Episode Two: The good and the bad of rapper XXXTentacion

Father speaks about rapper's upbringing

By Michelle F. Solomon - Podcast Producer/Reporter
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

Anneyah Lawson, 14, of St. Petersburg, Florida, holds up a sweatshirt with an image of rapper XXXTentacion, before his memorial service, June 27, 2018, in Sunrise, Florida.

It's eerily quiet except for the sound of concrete workers putting up a wall around a mansion in the Pine Tree Estates neighborhood of affluent Parkland, Florida. It's hardly a house that you would expect a 20 year old to own. 

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But, no doubt about it, this is the house of Jahseh Onfroy, also known as XXXTentacion. This is where the rapper known as XXX Tentacion would invite friends over to play music and video games, and where he had a professional music studio custom-built on the first floor. 

Fans have left makeshift memorials on the Parkland house porch, symbols of their fandom and how they felt about the Broward County rapper's death outside a Deerfield Beach motorsports store.

There's a gold X leaning on the porch and a little white stone that someone's left that has a question mark painted on it. The question mark is a reference to his second studio album released on March 16, 2018, just three months before his death.

This is the house in the Pine Tree Estates neighborhood of Parkland, Florida, where Jahseh Onfroy, the rapper known as XXXTentacion, lived.

There is a poster crumpled in a box to the left of the front door. White letters painted on thick black paper say "R.I.P. Jahseh Onfroy." 

At a gas station a few miles from X's Parkland house, Maseratis and Mercedes are filling up. This is a wealthy suburb -- where the median house value is half a million bucks. Parkland sits in northwestern Broward County, about 30 miles from Fort Lauderdale, bordered by west Boca Raton to the north and the Everglades to the west.

Broward County property appraiser records show that the house X lived in is a 6,000 square foot, four-bedroom, five-bathroom house. It was purchased on Nov. 27, 2017 for $1.4 million. X lived there, but the deed is in his mother's name, Cleopatra Bernard.

Parkland makes headlines

Parkland is now known around the world mostly for a tragedy that happened on Feb. 14, 2018, when the bedroom community is thrust into the international spotlight after a shooting at nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people are killed. It's just four miles from X's house. It hits close to home for the rapper. He dedicates the song, "Hope."

"Rest in peace to all the kids that lost their lives in the Parkland shooting; this song is dedicated to you," he says at the beginning of his song.

Parkland is a very different city from where X spent his formative years living most of the time with his grandmother, Collette Jones, who X says helped raised him. 

He tells Adam Grandmaison, also known as Adam 22 on the podcast No Jumper during an interview in the Los Angeles studios in 2016, about growing up.

"I am from … I was raised Pompano, but I was born in Plantation Hospital. Raised around Pompano area, raised around North Lauderdale and Broward. So, Broward County is where I grew up. So then after a while, I got kicked out of a lot of schools, so I ended up going to Lauderhill. Then I lived throughout Lauderhill the rest of my life."

Grandmaison asks: "So what kind of environment are these in, and for people who don't know, he's talking about Florida."

"Lauderhill is like the hood," X says. 

X's father, Dwayne Onfroy, who spoke exclusively to The Florida Files, talks about events in his own life that changed his relationship with his son. Regrets, he says, he carries with him to this day.

"Let me ask you a question," Dwayne Onfroy asks. "What have you read about me?"

I respond: "I know you have had struggles with the law."

"I didn't have struggles with the law. That narrative is wrong. I went to jail for a long time. I'm not ashamed of it. It happens. That's why I was out of my son's life. I did not abandon my children."
Dwayne Onfroy tells me he was incarcerated. When I ask why, he says, "That's in the past and that's where I want to leave it."

Then he goes on.

"It wasn't that … I didn't murder anyone. It wasn't gun charges. It wasn't molestation charges. It wasn't robbery. I am a Rastafarian, and as a result of this life, I got into things that your government would deem illegal. I sold marijuana."

He's in Jamaica now, but I ask, "Was that when you were in the States?" 

"Yes, ma'am," he responds.

Dwayne Onfroy says that before his son was murdered, "he was coming around to me."

Jahseh growing up

X tells Papa Keith in an interview with 103.5 The Beat what his early life was like.

"When I was growing up, my mom had it hard," he says. "She was put in a situation where she couldn't mold me like she wanted to. She tried to give me love by financially taking care of me because she saw that as the most important thing. As long as I ate, as long as I had clothes, and as long as I had a place to stay, that was the most important thing to her. She was never able to -- because if she could, she would have -- she was never able to emotionally nurture me, so it left some sort of a burden. I carried a big burden and self-hate for myself because I felt that I wasn't enough for a certain amount of time. I don't want to blame her. I was thrown into a world and experienced things on my own."

