We as a society need to start taking death and addiction more seriously. I know, it sounds cliche because it’s been said so many times before, but it’s true. Juice WRLD, aka Jared Higgins, is the third big-name rapper to die from a drug overdose over the past two years (Lil Peep and Mac Miller were of course the other two). It’s a sickening feeling, especially considering how much we could have done to stop this. Once again though, it’s too late; we’ll never see Juice in his prime.
That right there is probably the saddest part about all of this. He had just turned 21 when he died on Dec. 8, which scares the shit out of me because I’m only 21. Heck, most of the people he inspired are under 21. I was recently watching a Juice WRLD tribute video spearheaded by the inspiring trio of friends from Complex Ambition. Side note: I love how relatable and raw they are when they review music; we need more people like them on social media. Anyway, one of the YouTubers (who goes by the name of Sound) started to tear up thinking about the conversation he has to have with his younger sister about what happened to the late rapper, and what it means to society as a whole. She was apparently a huge fan. Sound is only 21 himself. These are the times that hurt the most.
I’ve always been appreciative of this emo-rap wave that’s dominated the latter half of the 2010s. I think it’s great when male rappers can pour their emotions out on a track without having to feel like a weirdo. Hip hop’s been progressive in that sense. Juice WRLD was the unofficial leader of the pack in this category. He rarely glamorized the lean and Percocet lifestyle. In fact, he fought it like a boxing match. Songs like “Empty,” “Ain’t Livin’ Right,” and “End of the Road” were cries for help. No one realized it though. Or maybe we just didn’t want to acknowledge it.
Juice WRLD was, and will continue to be, one of the most streamed artists of the past decade. He surpassed a couple billion Spotify plays just in 2019. His debut album in 2018, Goodbye & Good Riddance, featured some of the most iconic rap-punk songs of the decade in “Lucid Dreams” and “All Girls are the Same.” The project as a whole was raw, emotional and slightly disturbing. It’s greatest strength was resonating with people from all walks of life.
He collaborated with Future for WRLD on Drugs (the guy who inspired him to try lean), one of the few instances where I felt like Higgins was trying to capture that tortured lifestyle in a party-like manner. Tracks like “Realer n. Realer” and “7am Freestyle” portrayed this reckless behavior through stark insecurities. At times the project was great. Other times however, both rappers made lazy attempts at appealing to the Lil Pump fans; the ones who glorified these treacherous habits. Another cry for help.
His second official album A Death Race For Love was his first official number one on the Billboard charts, a magnificent feat for the then 20 year-old. There was no need to highlight him on the XXL Freshman class. He was already so big. The project showcased Higgins’ wide variety of tastes, from trap, to post-punk, to R&B even. We were starting to understand the full scope of Juice WRLD. Lyrically, he was more crystal-clear than ever-“Ain’t no right way, just the wrong way I know/I problem solve with Styrofoam/My world revolves around a black hole/The same black hole that’s in place of my soul/I feel so goddamn empty, I may go rogue.” How did we not notice how bad this could get? Everyone was listening, but no one was actually LISTENING.
Even I found some of his material to be a tad cartoonish or downright corny (“Robbery” was a perfect example of this, though I did appreciate his ambition). I’m not going to act all high and mighty. Some of his shit just wasn’t for me. A Death Race could have been a little shorter but that shit doesn’t matter right now. Music was therapeutic for him. He had a steady girlfriend at that point of his life, and he made songs to reflect his love for her. She’s the One” and “Desire” are euphoric snapshots of Juice at his most self-assured. He reached catharsis for a quick second. The only thing that was stopping him were the Percs, the Xans, the lean, and the fast-paced lifestyle he was talking about. Sometimes, we forget artists are also humans, and when they’re happy at any point, then we should be happy for them.
Addiction is not an easy thing to get rid of. I personally thought Mac was doing alright based on some of his recent music. Only the artist will ever truly know how they feel. The reason for why Juice took those painkillers before entering the plane doesn’t really matter. The fact that he was still on them is what does. I wish someone close to him asked how he was doing. I wish more rappers would stop glamorizing this lifestyle. I wish Juice himself was wrong about our generation being the “demon youth.” I wish we stopped having to explain to 12 and 13 year-olds about what happened to their favorite 20 or 21 year-old idol. I wish drug laws weren’t so harsh for Americans. I wish more people would ask for help. Maybe Juice would be alive if some of these wishes were reality.
My friends and I grew up on Kid Cudi, one of the first rappers to explain the pain he was going through in blunt terminology. He was on a dark path for so many years before finally checking into rehab. Based on the Kids See Ghost tape and recent tweets, he seems to be in a better place. Cudi has a great support system and an even better fanbase. I, and many other people my age are ecstatic to see him happy again. People would cry at his concerts. That’s how much he inspired us. He was the leader of the kids at the time.
Juice was the unofficial torchbearer for people in middle school and high school. He made people feel less lonely in a time when fame and fortune have never felt more lonely. He’s the one who talked about those taboo topics. He changed music. Labels don’t give a shit. Fake friends don’t either. A lot of the pencil pushers will do anything to make a quick buck of these young kids’ sadness. And now, much like in the case of Sound, we must have those tough conversations with kids. This shit will be hard for awhile, much like it was with Mac and Lil Peep. My prayers go out to Juice’s family; I can’t imagine what they’re going through. It’s time for reflection and appreciation, but it’s also time to make a change. We must prepare for the future and help out one another, because Juice was such a transcendent artist. He touched our generation and put his heart out for us. We need to do the same for him.
The best my generation can do is open up to each other. Ask how your friends are doing. Make sure your family is in the right headspace. If your away at college like me, send that text to your younger sibling-make sure they’re doing okay. Only we can change the perception of our millennial generation and reverse the “demon youth” title. Let’s celebrate life more in music instead of death. Let’s re-write history without forgetting the great ones. Let’s never forget about Jared Higgins and the many others we’ve lost over the past two years.
RIP Juice WRLD, you’ll forever be missed.
On a Lighter Note…
Navy Blue has finally put some music on Apple and Spotify!! His newest song is a step in the right direction for opening up about depression in a biblical context. The piano makes me emotional.