The late-XXXTentacion is one of the most polarizing recording artists in today’s music.
A new documentary on the Flordia superstar, born Jahseh Onfroy, is set to premiere this week as Fader Films presents In His Own Words: XXXTentacion, which is a companion exploration to this summer’s award-winning Hulu release Look At Me: XXXTentacion (Watch it now).
XXXTentacion was shot and killed on June 18, 2018, in South Florida during a robbery. He was 20 years old. X is among a laundry list of high-profile rap stars, including Pop Smoke, Nipsey Hussle, PNB Rock, and the most recent Takeoff, to recently lose their lives to senseless acts of gun violence.
The upcoming documentary will feature the last unreleased footage of the “Sad!” hitmaker in a never-before-seen 2017 one-on-one interview with Fader the day he was released from Florida jail. The interview will take an intimate look into the mind of the controversial individual and allow fans the opportunity to learn more about the “real” XXXTentacion straight from the artist’s mouth.
“I feel it’s really important for X’s fans to have the opportunity to hear from him in his own words about his music and his life,” says Cleopatra Bernard, X’s mother, in the project’s official press release. “He was always open to them, cared about them and they now will get a glimpse into some of his realest thoughts.”
X’s former manager and Sr. VP of A&R at Capitol Records’ Solomon Sobande spoke on the film’s significance in the press release with the hope of providing clarity to fans. He states: “X and I would talk for hours and have really open conversations ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. This interview with FADER from 2017 is as honest as any conversation we had. My hope is that it brings clarity and happiness to his fans, who he ultimately cared the most about. RIP Jahseh!”
Earlier this month, The Source’s Bryson “Boom” Paul spoke with Sobande, Fader Films‘ Rob Stone, and the film’s fast-rising co-director Lesley Steele in an exclusive Zoom interview orchestrated by Notorious Noise‘s Sam Rosenthal about the one-of-a-kind documentary, XXXTentacion legacy, hip hop’s ongoing issue with gun violence, what’s next for Fader Films, and more. Read the full interview below.
[Bryson “Boom” Paul]: Alright, first thing first, Solomon, I have to ask you, what’s your fondest memory of XXXTentacion?
Solomon Sobande: My fondest memory is kind of hard to say.
One of them has to be him getting out of jail, and our first hug when he got out of jail was probably one of my favorite memories. I would say that. Or maybe him unboxing the Look at Me plaque. Or there was a moment shortly after he got out, where we was at his house, we just basically did some welcome home party, and he looked at me was like, “Yo, bro.” He basically said something along the lines of like, “Yo, I’m so thankful for you. Without you, this shit wouldn’t have been possible.” I would say it would have to be between those three.
But I think my favorite would have to be just him just first getting out because, at the time, none of us knew what was going to happen or how it was going to happen, but it was just by God’s grace that it was able to happen, and he was able to come out, and I think it was an overwhelming feeling for us both.
Now, Lesley, this (X’s documentary) is a major accomplishment for yourself as an up-and-coming director. How did it feel when you got the call saying, “Hey, we want you to put this together for us in honor of XXXTentacion?
Lesley Steele: Well, I was taken by surprise because I had no idea that this was untouched material. Being able to really just be with X and Jahseh, rightfully so, in those moments in the footage, really, it’s been mind-blowing to just see his wisdom and see where he was going. And to be a filmmaker and a storyteller and an editor, it’s been really just phenomenal to let him speak for himself in this way by just being really precious with the material and it being this archive that was really preserved when Fader went to Florida in 2017, who would’ve known?
I got chills. I’m always getting chills with this project just because of all the ways in which you can see the love around him, how much he loves Solomon. I know that moment, Solomon, that hug. And all of these moments are just time capsuled in this film, and so it’s been really a special and just eye-opening experience.
Now, I’m glad you said that about this being untapped or unreleased footage and an unreleased interview. Rob, Fader originally conducted this in 2017. What made you decide not to release the interview or to release the footage at that time? Because obviously, you didn’t know that he would meet his untimely death?
Rob Stone: It’s a very interesting story, but I didn’t know much of XXXTentacion. I never met him, sadly. Obviously, it’s a very complicated story. His life is very complicated and chaotic.
My edit team, my Fader films team, were invited down by a young and great manager, by Solomon, to film his release from prison. And they were really ecstatic about what he was about, but obviously, there was a lot of good and bad in this. There were a lot of things going on. And they went to make a film, a short film, about his release from prison, and in that, they did a sit-down interview, and a lot of what he talked about at times was about his relationships and personal, and the film kind of took on a life of its own.
