The Subliminal Violence of Clout Culture: XXXTentacion's Influence


Now more than ever, people are faced with opportunities to create their image. Performing artists in particular have found the internet to be the most impactful way of developing and pushing their brand to get more followers. This intent, which in recent years had been called "swag", as evolved into what is today "clout". 

Merriam-Webster recognizes "clout" as a political term referring to pull or influence. However, the hip-hop community has taken this term and repurposed it as a word used exclusively to describe an individual's apparent fame, wealth, and style as reflected on social media. The word is frequently associated with the SoundCloud rappers who use it and strive for it. SoundCloud has become a subculture in itself as a platform for unsigned rappers to release projects in the hope of gaining notoriety. The scene has been a means for the discovery of countless artists who have gone on to sign to labels and achieve prosperous musical careers (Russ, Lil Uzi Vert, Trippie Red, to name a few), yet its accessibility has also gained a laughable reputation for featuring mumble rappers with "lil" in their names. The cultural influence of SoundCloud rappers trying to flaunt their clout is most evident in their usage of Instagram as a free and easy means of expanding their fandom.   

Unfortunately, the rap scene is inexorably tied to violence, which has become a biproduct of clout culture. Fostering a bad reputation in order to demonstrate street credibility as a rapper has led to a sort of pride among rappers. In an extremely popular interview with 105.1 The Breakfast Club, Tekashi 6ix9ine, a notorious rapper, used the opportunity to essentially incite backlash as he boasted that he is the best rapper from New York City. The rainbow-haired rapper first became popular via his SoundCloud releases as well as his outrageous persona. As a tribute to his stage name, Tekashi has the number "69" tattooed all over his body, which has contributed to his Internet fame. In the March interview, Tekashi 6ix9ine also expressed affiliation with rival gangs, the Bloods and Crips. He previously feuded separately with a slew of rappers, including The Game and Chief Keef. It is unclear how the Tekashi's beef with Chief Keef originated, but this feud in particular has escalated drastically in 2018. While the exact catalyst is uncertain, it is likely that Chief Keef dissed 6ix9ine, who followed by calling out his rival in a video. Fans watched the beef play out via social media posts as weeks later, 6ix9ine took to Instagram Live while visiting O Street in Chicago, Chief Keef's old neighborhood, and waited for members of Keef's crew to approach him. On June 2, 2018, Chief Keef was shot at outside of his hotel in Times Square. Even though Tekashi was in Los Angeles at the time of the shooting, many suspected that he had one of his associates arrange the attempt. The NYPD followed up with this lead, but ultimately could not conclude that Tekashi was involved. The ambiguity of the attempt on Keef's life caused many fans to speculate that the rivals had collaborated as a publicity stunt.

Jahseh Onfrony, a SoundCloud rapper known by the name XXXTentacion, also engaged in public feuds with fellow artists. Onfroy, who first began creating music after spending time in a juvenile correctional facility, gained acclaim for his track "Look At Me", X's first time on the Billboard Hot 100. This song also led to Onfroy's beef with Drake after the rapper was accused of biting X's flow on "KMT". X posted on Instagram "If anyone tries to kill me it was @champagnepapi (Drake) I'm snitching rn (right now)". The post was later deleted, and the rapper claimed his account had been hacked. 

His tracks, laced with dark lyrics, tend to deal with depression and suicidal ideologies that resonated with younger fans and helped him to gain a loyal following. On June 18, 2018, Onfroy was shot once in the neck while shopping for a motorcycle at RIVA Motorsports in Deerfield Beach, Florida. Police determined that he had been followed after withdrawing money from a bank. News of his death on June 18, 2018 was quickly met with outrage and sadness that developed into conspiracy theories as fans speculated that X was only faking his death to create a media frenzy. Onfroy was only twenty years old, and was facing accusations of domestic violence against his pregnant girlfriend. His death was eerily preluded by an undated Instagram Live video in which XXXTentacion addressed both his fans and critics, saying, ""If I'm gonna die, or ever be a sacrifice, I wanna make sure that my life made at least five million kids happy, or they found some sort of answers or resolve in my life, regardless of the negative around my name, regardless of the bad things people say about me" 

On Thursday, July 19, four men were indicted and charged with first-degree murder with a firearm and armed robbery. Two suspects, Dedrick Williams and Michael Boatwright, are in police custody while two men Trayvon Newsome and Robert Allen are still at large. Police identified Boatwright's SUV as the car filmed via surveillance camera when the shooting took place. Videos captured via cellphones and confirmation from Williams' girlfriend aided in indicting the four men. The Breakfast Club reported that immediately following the news of Onfroy's death, one Twitter user claimed to have been the one who shot X. The Brilliant Idiots podcast further detailed that this user quickly deleted his Twitter, while his Instagram account gained 400,000 followers. This is a testament to the disturbing fascination with violence and fame as a joint means of bolstering reputation and prominence in a time when social media exists at the forefront of our society. 

The harsh reality of the true impact of violence resonated with fans and Onfroy's contemporaries, including the volatile Tekashi 6ix9ine, who said after X's death, "Sometimes I feel like I do too much trolling...Tomorrow's not promised, you can be here today and gone tomorrow". He further stated, "There's probably like a hundred thousand people out there tryin' to kill me". The death of a young talent brings to mind one of the most high-profile hip-hop beefs of all time: Biggie versus Tupac. The feud, centered on East Coast versus West Coast hip-hop, Both were massive talents with dark histories of violence, jail time, and accusations of abuse. The deaths immortalized both stars, and rocketed them to stardom as lasting musical legends. Tupac and Biggie died wiere shot and killed within six months of each other, respectively. Countless fans and critics drew comparison to XXXTentacion, a young rapper killed early on in his career.

X's death brought thousands of new listeners to his music and story. The allegations of his domestic abuse and violent past remain as the backdrop of his musical talents, leaving behind the difficulty of reconciling with an artist's controversial past. In his passing, XXXTentacion is no longer able to defend himself or grow beyond his former self. XXXTentacion's song "Sad!" Broke the single-day streaming record with 10.4 million streams the day after his death. Nine days later, the music video was released. The haunting video shows X attending his own funeral and fighting with his old self. The posthumous tribute to X is a melancholy reflection on his mercurial life and his own struggles with depression. The video serves as a humbling reminder to fans that despite the clout XXXTentacion has gained by death, he has left behind an unsettled legacy of violence.