Jahseh Onfroy was a young rapper. He was known by the stage name XXXTentacion. He died on June 18th. He was murdered at just twenty-years-old. Before his death, I never listened to his music. However, I was aware of his existence by way of social media.

He was troubled; he was jailed after being accused of abusing his girlfriend and committed a number of robberies during his teens. But his obsession with death indicated that his call to the grave was imminent. Though in the latter part of his life he was trying to change for the better, his fate seemed to have been sealed by that which flowed from his soul.

After he was killed, a music video was released and in it he was attending his own funeral. His life has been juxtaposed with that of Tupac Shakur. They both constantly spoke about death in their music, both died very young by way of gun violence and videos were released after their deaths that were about their deaths. In the case of XXXTentacion, his childhood was troubling; his father was incarcerated, and his mother struggled.

Death is inevitable, but what is dying when one has barely lived?

As I thought about the life of XXXTentacion, troubled Guyanese youth I have interacted with over the years and others whose stories I have heard came to mind. Those barely finding the will to live and others who have attempted suicide.

While researching the suicide epidemic in Guyana, I was led to Berbice. It was devastating to learn about the many young people who had attempted suicide and the ones who had succeeded. It was revealed that cutting was prevalent, but not only in Berbice, because interviews with professionals in Georgetown revealed much of the same about other areas.

Many young people are troubled because of various reasons – some are dealing with parent and child communication issues, intimate partner relationship issues and, more often than not, physical and sexual abuse. No doubt, music plays a significant role in the lives of many people. Some of what artistes like XXXTentacion produced could encourage a state of melancholy for those young people who may use the music as therapy even though the music itself cannot be blamed for their state of mind.

Are we existing in a time when an unusual number of people, especially young people are depressed? And, if so, why? Or is it because of mediums like social media, that the despair is more apparent? Are people more honest now about their struggles and willing to share, rather than keep up appearances?

These questions evoked memories of my childhood and what some of the fears were back then. One of my earliest memories of fear was hearing stories about ‘kick down the door bandits’. Fear also revolved around the supernatural. There was also a time when there was the fear of abduction. Children had been kidnapped and so we were warned about strangers – to never talk to them, accept gifts or enter their vehicles. Fear also occurred because of some of what was viewed on television; many of us can recall how shows like ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ terrified us.

But even though there were those fears, there was never a feeling that many people, especially young people, were depressed and wanted to die. What I mostly observed were people fighting to live. And there was happiness within those struggles.

As children, we enjoyed playing outdoor games after school and during the holidays. In early childhood, we were not constantly bombarded with images of acts of violence, though violence was often experienced by way of corporal punishment. 

The fears that existed when I was growing up are ones that still exist today, but what is different now?

Movies, television shows and music are constantly penetrating our circle of awareness because of the internet. There is the good, the bad, the questionable, and the filth, all portrayed, demonstrating everything that is right and most often what is wrong with the world. One does not have to leave their homes to be confronted by layers of the ills.

Unfortunately, many young people are being exposed to too much, too early. Hidden messages in some of the music and the visuals can subliminally affect us. If the minds of young people are being constantly penetrated by the madness of the world, there will be many negative outcomes. Perhaps that is a major difference between the younger generations and the older ones. Instead of playing outdoors, many children are only playing video games, browsing the internet, watching too much television; and many are being programmed to think that misery should be a way of life.

In many instances, there is also disconnect between parents and children because it has become more difficult to live. Many parents are so busy with work that they hardly spend time with their children.

As aforesaid, abuse of children is a major reason for much of the hopelessness of the young. Abuse has always been present. Corporal punishment, much of what is abuse, is often praised as the tool for discipline and many adults claim to be stronger because of it. But when we examine the symptoms – like the many social problems, and when we think about adults who claim that the hurt and pain they experienced in childhood did not do damage but in fact strengthened them, can we say that that is really true? Especially since they are the parents and grandparents of the troubled youth and are culpable for some of what is happening with them because they are the ones who have been and are raising them?

As adults, we have control over what we allow our children to be exposed to but we cannot control everything. We also should do our best to protect them from those who may wish to harm them. Their heroes should be their loved ones. They must not believe that their only option is to turn to the music of rappers like XXXTentacion for comfort, only to be confronted with messages of death. I am sure that XXXTentacion may have also produced music that was not so dismal.

Issues that could be solved by speaking to parents, guardians or counsellors, could be exaggerated, because the role models of the young are not proposing solutions that speak of life and hope. We make the choice to be happy. The choice to find and be at peace. We must always be conscious of the fact that our thoughts are the first step in shaping our destiny. So, at all times we must be conscious about what we allow into our spirit and what we allow our young people to be exposed to.

Light and darkness will always exist together, but those who cannot find a balance, may never find peace or simply live a lie.

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