My team went to make a film, but we didn’t have it all covered. We didn’t really have, from the journalist side, the film really handled to the level that it should be with really finding out the details. And I think when we went to release it, we were going to just put it up on fader.com, it was half-baked, it wasn’t what Look at Me became. So we shelved the project and we were waiting.
Tragically, when he passed about a few months later, I reached out to Bob Celestin, then the lawyer I met with Solomon. Solomon right away understood the importance of this film. I think at the time, Solomon, you guys were working on another documentary, but with the footage we had, it was something special. And Solomon’s like, “Hey, you need to come down to Miami, meet Cleo.” And when I met Cleo, I knew I could see… I had experienced some of this working with Big in the past, in my earlier career, and I kind of understood the progression. I never lost sight that this was still a mom grieving over the loss of her son.
X meant so much, so many other things, to other people, but in order to tell this story, it was important to meet Cleo. And then we interviewed 12 different directors to find Sabaah, who directed Look at Me, who did a phenomenal job telling the whole story.
That was the reason for the hold-up. It had to be done right. It was a complicated story. He lived a complicated life, a chaotic life, but super impactful, so we wanted to make sure that we treated it the right way. And to the credit of Solomon and Cleo and Sabaah, that film is a complete story of his life. And to Lesley’s credit, when she came on board on this film, we worked together on really trying to get out of his way. We wanted this to be a true companion film in his own words.
I think it’s something special that the fans deserve to have because we sat and watched it for the first time, me, Solomon, and Cleo, and we cried, we laughed, we hugged, we drank. You were emotional, you were drained after seeing it. So there’s a lot going on with the interview, and I think Lesley did a phenomenal job taking the inputs and feedback from us and being a collective work of art in a sense of this precious interview that he did.
Solomon, you had a lot of media outlets you could have chosen to have documented XXXTentacion’s release, from hip-hop to pop. Why did you choose Fader?
Solomon Sobande: Selfishly, that was just my favorite platform. I mean, I think it still is today. I always admired what Rob and these guys have built. Listen, man, I think there’s a lot of great platforms out there. The reason why the Fader was my personal favorite is because I felt like they weren’t afraid to dive in with artists that were like X, meaning they weren’t afraid to go sit with the controversial artist and get to the root of things and make really meaningful content that wasn’t just surface shit like a lot of other platforms would do. So that’s one of the reasons I really with fucked with them, man. I like what they built.
As a fan, as somebody who grew up in the culture, you feel me, I used to buy Fader mags when they was still coming out crazy, and I was on the website all the time. So I felt like they got it, and they understood our culture, and it was in a way where it wasn’t… How would I say? A lot of people wanted to interview X and do things with X, but the reality is, most of it had a malicious intent, you feel me? And I knew with the Fader that wouldn’t be the case. I knew that they would be honest journalists. And that was one of the most important things, outside of the fact that I just thought it was cool.
Lesley, the film’s title is In His Own Words, so, as a director, what are some of the difficulties of putting together a project like this where the star isn’t accessible, and then you have to tell a story through their own words?
Lesley Steele: I think it’s really something else to work with material after the fact, work with the moments that were real. They still exist, and they still are real, and this is archival. What I found to be almost lucky in this opportunity to edit and direct and co-direct with Rob and the whole team, this has been such a collective that X essentially, he leads the way through the story. Throughout the film, there’s no script for us to follow. There’s no outline. We know what happened because we’ve watched it. There’s slithers and bits that’s in Look at Me, but X really led the whole show, from being in the car with his mom to booking studio time to hanging out with his friends. It wasn’t hard to tell this story because it’s literally in his own words.
It speaks for itself. He speaks for himself posthumously. He spoke for himself when he was here. So in this really unique, beautiful, magical way, this is really essentially uncut, except for parking the car or getting out. This is all really the stuff that you don’t usually see because who would’ve thought that this would’ve become, in the tragic way it did, what he has left behind in so many ways, but in this capsule of material and this documentary. So it wasn’t at all hard to make this. X really guided us through the different versions of edits that we went through to make it here. So I’m excited for it to be shared with his fans and the world and his family.
I was taken aback when Rob called me and was like, “Well, this was supposed to be 20, 25 minutes, 30 minutes.” This wasn’t supposed to be essentially now what is a feature film, so it’s quite interesting to think about story structure and how we make sense of chapters and how Look at Me was its own film and so is this, while it’s complimentary, it’s its own film, and so it’s interesting. I’m excited to see how the world receives it.
