On the 18th of June 2018 it came to light that, at the tender age of 20, rapper XXXTentacion had passed away. At this news, the whole world stopped – yet another young person was stripped of their life due to senseless gun violence.
Although it can’t be disputed that the young artist’s death was completely unjustified, his premature passing opened up a dialogue concerning his problematic past. Domestic violence, drug abuse, and run-ins with the law merely scrape the surface of the controversial figure that XXXTentacion was. Due to this, there was insurmountable pushback about this new documentary LOOK AT ME: XXXTentacion, as many couldn’t fathom why it should be made – let alone, posthumously.
This world-exclusive documentary is coupled with a never-before-seen interview with the artist titled, IN HIS OWN WORDS: XXXTentacion. What director Sabaah Folayan, and producer Rob Stone, attempt to do is transcend the binaries of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ that have been placed on the late rapper. Instead, they opt to provide a full portrait of the artist – in all his musical talent, and his troubled nature. In actuality, there’s no ‘either/or’ – and the truth lies somewhere in the middle; this new documentary seeks to shine light on this.
Much like XXXTentacion’s life, there’s no decisive ending to the film – a choice no doubt implemented by the documentary’s diligent filmmakers. Fortunately for us, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Rob Stone, who produced the documentary. He’s joined with Solomon Sobande, who manages XXXTentacion’s estate. As a pair, the two shed light on all the pressing questions we have for this contentious release.
Head below to read our enlightening interview with Rob Stone and Solomon Sobande…
LOOK AT ME: XXXTentacion was in the works for a long time, how does it feel now that it’s finally out?
RS: It’s always exciting to release creative work to the world, and in this case it’s even more than that. I never met Jahseh, but I’ve gotten to know him through my time with Cleo, Solomon, Bob, his fans, his music, and through the footage my FADER team shot of him. Knowing that this is the last of never seen before footage and the depth and weight of the topics X was speaking about, it was important to step out of the way and allow it to live up to the title of the film.
SS: I think it’s super exciting to watch X get to express himself in his own words. I loved LOOK AT ME, but felt that there was so much more to say; you could’ve gone so much deeper into Jahseh’s mind. So it feels great that we can finally help him share his emotions with the world and help him no longer feel alone. Personally being affected so heavily by his death, and then seeing how many other people were affected all over the world, I believe we as Jahseh’s family felt an obligation to get his story out. It felt like it was more necessary than ever.
The whole world was shaken by X’s death — did you have any reservations about making this documentary in his absence?
RS: Yes, there are always reservations in telling someone’s story posthumously. I think we made an incredible effort to tell an unbiased complete story in LOOK AT ME and now with IN HIS OWN WORDS, we have created a companion film that allows X’s fans to hear from him what his thoughts were from that moment in time. He was aged 19, which was tragically only 14 months before his passing.
SS: Everything we did surrounding X has received some type of pushback or criticism, however great art is to be criticized. So I never take it personally. We are here to have meaningful conversations and elevate our understanding.
Given his complicated legacy and notoriety, did you receive any pushback or criticism for choosing to tell his story?
RS: Yes, we did receive a ton of criticism and rightfully so – this film was based on a complicated individual. Most of the criticism was at the beginning and up until we released LOOK AT ME. After its release, when people had a chance to view it, they understood what we understood. It was very important to me to be impartial and acknowledge that there can be multiple things happening at the same time. I’m not a believer in cancelling over having a conversation. At the core, I knew if I could assemble the right team along with Cleopatra and Solomon, we would be able to get there creatively. I knew we may take some hits along the way but once I found the right director in Sabaah Foloyan, and when Hulu recommended Darcy Mckinnon to come in and help with production,we were on our way.
We’ve heard that portion of the profits is going to The National Alliance On Mental Illness, as well as others. How important was it for you to give back?
RS: It was very important to all of us, Cleopatra, Solomon, Sabaah, my Fader team and Hulu. We knew we were dealing with extremely complex issues and many of our viewers are young and some of them are in need of help. Help can be taboo to discuss when it comes to mental health and we are hopeful that our film can break down that barrier and encourage young people to seek help when needed.
SS: Most people don’t know the extent of Jahseh’s philanthropic arm, but he always tried to be a pillar of charity in his community, although he never advertised it. Moving forward we felt it was only right for us to honour his legacy by continuing to do great charity work in his name. Whether it’s us donating some of the proceeds of this doc or us helping people in school or other communities that need help – whatever we can do we do. During LOOK AT ME, X’s clinical psychologist said something along the lines of “Jah put out a calling card for people going through mental health issues, dealing with suicide, and dealing with deep depression. He sent a message to those people showing that they are not alone and he united a generation of kids who felt unheard.”
What do you think is the most surprising revelation that the documentary shines light on?
RS: The revelation to me is that there is a breakdown in our society that we can fix, that we need to focus on and deploy resources. We need to be diligent and get to the root of the problem sooner and better care for young people. We are seeing more now than ever how delicate a free and democratic society can be and we need to take the time to care about young people and how we care for them.
SS: To me the biggest revelations are twofold. Number one, for those who don’t know Jahseh, is that his intelligence speaks profoundly. Secondly, I think it gives us the ability to clearly see the flaws in cancel culture. We cannot continue to disregard our best and brightest instead of educating and rehabilitating them for real.
Do you think X’s story speaks to larger themes around fame and drug abuse in the music industry?
RS: I think X’s story is open to interpretation, and I’m not the one to tell anyone what it speaks to. I think it’s up to the viewer to take from the film what they see fit. I do believe the film is an important film that has many complicated layers. X lived a chaotic life, it adversely affected many people while he positively impacted many of his fans. It isn’t a clear cut narrative.
What do you hope people will take away from the film?
RS: I hope people can take away that we all need to add in more kindness. Things are not always as they seem and people are struggling with their own issues.
SS: I hope people will take away from this film the complexity of human nature. I want people to have more compassion for the human experience.
To watch the documentary, head here, and check out the trailer below…