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On the morning of Sunday, December 8, 2019, the rap community awoke to the loss of one of its brightest rising stars. Juice WRLD, real name Jarad Anthony Higgins, passed away from a seizure at Chicago’s Midway Airport just after landing. While we didn’t know all of the details surrounding his untimely demise at the time of his passing, we’ve now learned that the late star’s death was the result of an accidental overdose, TMZ reports. “The M.E.’s Office says it found Oxycodone and codeine in his system and determined he died from toxic levels of those drugs,” the outlet confirms. It was previously reported, without confirmation, that he allegedly popped pills on his flight, had 70lbs of marijuana, as well as other substances on his private plane.
Juice WRLD was very open about his internal struggle with mental health. His music bled emotion that painted him as a tormented soul and in many ways, his emo-rap spoke to others suffering under the weight of mental illness. He even went so far as to lyrically predict his own passing in the lyrics to his song “Legends” when he sang, “What’s the ’27 Club’? / We ain’t making it past 21.” These lyrics are a reference to a group of musicians including Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin, who all died from complications related to substance abuse and depression at the age of 27. The song, which appears on his EP entitled Too Soon, was a tribute to fallen rappers XXXTentacion, who died in an attempted robbery at age 20, and Lil Peep, who died from a drug overdose at 21. Juice WRLD reached the milestone of turning 21 less a week before his death.
The topic of mental health has struck a chord once again with this unfortunate news. For many, self-medication feels like the only escape from the pain and confusion caused by mental illness. Juice WRLD’s breakout song “Lucid Dreams” is a testament to heartbreak, self-loathing, and the escapism that comes from abusing prescription medication as a way to deal with real-life issues. He never hid his struggles from us and that is why many felt that they could relate to him on an intimate level. “You left me falling and landing inside my grave / I know that you want me dead / I take prescriptions to make me feel a-okay / I know it’s all in my head,” he sang on the track. In retrospect, many are feeling the loss of the Chicago rapper/singer because hindsight has revealed that his music may not have been purely a confessional, but rather a cry for help that went unanswered until it was too late.
Other rappers have brought up the topic of the impact mental health can have, especially for famous people that live their lives under a microscope and can get access to virtually any drug under the sun. Fans are still reeling from the departure of Mac Miller, who was also a victim of the opioid crisis. Wale has even gone so far as to suggest that record labels should be more accountable for their artists’ mental health. He has a point. Rappers who make it and get signed by a major label have usually overcome some extremely traumatic incidents on their way to the top. Excessive amounts of money can exacerbate this problem and when the pain doesn’t go away, desperation often drives these mentally fragile people to coping mechanisms that have serious consequences. Michael Jackson and Prince were two more examples that prove that no matter how big one’s name is, mental health problems can lead to very real life-or-death outcomes.
Juice WRLD named himself after the movie called Juice starring Tupac, another rapper taken from us far too soon. In that movie, Pac’s character, Bishop, slowly descends into the darker compulsions of violence and murder when he has a mental breakdown. If we are to take anything away from this, it needs to be that the suffering of those with mental health issues should not be consumed as mere entertainment. We owe it to them and the larger hip hop community to create an environment of safety and accountability that reaches out when artists share their very real pain for our enjoyment. Young talent surrounded by careless yes-men and yes-women willing to enable self-destructive behavior has cost us too many lives for us to continue along this path.
If we can learn just one lesson from the senseless losses that we’re experiencing, it’s that we need to believe artists when they tell us they’re hurting and want to die. The rap industry can no longer be profit-motivated to the point that our brightest stars burn out before their prime.
If you or someone you know is expressing mental health concerns, please try and be supportive and do your best to get them the help they need. Please call 1-800-273-8255 if you are considering suicide or witness someone exhibiting suicidal behavior.
Rest in peace, Juice WRLD. We feel the pain you left behind and hope you’re in a better place where there is no more suffering.