Dwayne Onfroy explains: "So over a period of time, he developed his own ways. He developed his own way of looking at life. His teenage years are coming out. And who's the male role model? Who's the male figure that's going to show him how a boy is supposed to behave at 13? Who's going to teach him how to play soccer or football or basketball? Who's going to teach him sporting activities? Who's going to show him how to speak to women? He would get phone calls from me, but that's not enough. I think a lot of what he battled with was the good parts and the bad parts of me. He wanted to be like me in a lot of ways and a lot of ways he didn't. He was coming to realize that, in a lot of ways mirroring each other. A lot of his mannerisms, a lot of his behavior, good and bad, without even being around me, was like mine."

The "bad parts" for Jahseh Onfroy are documented in court records -- one dates to Nov. 16, 2015, in Broward County's circuit court, juvenile division, when the 18-year-old is charged with armed home invasion robbery and aggravated battery. 

The report says that Onfroy and three other people enter a home in Sunrise, Florida. He is armed with a handgun and "strikes the male resident of the home in the head with a gun, causing a laceration."

Layman's terms? He pistol whips the man.

A year later, in 2016, the song "Pistol" is uploaded to SoundCloud.

The lyrics? "I got the pistol grip. I'm down to pistol whip. Yes, I got the pistol. Yes, I got the pistol."

During that home invasion, the report says that Onfroy and the others yell, "Where is the money?" and "Where is the stuff?" They take an iPad, iPhone, Sony PlayStation and $20. 

X tells Adam 22 of No Jumper during that 2016 interview the things that landed him in jail.

"I never really spoke," he says. "I always acted. That was my problem. I always acted before I thought anything through. I spent a year in jail, bro."

Grandmaison asks him: "What did you go in for that time?"

"Armed robbery," he responds.

Grandmaison says: "Armed robbery? What was that like?"

"Armed robbery, and this is not me being cool," he tells listeners. "We don't condone this s---. Armed burglary, possession of a firearm, resisting without violence, grand theft, possession of oxycodone."

Those good parts and bad parts are what prompted headlines, such as the one that appeared in the New York Times the day after X's death: "Hero or Villain? Death of Rapper XXXTentacion Divides The Internet."

Tarpley Hitt, a writer for The Daily Beast, the online news and pop culture website based in New York, was an intern reporter at the Miami New Times when she interviewed X in his million-dollar home not too long before his untimely death. She says that "Hero or Villain" ideology is what prompted her article: "The Real Story of South Florida Rapper XXXTentacion" in the New Times. It appeared in print just 13 days before his murder.

She says that in one of her first days at the Miami alternative newspaper, she got into a discussion with a co-worker about XXXTentacion's music. 

"So, I got to New Times and in one of my first days I got into an argument about X's whole story and if it was OK to listen to his music," Hitt says. "And one of the editors said, 'Well, you know, he's local.' I was looking for ideas for a feature and he said, 'Well, maybe you should look into this guy.' And, I started to. I started filing some public records requests. The angle I was initially going to take was that the prosecution submitted 214 voicemails as part of their discovery and those voicemails hadn't been released. So I filed a public records request to try to get ahold of them. While I was digging through all the records, I found a speeding ticket that X had gotten in February. I guess the officer hadn't realize he was a celebrity so they hadn't redacted his address. So, I went over there, and knocked on the door and he answered."

Hitt and I talk about how days after his death celebrities begin posting tributes online, fueling the debate whether someone with the rapper's past, despite his short life, deserved such praise. At the time of his death, Onfroy was awaiting trial on charges for the alleged repeated beatings and assaults on his former girlfriend Geneva Ayala. 

Ayala tells the New Times reporter that she meets X in May 2016, and they begin living together. Five months later, an arrest report dated October 8, 2016, says that Onfroy punched and kicked the woman, who is possibly pregnant at the time. 

"Victim's both eyes were punched to where her eyes became shut and victim could not see," it reads.

The Florida Files contacted Ayala a few times for her to tell her side of the story. She didn't respond.

"(Geneva) doesn't like to talk to media; she's completely stopped doing media," Hitt says.

This is a 2017 arrest photo of Jahseh Onfroy, known as the rapper XXXTentacion, in Miami-Dade County.

In October 2016, X is charged with aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment and witness tampering. He pleads not guilty, but a judge rules that he has now violated his house arrest agreement stemming from the Broward County incident, so he's hauled off to jail.

Then in December 2017 came more legal issues from the alleged assaults. Prosecutors reportedly believe the rapper -- by way of recorded calls he made in jail -- attempted to coerce his girlfriend into dropping her case against him. 

The GoFundMe page

On Oct. 14, 2016, Ayala sets up a GoFundMe page. She needs $20,000 to fund surgery after injuries "sustained from alleged abuse." She doesn't mention Onfroy.

