An authorized but often unflattering portrait of rapper Jahesh Dwayne Ricardo Onfroy, known as XXXTentacion, Look at Me is a comprehensive study of his career, influences, and tragically short life. In that time he gave voice to a generation of confused and angry kids, though it was not without extreme toxicity. Directed by Sabaah Folayan, the documentary’s ultimate destiny is Hulu and the film responsibly provides resources for those thinking of harming themselves or for those who have been victims of domestic abuse, early on advising viewers to pause the film if they so need.
Launching his rap career while incarcerated, Onfroy was a kid committed to the game but full of self-hate, doubt, and living in a state of paranoia. Soundcloud rap is the music of an overmedicated generation, sometimes with sad consequences. If rock ‘n’ roll had its “27” club, Lil Peep, Juice Wrld, and XXXTentacion all died before turning 22—a premonition introduced by the subject’s mother, Cleopatra Bernard.
Onfroy’s rise to the top of his game was informed by several influences, including meeting adult-film star and producer “Bruno Dickemz” who allowed him to crash once Onfroy turned 18 and could produce a legal state ID. From there he linked up with his first group Members Only and begin making music for social media. The film includes interviews with Geneva Ayala, an ex-girlfriend badly beaten by Onfroy in a fit of rage and later intimidated by fans, celebrities, and Onfroy himself. She was a lonely kid battling her own demons, living in motel rooms with her uncle and on friends’ couches. She connected with X on social media after he expressed a desire to have a serious relationship. Onfroy, we learn, has a history of rage, encouraged by his father to fight when the times get tough, and his antics and run-ins with the law are well-documented.
While in Florida prison on charges of assaulting Ayala, his first single takes off and he’s soon signing for less money with Ghazi Shami’s boutique label Empire, who’ve promised him ownership over his career and masters. Savvy about the business, from jail X tells Shami, “Your deal makes me a partner, their deal makes me a slave.” Out on bail, fresh out of jail, X’s career takes off with 2018’s “Sad.” Despite some limitations on travel, he opts to take his profits and build a recording studio in his house, sharing his process on Periscope. Eventually he’s rewarded with a tour that includes a showcase at SXSW in 2018 before his death only a few months later.
Confidently directed by Folayan, whose polished film comes from new interviews, archival material, and some hard truths, Look At Me is an accurate, unflinching portrait of a man whom Marc Hogan of Pitchfork calls “not a 2D person,” as he is the first to publish Ayala’s deposition. What emerges is a portrait of a performer that lived with a great deal of pain, range, and immaturity that somehow was able to leverage social media and the zeitgeist to launch a brief career that touched a generation of fans. His talent is undeniable and the film skillfully navigates the unease of talking about a talent with as many violent and ugly demons as he had. What he lacked in emotional maturity he made up for in business savvy, a former partner observes.
A documentary that is “authorized” by his estate––which perhaps gives mother Bernard a platform to right his wrongs––the picture smartly never takes the middle ground, but rather provides a kaleidoscopic portrait informed by those that knew him well—family, business partners, mentors, contemporaries. A bit more restrained than Everybody’s Everything, the recent Lil Peep documentary, Look at Me is no less impactful in documenting the real pain behind the lyrics.
Look at Me: XXXTentacion screened at SXSW 2022 and arrives on Hulu on June 10.