SUNRISE, Fla. — Hordes of eager young fans burst into spontaneous songs of grief and celebration on Wednesday afternoon at an arena here in South Florida, where they had gathered to honor the life of the controversial 20-year-old rapper and singer XXXTentacion, who was shot and killed in an apparent robbery last week.
The public memorial, organized by the rapper’s family, included an open-coffin viewing onstage at the BB&T Center — capacity 20,000 — in Sunrise, Fla., about 25 miles from where XXXTentacion (born Jahseh Onfroy) was killed in his BMW sports car on June 18, halting what had been a meteoric 18-month rise and raising knotty questions about his legacy.
“He considered you all family, and I wanted to do something special for you all,” Cleopatra Bernard, the rapper’s mother, wrote on Instagram about the service.
XXXTentacion, dressed in a blue denim jacket under soft lighting, laid in a dark polished coffin at center stage, surrounded by a spray of black flowers with metallic accents. Images of him, along with quotes from his interviews, clips from his music videos and even coverage of a chaotic memorial in Los Angeles last week, played on screens above the crowd as fans waited to pay their respects.
A messianic youth-culture figure whose online notoriety was driven in part by allegations of horrific abuse against a girlfriend, XXXTentacion muscled his way from the SoundCloud underground to the mainstream with a raw mixture of rap, rock and punk music, along with a near-constant stream of fan interaction on social media. His most recent album, “?,” opened at No. 1 on the Billboard chart in March, and following his death, his song “Sad!” jumped to the top of the Hot 100 singles chart.
But XXXTentacion, in death as in life, has also been seen by some as a pariah for his alleged abusive behavior and his tendency to make light of the charges he faced, including aggravated battery of a pregnant victim, false imprisonment and witness tampering.
Fans present at the memorial said they could not judge XXXTentacion for his alleged crimes. “There’s always two sides to a story, but I can’t really decide,” said Anthony Castillo, 19, who drove four hours alone to attend.
Shon Phillips, 20, said XXXTentacion inspired such loyalty in his fan base because the rapper used his own struggles to connect with listeners. “They’re so cultist because he went through depression, and he interacted with fans about that,” Mr. Phillips said.
The mood was solemn and subdued as those in attendance filed peacefully through a zigzag of stanchions filling the center floor. As mourners quietly bobbed their heads to the music and brushed away tears, a teenage boy in a Young Thug sweatshirt began to cry, and a woman in the row next to him reached out to touch his arm in comfort.
Mourners had begun gathering under the blazing Florida sun as early as 7 a.m. for the event, which opened at noon and was scheduled to last until 6 p.m., with tight security, including metal detectors, and a strict no-cellphone policy inside. By 3 p.m., representatives for the arena estimated that 8,000 people had passed through, including XXXTentacion’s young hip-hop peers Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert and Denzel Curry.
Santino Coccia said he and two friends had driven 18 hours from Philadelphia in a minivan to be first in line. “We wanted to say our last words and show our respect ‘cause he helped us so much,” Mr. Coccia, 19, said. “His music was something to relate to when there was nothing else.”
Thousands of fans — some dressed in black, some in homemade tribute T-shirts — waited for entry in the 90-degree heat, animating one another with renditions of XXXTentacion songs. Others gathered under umbrellas and found shade under palm trees as arena employees handed out cases of water and fruit barrel drinks to the crowd, many of whom were sweating profusely.
Latoya Hendrix, 36, of Chalmette, La., arrived in Sunrise by car at 3 a.m. to attend the memorial with her family. She and her four children, ranging in age from 3 to 19, drove 12 hours, taking their spot in line around 7 a.m.
“My kids loved him,” Ms. Hendrix said. “He was crying out for help.” Her son, Rico Hendrix, 19, added: “He had a troubled past and stuff, but he wanted to spread positivity at the end of his life. He saw that negativity was not the answer.”
Police in Florida said that XXXTentacion was likely identified by his assailants, who followed the rapper into a local motorcycle dealership last Monday and then attempted to rob him at gunpoint as he exited the parking lot. Two days later, the Broward Sheriff’s Office arrested Dedrick D. Williams, 22, and charged him with first-degree murder, but said they were searching for additional suspects. On Wednesday, the sheriff’s office identified Robert Allen, 22, as a person of interest in the killing.
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