Popular rapper XXXtentacion lynches a white child in his music video and people are outraged
Rapper XXXTentacion has perfected his brand as an edgy teenager. Known for his extremely aggressive lyrics and low-fi bass-heavy trap anthems, the Florida rapper was in jail on domestic abuse charges for much of last year, becoming famous online as he was behind bars. Since then, he's released an album called 17, and been accused by another ex-girlfriend of extreme battery, including beating her while she was pregnant.
Now, he's released a music video for Look at Me!, his most popular song. The video only focuses on Look at Me! for a few minutes, however, and the content quickly veers into something more experimental. XXX raps about American injustices, and the video shows the hangings of several black teenagers, including Emmett Till, who was a 14-year-old black boy famously lynched in 1955 without committing a crime. The rapper also reads out the names of black men like Philando Castile, who were killed by police while unarmed.
The video turns into a bizarre scene of XXXtentacion standing on a school's stage, methodically tying a rope around a white child's neck while a black child watches, then moving to the pulley, where he raises the child up, hanging him. His body goes limp. It's a lynching.
You can watch the graphic video, which has over 7 million views, here:
Now, when discussing XXXtentacion, there's already a million cans of worms fighting to wriggle free. First of all, is it right to enjoy an artist's music when they may be violent against women? Hip hop's misogyny problem is made no better by welcoming uncritically these violent men into its fold, such as XXX and Chris Brown, who famously fell into infamy by punching Rihanna years ago.
XXXtentacion's case is ongoing, and the details are extremely graphic. That violence alone is enough to stir up controversy, but now the internet is also outraged that he has portrayed the lynching of a white child.
The casting director for the video, LaShawnna Stanley, explained the process of casting the child:
“I called a lot of parents. It was a direct booking. No one was okay with their white child getting lynched. With all the racial tension in the world right out they were nervous.”
However, Stanley says they eventually found a mother who “was serious about acting and the message. The mother of the son is very serious about acting. She’s a stage mom. She has three sons and takes them to LA to audition. She understood the vision.”
Stanley explained that the “little white boy and black boy show innocence".
In our era of social media outrage, controversial art can be rapidly crucified before it is properly understood. There are two possible interpretations of the lynching of the white child. The first, and the reason for the outrage, is to get 'revenge' against white people for black suffering and just be outrageous and grotesque. But is this interpretation true?
The other possible message is to explain that violence of all kinds is wrong. XXXtentacion, by showing the lynching of black men early in the video, then lynching a white child, is simply trying to create empathy and explain how it feels to be devalued as a human being in a racist society.
People tend to view black children as hoodlums or potential criminals, but to treat a white child the same way could be seen as groundbreaking as experimental art. The rapper defended himself in this Snapchat post:
Which do you believe? Surely, XXXtentacion has a lot to answer for, mainly for his accusations of domestic abuse and violence against women. But all art is open to interpretation, and it seems that the rapper's intentions were in the right place for his video. In a series of now-deleted Instagram and Snapchat rants, he laughed off his domestic violence charges, joking that he was 'ready to join the feminist movement' and also defended his music video, pointing out that "society is desensitized" to the death of black children.
What do you think? Is this rapper insane, or just misunderstood? On his Instagram, he refers to himself as a "problematic genius". Whatever you think about him, he's at least half right. We'll know his true nature once this court case concludes, though that will itself open a new debate about separating the artist from their art. We'll be here for that!