“Troubled Genius” or not — proven abusers shouldn’t be supported.
“How could you possibly hate on Skrillex? He’s such an amazing artist and human being,” one might ask. The answer lies in the news cycle on October 24, when it came to my attention that the beloved Sonny Moore was preparing to release a brand new track. This seemed innocuous enough for me; there are deeply diehard Skrillex fans on our staff, and while I am not necessarily one of them, I can appreciate his undeniable talent and how much his body of work has done for electronic music. Moreover, he’s known for being one of the most genuinely caring and kind people in the entertainment industry — which is perhaps part of what makes this recent news such a cutting blow.
The momentary innocuousness quickly got swept under the rug for me when I saw the very first name on the list of collaborators in this new track’s social media promotion: XXXTentacion. The same XXXTentacion who came up during the SoundCloud rap revolution, and was senselessly murdered in June of 2018. This is also the same XXXTentacion who, just the evening before the track’s preview surfaced online, was essentially confirmed guilty of the heinous alleged crimes he was facing while still alive — assault, abuse, and other violence. On October 23, Pitchfork uploaded a previously secret recording of these admissions by the embattled rapper, which almost indicate he seemed to take pleasure in causing such pain. It’s quite the disturbing listen.
XXXTentacion’s posthumous partnership with Skrillex isn’t exactly breaking news. “XXXTantacion wanted [Skrillex] and Diplo to finish his next album,” headlines read in the weeks after his death, following a eulogy Diplo posted on Instagram. But nothing else came to light, and it seemed like this was merely a desire on the account of the rapper that never took off. It seems whether they worked together in the flesh or not, a collaboration did materialize between the two — perhaps before the secret recordings leaked, but certainly after the lengthy Miami New Times exposé penned about the rapper in June of this year. Suffice it to say, regardless of when this collaboration actually came to life, it seems preposterous that the producer would be unaware of the implications his involvement would have. And, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the rapper’s death, I don’t think that Skrillex should get a pass for supporting him.
I expect those who read this to come at me with the same sound bytes most of the rapper’s newfound supporters have touted since his death: “XXXTentacion was troubled but he was an inspiration to so many,” and “he was a talented mind taken away too soon,” or, “this is an oversensitive feminazi hiding behind her keyboard.” It’s all good; this feminazi is about to expand on her rabid viewpoints.
Let’s start with the whole, “troubled genius” argument. The game of life is a cold one. We’re all shaped by our earlier experiences, and develop specific defense mechanisms to cope. I’m not going to deny that the young rapper had an incredibly difficult early life and was doled more than enough proverbial lemons. I feel sympathy for him in this regard. Subjectively speaking, human beings are adaptive and resilient creatures, and traumatic experiences are not synonymous with developed sociopathy. Morality is very much a choice and a matter of self-awareness.
To be completely transparent, I am a survivor of physical and mental abuse. But, even with the lasting impacts of my experiences, how is it that a person such as myself, and thousands, maybe millions of others, are not paying their own traumas forward? It sounds rhetorical, but its a serious question.
The answer is that, with a lot of work, I — like so many other decent humans in this position — realized that I had the power to move on from this pain. I refused to allow my own victimization become an excuse to perpetuate the cycle of abuse. I found that by focusing instead on being kind to others, that I could make the world become that much better, rather than worse, for others and, in turn, myself. It’s simple reciprocity.
Not everyone can be fixed, nor does everyone have the fortitude or self-awareness to overcome their worst selves. We all need to understand that. And XXXTentacion certainly had some serious mental obstacles to overcome. Many of his supporters claim the young rapper was working on himself in the face of mounting legal trouble, though I have yet to see any proof of such attempts at self-improvement.
The aforementioned Miami New Times exposé, which was completed just weeks before his death, detailed the extent of his abuses in great depth, including his apparent lack of remorse for these offenses.The now-infamous recorded tape that just recently surfaced seems to corroborate the New Times claims. He referred to women as “bitches” and objectified them until the very end — even after a bout of charitable acts that happened around half a year before his passing. A separate pledge to donate $100,000 to abused women has yet to be concretely proven, and quite frankly, what does a one-time “drop in the bucket” mean in terms of redemption at this point?
What I really want to hear is Skrillex’s side of the story. I sincerely hope that he knows something we don’t. Or, better yet, something contradictory to what that tape revealed, however wishful that thinking unfortunately may be. When contacted by Dancing Astronaut, Skrillex’s team declined to comment on the matter, so we are currently left only with questions.
Is it that he felt inclined to honor an unfairly departed young man’s wishes? Where does one draw the line in supporting the art of a person whose moral character seems so deeply flawed? Why is it that “cancelled culture” unanimously — and deservedly — ousted Ten Walls for his homophobic Facebook posts, but seems not to care nearly as much about this collaboration between a 100% proven abuser and a crossover icon? These questions are eating at me as I write this.
Maybe I should be more compassionate. But I’m also thinking about the bigger picture here: supporting XXXTentacion, even in death, is wrong. Supporting someone who’s confessed to such horrid things, especially in the way he treated women, is sending a message out to everyone else using their pasts as a crutch that it’s okay to do so. It’s also sending a message to those who’ve been abused that their side of the story doesn’t matter. What about the suffering and lifetime of trauma he caused to his own child and his child’s mother, or to his prison cellmate that he nearly killed for no reason, or to the alleged eight people he stabbed? I’m stuck thinking about the abused mother, the prison inmate that was nearly beaten to death, the stabbing victims, and mostly the thousands of kids across the country looking for inspiration and identity that hitched their wagons to the XXXTentacion train in the wake of his passing. I struggle to understand why Skrillex, who normally maintains a loving, kind image, decided to pay homage to him in this posthumous release AND promote it. He had the opportunity to remove himself from the collaboration, after all. If XXXTentacion wasn’t a celebrity, I sincerely believe the public opinion on someone with such a rap sheet would be quite different.
I’m simply tired of seeing the abused lose in the end. It’s great that XXXTentacion had a few “golden” moments, but these certainly don’t balance out his unrelenting lack of remorse for his past cruelties. Nor do they warrant him being exalted by a large swath of the music industry. While I do believe Skrillex might have seen the best in the rapper, and maybe wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, he ultimately failed to think beyond XXXTentacion’s being and see the kind of message he’s sending to others in doing so. By now, he has to have heard about the recording, and opinions like mine are already out there, though at press time, the producer still has yet to pen a statement regarding the alleged confession or a response to the rightfully outraged portion of his audience. His silence speaks volumes.
Even if Skrillex held a semblance of obliviousness to the rapper’s highly problematic past when he initially joined the project, his decision to not remove himself from it or publicly distance himself whatsoever is deeply disappointing. Moreover, his decision to promote the collaboration entails more than a tacit pardon of XXXTentacion’s abhorrent behavior. Regardless of intent, Skrillex’s endorsement of an abusive artist sends a message that excuses abusers and blatantly disregards the abused. I don’t think it’s right to celebrate death, but that doesn’t mean it’s ever OK to celebrate monsters. We as a society should be better than this.
Change my mind.
Featured image by Michael Tullberg/Getty Images for Coachella 2016.