through his lyrical and musical content in a manner that is seldom rivaled in either trap or lo-fi, and he is known especially for the expansive list of genres and styles of writing that he dove into with his music.  He is also known for having lived much of the life that he wrote about, and led most of his musical career on the wrong side of the law, and on the wrong side of a number of moral dilemmas.  Above all else, he had a raw and emotional sound that captured listeners and wrapped them into his world.  This ensnaring and soul-touching sound is part of the reason many of his fans still defend his shady and immoral past and are more willing to forgive his transgressions; they feel like they know him personally and are more willing to accept him as such. 

  • Do you have a brand or artist statement? Do you have a mission or vision?

The closest X comes to any form of artist, mission, or vision statement is the following; a quote from his album 17, one of the more personal and generally heartfelt of his albums.  It touches on the struggles that he faced through youth and explores his views on life and on emotional health and well-being. 

“17. A collection of nightmares, thoughts, and real-life situations I’ve lived. 17 is the number tattooed on the right side of my head, my own personal number, soon to be explained in future interviews or instances. By listening to this album, you are literally, and I cannot stress this enough, literally entering my mind. And if you are not willing to accept my emotion and hear my words fully, do not listen. I do not value your money; I value your acceptance and loyalty. Here is my pain and thoughts put into words. I put my all into this in the hopes that it will help cure, or at least numb, your depression. I love you. Thank you for listening. Enjoy.” 

  • Do you have career goals laid out for the next 5-10 years?

Jahseh is dead, murdered in what appeared to be a simple robbery last June.  His musical career was relatively short, beginning in June 2013, just 5 years prior to his death. 

If I hope to emulate his goals and path I’m going to have to start soon; I’m already 2 years older than he was at his death, so to capture the younger generation of listeners I would need to act soon and really begin to get in touch with my moody and emotional side.  I think I should probably start with the gun charges to help establish some cred for myself going into things, then maybe try my hand at armed robbery.  I’ve only got 5 years of groundwork for one of the biggest rises and falls in music history, so I really do have my work cut out for me. 

  • What do you do and what are you doing?

When he wasn’t writing music of his own, he was collaborating with other artists and building a name for himself, both through his musical prowess, and through his street cred.  He founded a rap collective Members Only with some fellow artists, and established his own label Bad Vibes Forever, and basically bounced back and forth between album releases and jail time until he received wider recognition for his independently released music and signed with manager Soloman Sobande.  From there his career picked up dramatically with several record deals and a dizzying escalation to the top of the charts, leading many to claim that he had sold his soul to the devil, a trope that he himself played into and claimed on occasion in his music. 

  • How are you connecting and building audiences and how do you market to them?

Onfroy marketed himself to his audiences by appealing to their rawest emotions and sparing no details.  He wrote to his basest emotions and created powerful lines and feeling out of his sound, discussing pain and heartbreak in a manner that anyone who has loved and lost can relate to.  He wrote about anger and hate in a way that anyone who has experienced rage can relate to, and he confronted his emotions so boldly that his audience couldn’t help but be enthralled by who he was and the persona that he portrayed.  He never tried to hide what he did, but rather justified it, asking his fans for their undying loyalty to develop an almost cult-like following among listeners.  They didn’t care about who he was, only what he was to them. 

  • What opportunities are you on the lookout for?

X was constantly looking for collaborations with other artists, and was known to put out an obscene amount of content on SoundCloud, especially in the earlier days of his career.  One of his bigger breakout projects was a stint on the 2017 XXL Freshman Class, which he used to help publicize his debut commercial project Revenge, which was followed quickly by 17, cementing his name as one to be remembered. 

  • Did you look at someone else’s career to make a path for your own and if so, what was it? 

Jahseh rarely formally acknowledged any particular artists that inspired him to write or produce, opting instead to build his own scene into something that developed along with him.  The generation of SoundCloud artists that he grew up in almost developed their scene together; in fact, much of it seemed to just happen naturally.  His music spoke to people and it grew from there. 

  • How do you fund your work?

Towards the end of his career, Onfroy’s work was entirely self-funded.  He obtained extreme commercial success into 2017 with multiple six figure contracts, and had no need for alternative funding as a result. 

  • How did you initially get funding? 

X originally wrote with subpar technology and software, opting for a trashier and muddier sound to disguise this fact, though the funding he used to acquire this equipment was allegedly ill-obtained.  He was detained twice for a series of home invasions and robberies, and was accused of a number of crimes including assault and weapons possession, so it’s safe to assume that his work was funded by less than reputable methods.  While certainly effective, his choices of funding were questionable. 

  • What networks or organizations do you belong to and which ones have helped you the most?

XXL Freshman Class could be argued as one of his bigger associations that helped bring him into the mainstream, though he often credited more of his success to his rap collective Members Only.  This seems to have been especially true early in his career, when petty rivalry determined an artist’s place within a scene.  His association with Soloman Sobande certainly helped propel his career forward, and many would attribute his massive commercial success to Sobande’s efforts. 

Overall, the more I look into his case, the more I believe XXXTentacion to be a real needle in a haystack kind of story for trap.  He came in the right place at the right time in his life to have an impact on one of the most forgiving generations of listeners, and quickly established himself with a devoutly loyal fanbase while managing to SOMEHOW stay largely out of jail, despite being arrested and charged for a whole slew of misdemeanors and felonies throughout his career.  His career could very well have been over a number of times after its start, but it seems as though the stars aligned, and, rather than destroy his career, his adversity only strengthened his resolve and the resulting support that he received.  It’s all especially amazing considering the complete apathy towards life that he expressed in his music, and the seeming disregard for his own life or future that made his rise to prominence all the more spectacular.  To follow in his footsteps, more than anything would require significant drive and an extremely effective damage control and management team. 

Published by Erik Blomgren

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