Like X, hip-hop recently suffered several major losses due to gun violence in PNB Rock and Takeoff. I would like to ask all of you how the companion film connects to the issue still going on right now?
Solomon Sobande: I think I’ll start it off. I would say it’s very rare these days that you get to get a real insight for what an artist is really thinking in their head. Yeah, artists do interviews here and there, but most of them are just really surface-deep. I love In His Own Words because, first off, X was somebody that didn’t do press at all, so for the artists that are like that, that aren’t doing press, this is a great way to show what it is that they’re dealing with, showing some of the struggles, some of the mental health things that they’re dealing with.
For example, there was a part in this film where X was like, “Yo, people don’t want to fight anymore. Everybody’s carrying guns. I got to have a knife on my hip because I don’t want to fight anymore.” That’s the reality of being in hip-hop. You’re being a target. It sheds light on so many different things and so many different experiences that an artist is going to have throughout their journey.
Very similar to, unfortunately, PnB Rock, who was a really close friend of ours, you feel me? It’s a cycle of terrible things that happen to these kids who are already emerging from a bad situation. So I feel like people and artists can learn a lot from this.
Lesley Steele: I think of where X, in this film at least, it just feels like he’s leaving behind clues. Throughout making this and looking at those one-off moments, it feels like he’s trying to leave a message behind in some way of what is evolution and evolving. And I think to the extent of what’s going on today and to these unfortunate murders and killings, it’s just, especially in the music industry, it’s like, why is this such a thing?
I think X was on the verge of getting to the root of how can we move forward while also being able to create, while also not selling ourselves short, while also still understanding the music industry. He was just cracking so many different niches of how to answer this question. I don’t know if it can be answered of why what’s happening is happening, but essentially I think the film, and X, is an examples of the possibilities that there are for there to not be this cycle.
I still feel like I can watch this film a thousand times and still find something new and have sentiments from X that I hear in my daily… I’m going grocery shopping, I’ll hear his little anecdotes. And so I feel like this is a gift, this film, in that way. And while we all know we have a time clock, we don’t know when that day is, but we know it’s not for 200 years.
We want to live, but then there’s times where I think the subject matters of death is really just heavy and COVID and everything. So for this film to be coming out now, I think it’s really just going to touch and hit in different ways that I hope he’s proud of it, and I feel in some way that he is. I know he’s proud. I wish I’d met him. I wish that he were here, but I feel like I’ve met him through the material. So, nonetheless, special.
Rob Stone: I think, for me, and it’s something… Look, there’s a beauty… And you can tell Solomon and Cleo have been touched by his life. He tragically died at 20, when most of us think what we were doing in our teens, not even in our twenties, in our teens, we have not accomplished much. Most of my friends… Very few people have accomplished a lot in that timeframe. And something Solomon, Cleo, and I talked about as we agreed to make the first film was, wouldn’t it be something. Look at the different people he’s brought together past his death, myself, Solomon, Cleo, my Fader team, Sabaah, all these different people to tell a story that hopefully will create conversation that can help people.
Because look, who knows where he would’ve ended up, but from everything, I’m seeing, and I like to believe that… He talks a lot about it in his own words, about evolving and how important it is that you don’t get trapped in not evolving. And look, we released a teaser where he says, “I created a lot of negativity,” and then he stops and he says, “So much negativity.”
He was only 20 when he did that, 19 when he did that interview. At 19, to realize and admit and to own the fact that you’ve created so much negativity just shows years of wisdom, and it gives me hope that he would’ve gotten on the right track and that he truly, and you see it in his own words, what he wanted to do for his fans, for his people, for his family, was to make their lives better. And a part of me really believes that. We’ll never know the answer, tragically, and I think that’s where it ties into the tragicness of it, of Takeoff, of PnB Rock. These things should not be happening. Nipsey, these guys have so much to give. Going back to Biggie, there’s so much that they had to give.
I’ve lived working with Biggie where people would say, “He’s a really rough guy.” And I’m like, “No. This is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met and one of the most logical and seasoned vets,” and he was only 23. I think there is a cycle like Lesley talks about. And I think part of our mission on both films was to hopefully create a safe area to speak about mental health and to speak about some of these issues that are going on.
