XXXTentacion was many things.
An emotive singer and rapper — equal-parts sensitive and vicious.
A deeply troubled young man — diagnosed as bipolar at age 13.
A sustaining beacon of hope for so many of the wounded and embattled teenage fans with whom he often spoke directly via social media.
An alleged domestic abuser.
The artist born Jaseh Onfroy rose to fame while imprisoned for aggravated battery against his girlfriend at the time, Geneva Ayala, and then quickly became one of Soundcloud rap’s – and later music at large’s – biggest stars. His menacing mug shot served as the album artwork for his breakout song, the raucous “Look At Me.”
In 2018, X was murdered at age 20 during an attempted robbery in his native Broward County. Nearly four years later, his music remains immensely popular—as of this writing, XXXTentacion’s songs are averaging nearly 30 million monthly plays on Spotify. But as for who the controversial man truly was, and whether or not his problems unjustly overshadowed his immense talent? That has remained something of a debate.
Enter Look At Me: XXXTentacion, a gripping new documentary from FADER Films, which was released exclusively on Hulu this week. Directed by Sabaah Folayan, the nearly two-hour film is an unflinching assessment not only of X’s undeniable artistry and how he came to be so beloved by what he himself describes at one point as his “cult” of fans, but it’s also an unwavering look at the numerous issues X faced, from a violent streak to his ongoing struggles with mental illness. Featuring interviews with his mother, Cleopatra Bernard, his former manager, Solomon Sabande, and the victim of his alleged abuse, Ayala, the film peels back the curtain on a polarizing public figure and shows an artist who while undeniably deeply troubled and at times horrifying in his behavior, near the end of his life was working to better himself. In this sense, it’s a bittersweet watch.
Folayan tells GQ the film only could work if she assessed X’s entire, oftentimes-contradictory dichotomies. While the director admits that X’s mother (who serves as a producer on the film) hoped this would be a redemption story for her son, “I told her, ‘I don’t know if this is going to be a redemption story or not,’’’ Folayan recalls. “If it’s going to be a redemption story then I’m going to have to see that evidence.” “Ultimately,” the filmmaker says, “the viewer can decide for themselves” what to make of the film’s central figure.
Rob Stone, founder of FADER, who also served as executive-producer on the film, concurs. “We had to tell the true story,” he says. “Tensions ran high sometimes but we wanted to tell the whole story. That was the biggest tension for us and the biggest challenge.”
Unlike so many other recent posthumous documentaries, what makes Look At Me! so powerful is that X’s voice is a clear and present one: in 2017, a year prior to his passing, and upon his release from prison, FADER spent two days with the artist. In what turned out to be a rare occurrence, the outlet’s journalists got the rapper to open up during a series of soul-baring interviews.