Miami (AFP) - XXXTentacion, the troubled 20-year-old rapper whose grim, often suicidal rhymes propelled him to the top of the US chart just months ago, was shot dead Monday in Florida in a possible robbery, authorities said.
The rapper, whose lyrics were filled with insecurity and his real life marred by violence, was gunned down in broad daylight near a motorcycle store in Deerfield Beach north of Miami, the Broward County sheriff's department said.
The artist whose real name was Jahseh Onfroy was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. He becomes one of the biggest names in hip-hop to be killed in recent years after a slew of targeted slayings in the 1990s.
The rapper, who was born and lived nearby, was leaving the Riva Motorsports store when two armed suspects approached him, with at least one opening fire, the sheriff's department said.
The pair raced off in a dark SUV and are wanted by authorities, it said.
"Investigators say it appears to be a possible robbery," the sheriff’s department said in a statement.
The celebrity news site TMZ, which first reported the shooting, said that the two suspects snatched a Louis Vuitton bag from the rapper's vehicle.
- 'Look at Me!" -
Sporting spiked-up dreadlocks and often covering his face with a black-and-white masquerade mask, XXXTentacion rose suddenly to fame more than a year after putting out the song "Look at Me!" on the sharing site SoundCloud.
The rapper -- his stage-name alludes to the unknown, pornography and the Spanish word for "temptation" -- sampled alternative rock and reggaeton in his dark, often muffled style of hip-hop full of depressive lyricism.
Without any traditional sort of promotion, his second album, entitled "?," debuted at the top of the Billboard album chart in March.
XXXTentacion's success triggered controversy due to a past that is violent even by the standards of the rap world. Around the time of his latest album's release, he was being released from house arrest as he awaits trial on charges of beating his pregnant ex-girlfriend.
But his music found a critical following. Kendrick Lamar, one of the most influential figures in hip-hop, heaped praise last year on XXXTentacion's debut album "17" in which he found a unique rawness.
Kanye West mourned XXXTentacion on Twitter, writing: "I never told you how much you inspired me when you were here."
"Jocelyn Flores," the best-known track off "17," described XXXTentacion's despair over the suicide of a friend.
"Sad!" a more melodious but equally bleak track off his latest album, delves into his anxieties with women as he raps, "Suicide if you ever try to let go / I'm sad, I know / Yeah, I'm sad, I know."
- Backlash over abuse -
While winning fans, XXXTentacion faced a blacklash by critics who said that his alleged mistreatment of women should be a career-stopper in an age that the #MeToo movement is demanding higher standards from men.
Spotify last month singled out XXXTentacion as part of a policy not to promote songs by artists known for "harmful or hateful" behavior, but the leading streaming service backed down after charges that it had overstepped its role.
His former girlfriend, in an interview published earlier this month with the Miami New Times, said that the emerging star subjected her to a summer of abuse in 2016 that included physical attacks every three or four days, along with threats of grisly sexual violence.
Shortly after a pregnancy test came out positive, the then girlfriend said that the rapper beat her for 15 minutes, injuring her so badly that she lost vision and vomited.
The rapper, who was expelled from middle school for hitting a classmate and whose mother kicked him out of home, has also been implicated in other violent incidents, including stabbing his manager and brawling with audience members in concert.
XXXTentacion frequently referenced his real life in his verse. The song "Revenge" appears to address his ex-girlfriend as he rapped, "I've dug two graves for us, my dear," and concluded, "In my grave, I'll rot."