As XXXTentacion Tries To Rehabilitate His Image, His Troubling Past Keeps Setting Him Back

Jack McKain
XXXTentacion

On March 18, Jahseh Onfroy, aka XXXTentacion, was in Pompano Beach, Fla., performing for 1,500 fans at a benefit he had organized for the victims of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Fla. The show raised $30,000, which he personally donated to 15-year-old Parkland victim Anthony Borges, who was shot five times while shielding 20 classmates with his body during the shooting. At one point during the show, Onfroy, 20, paused to address the crowd, saying with his trademark cutting honesty, “I was not a good person, but I’ve been trying my best to change myself.”

A week later, Onfroy’s second studio album, ?, debuted at No.1 on the Billboard 200 with 131,000 equivalent album units, according to Nielsen Music, a higher first-week total than early-2018 releases by Camila Cabello, Fall Out Boy and Logic. With 159.4 million on-demand audio streams of the album's songs in its first week, ? logged the second-highest streams for any album released this year so far, behind only Migos' Culture II in January. The album’s “Sad!” jumped 19-7 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming his first top 10 single and the highest of seven songs he has on the chart this week.

The celebration didn’t last. On March 27, an undated video surfaced online that appeared to show Onfroy punching a girl in the head. His attorney, Jaclyn Broudy, tells Billboard the clip is “aged and staged” and that Onfroy and the girl were “having fun and joking around.” (On Instagram, the girl refuted that characterization.) The video’s release is “nothing but an attempt to tarnish his name and hurt his career,” she adds. “That’s the cost of fame.”

But Onfroy’s issues began well before his spring 2017 rise to fame. He recorded ? while on house arrest facing 15 felony charges involving witness tampering and harassment, charges related to an October 2016 arrest on five felony charges including aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, following allegations of domestic violence made by his then-girlfriend. Onfroy has pleaded not guilty and denied all charges.

Onfroy burst onto the scene with his single "Look At Me!" in February 2017, and released his debut album, 17, via EMPIRE that August, which landed at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. As his career continued to gain traction -- despite graphic details from his accuser's deposition that were published by Pitchfork in September -- Onfroy landed a publishing deal with SONGS Music Publishing (since acquired by Kobalt); received co-signs from artists like Kendrick Lamar, Erykah Badu, Juicy J and J. Cole; and signed a distribution deal with Capitol Music Group's Caroline, which one source told Billboard was worth $6 million.

In October, one music executive, in addressing why some in the industry still worked with him despite the serious allegations, defended Onfroy's music as "powerful" with "a strong point of view," while another allowed that, "in this business you have to put up with a lot more than you're comfortable with." (Representatives from Caroline and Kobalt declined to comment for this story, and a rep for Onfroy declined a request for an interview on his behalf.)

Along the way, Onfroy has worked to rehabilitate his image, in what his representatives insist is a serious, earnest way. Last October he pledged to donate $100,000 to domestic violence prevention programs and planned an anti-rape event to take place during Miami's Art Basel last December, though the event was shut down before it began. He dedicated the ? track "Hope" to the victims of the Parkland school shooting, and announced this month that he had signed on as an ambassador for the Miami Children's Initiative to work with local youth.

The impact of the video on his legal status remains to be seen; a Florida judge had released him from house arrest the week before it broke so he could tour in support of ?, an announcement for which is expected soon. Meanwhile, he's preparing to release a music video for "Sad!" in the coming weeks, while his legal team looks to address his past charges; ahead of his next court date on May 31, Broudy says the video has “no bearing on his pending cases.”

"Trial is always the last resort when there is no hope for a resolution," she says, "but our hope is to resolve this case in Jahseh’s best interests so he can continue positively impacting others with his music."

Additional reporting by Carl Lamarre.