When she starts the campaign, she quickly raises $8,000. Soon after, though, the GoFundMe page is shut down. X's fans alert the funding website that they believe she wasn't telling the truth on how she was injured. The donation site put the page on hold and froze the funds. It remained that way for a year and a half. Hitt recalls talking to a friend of Geneva's for the New Times story.

Hitt says she contacted GoFundMe and soon after, the site mounted an investigation.

The page was re-activated after the New Times story, and, in 24 hours, $12,000 was raised. After the rapper's death, money continued to pour in. Donations are no longer being accepted according to the page. Soon after the rapper's death, she writes: "I've put an end to the campaign because I've received more than enough. R.I.P. Jahseh Onfroy. No matter what happened/happens my love for him will never cease." The final tally? $36,350 dollars.

When The Florida Files contacted his lawyer for an interview about the status of the 15 felony charges that could have sent X to prison for decades and which are still pending at the time of X’s death, J. David Bogenschutz sent a statement about the charges being dropped in July, less than a month after X's murder:

"Charges against Mr. Onfroy were dismissed as a result of his death. Without a living defendant, those charges cannot be prosecuted as his absence was involuntary and permanent. Probation in Broward and the aggravated assault and multiple witness tampering charges in Miami-Dade, all of which were nearing favorable resolution in our many discussions with the state attorney in Miami-Dade, were all dismissed permanently for those reasons."

Hitt spent hours interviewing the rapper. Did it appear that he was wanting to redeem himself?

"So, he was definitely concerned with repairing his image," Hitt says. "He felt victimized by the media. He felt like he was a piranha. He felt like he was the victim. He kept entertaining these hypotheticals like, 'If a woman had done what I did, she wouldn't receive as much hate as I did.' I don't think he was remorseful. If he had more time to be alive, that might have changed."

Fans react

When news of X's death broke, A-listers like Kanye West took to Twitter. 

"I never told you how much you inspired me when you were here," he says.

Diddy says: "One of the most interesting people I've met. Rest in Peace Young King."

Fans everywhere, not just in Broward County, were devastated over his death. The 21-year-old Canadian Lael Hansen is one of YouTube's most popular personalities with her own channel that counts more than 350,000 subscribers. Some of her most watched videos are about rapper XXXTentancion. 

On the day after X's death, she posts a video, wiping away tears and talking about how the rapper had reached out to her and became a friend.

The Florida Files sent Hansen an email to find out if the allegations about X's domestic abuse impacted how she felt about the rapper in any way.

"I have no comment because I am not properly informed," she responds. "All I know is that X had a beautiful heart and was going to become a person that would inspire a generation to spread positivity and change the world."

In the brief telephone conversation I did have with his mother, Cleo (she declined to be actually interviewed), we talked about a video she had posted on YouTube of a large group of people that had gathered in Barcelona. 

"They were celebrating my son," she tells me. 

But in Los Angeles, things weren't so sedate. The day after X's death, police in riot gear were called in after an event organized by Adam 22 got out of hand.

The crowd became "increasingly aggressive," according to the LAPD, including jumping on the hood of a news van, swarming vehicles and throwing things at police. 

Another group formed an X out of candles in the middle of the street, and people began moshing and dancing around each other, KABC TV reports.

Back home, fans drive hours to stand in line to visit the rapper's open casket in a funeral fit for a king, planned by his mother nine days after his death.

Tony Centeno, a Miami music journalist, was at the memorial, covering the event for Billboard magazine. He says he had just met the rapper at the Rolling Loud festival just a few weeks before X's murder.

"I wanted to get the feel of what people were going through and to connect with them in that sense," Centeno says. "They were so upset with the fact that they had lost a muse in their life -- an artist that really affected them emotionally in life. It was genuine sadness. The vibe was utter sadness. There were other people celebrating his life, blasting his music all day. It was a different experience. I'm sitting inside the arena and there are literally hundreds of people coming in from 12 to 6 p.m. Hundreds of people coming in, non-stop. The line looked like it was a ride for Disneyland. There were lines of people going up to see this kid. For them, it was their first time meeting him in person and he was in a coffin."

X's father Dwayne Onfroy says he's touched when his son's fans contact him on social media.

"The fact that he was influencing his peers, he knew how he started out, but once he started recognizing and owning the influence that he had, he began spreading a message in a positive way," he says. "Before my child left this earth, he set out to be what he wanted, and in a lot of ways he accomplished that. Prior to him passing from this earth, a lot of kids would reach out and say, 'Are you X's dad? Your son saved my life. I was on the brink of suicide. I was literally going to kill myself and I heard your son saying the same thing and I realized I'm not by myself.'"

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