Solomon, I want to ask you, we come from a community where we start off at the bottom and work our way to the top. Now, you found somebody who had a cultural impact on hip hop that will never be unforgotten. And then it took you to higher heights as far as becoming Senior A&R at Capital. Do you suffer from survivor’s remorse at all?
Solomon Sobande: Yeah, I mean, of course.
I think it’s impossible to be in this business and to have these type of successes when the people that you started with, for whatever reason, can’t be there. Of course, a hundred percent. I think about that shit all the time. X has a kid that is growing up that’s never going to get to know his dad, you feel me? I’m here raising my daughter. I think about that shit all the time.
And not even with just Ex, but other artists. There’s artists I’ve signed, like Kay Flock, who we’re fighting for his freedom, fighting for his life right now. If you care, I think you’re always going to feel a little bit of guilt, a little bit of responsibility, like, fuck, what else could you have done? Even though in certain situations, there was nothing that I could have done, but a hundred percent, you’re going to feel that. But I think how I deal with it is I just make sure I’m there for his family. I make sure whatever his family needs, or however I can be a servant to the people that he loves, I can just do that. And I think that’s the best way to deal it.
But undoubtedly, there’s a tremendous amount of survivor’s remorse anytime you’re on a journey with people, and some of y’all aren’t going to make it.
Rob, Lesley, how does this companion film set the tone and the direction for Fader Films moving forward?
Rob Stone: Look, with Fader, we’ve always tried to be a platform for artists that were emerging or didn’t have the opportunity to really speak and tell their story. The name of this film, In His Own Words… We never discussed what we were going to name it, it just became the name because we kept referring to, we have to make sure this film is X in his own words. And that’s really been the north star for Fader as a magazine. We have Drake, when he did his cover, he’s like, “Man, they were the first people to listen to me and let me be me. And when they did the cover, they didn’t have a stylist there. We shot in my mom’s backyard because that’s where I wanted to shoot, so they came. Jonathan Mannion, we went and shot with my grandmother in the nursing home.”
We’ve always tried to just get out of the way and let artists … give them this platform and show that these artists are important, not just for their music, but for their thoughts and for leaders of the culture. So we’ve always tried to do that.
Look, I’m fortunate that we’re involved in this project, and I’ve tried to be really respectful in how we tell the story to all parties involved. And I think that was the beauty of us embracing, and I give Cleo and Solomon a lot of credit of embracing Sabaah to tell the Look at Me story, which was a whole story. And the same process with Lesley. I mean, Cleo, it’s very important for Cleo to meet Lesley and watch a cut with her. And Cleo came up to New York specifically with Solomon to watch the cut and to meet Lesley.
Our hearts are in this project. If our future Fader projects can be as important as this, or half as important as this, I’ll be really happy as a filmmaker.
Lesley Steele: I’m even so teary because I’m seeing all the flashes of, right now, our sound mixer is in another room. He’s mixing. It’s just so inducive. It’s like, XXX. And here’s the thing I think was really… I feel so blessed and so proud. I mean, I came in as just an editor. I didn’t expect I would even meet Solomon. I didn’t have any expectations, didn’t know what would come out of this. And to see how Fader has just been so authentic in the media industry and being so considerate in the care.
Rob would call me like, “I just spoke to Solomon, I spoke to Cleo, and she’s like, wow, this is what filmmaking should be.” And especially the story of a young black man, an African American artists, young, all the things. Here is this voice. And to not have any intentions that aren’t ill-willed, for Fader to just be so truthfully authentic has been enlightening, and seeing that this is in his own words and I’m excited for all the upcoming things and all the stories that we can cherish and share with the world.
Lastly, the film premieres on November 22. How can fans everywhere watch it?
Rob Stone: Yeah, November 22nd, it will be available to the world on altavod.com. So that’s ALTAVOD.com. And along internationally, Look at Me is available on Altavod. One last point to make. Initially, we did a deal, Solomon and I did a deal with Hulu for the film, and one of the important things was that the family would get to own the film, so it was a licensed deal for U.S. only with Hulu, which is a Disney company. And they were a great partner and really helped us launch this film, but putting it out internationally, we turned down some pretty sizable deals to make sure that we could do this independently because of the spirit of X and how he handled his business was very independent. And I think that’s very important.
Credit to Cleo and Solomon, and Bob Celestin that we worked it out that we could put this out independently and go direct to the fans with a story that we wanted to tell.
In His Own Words: XXXTentacion premieres both domestically and internationally this Tuesday (Nov. 22) on Altavod.
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