Liz Foster ’22
In the wake of Lil Peep’s untimely death in 2017, I wrote an article titled “No One Cares about Rappers or Drug Addicts.” In the wake of the death of 21 year old rapper Juice WRLD, I’ve been unable to get those same feelings out of my head.
Lil Peep’s last Instagram post was captioned “When I die, You’ll love me,” one small piece of years of rapping about his anxiety, depression, and persistent drug problems. In contrast to his albums full of hopeless, heart broken, addiction lyrics, Juice WRLD, nee Jarad Higgins, captioned what would be his final post with “Yesterday was my actual bday im celebrating all week doe🤷🏾♂️999 shit.” For a figure so commonly associated with dependency, “sad boy hours,” and heartbreak, his Instagram sounded refreshingly positive.
Newly 21, the rapper had a seizure in the Chicago O’Hare airport, presumably induced by his mixing lean and a variety of pills. As further details have emerged in the following weeks, news outlets reported that the rapper had swallowed copious amounts of percocets after discovering a police search awaited him. Other items found on his private jet included a bag of weed weighing an impressive seventy pounds and multiple submachine guns. Why Juice WRLD consumed his contraband rather than flushing or even attempting to hide the pills is a question I’ve heard many wonder in the aftermath of his death. However, the problem extends out of this moment of impulsivity. At the end of the day, addiction is what killed Juice WRLD like it killed Lil Peep before him.
Drug addiction is an American epidemic. The last time I found myself writing an article about a young talent’s death, there were a reported ninety people dying every day from opioid overdoses. Today, over ten million Americans abuse opioids. Addictions stemming from both illegal and legal places, be it the streets or a doctor’s prescription, are winding pathways to an untimely death. Drug culture has persistently remained a part of rap culture, but the rap music of the 1990s relied more heavily on smoking weed and the occasional crack pipe than opiods, benzos, and lean.
Even rapping about cocaine, see Lil Baby’s “Pure Cocaine,” feels like a safer choice than the content put out by today’s artists. Rapper Future noted the impact of rap’s current, most dangerous drug problem in addressing his own songs. Future came to terms with the fact Juice WRLD’s first experiences with lean and xanax were a result of the older rapper’s music. In an interview with Vulture before the release of the two rappers collab album WRLD On Drugs, Juice explained that “[Future] just was like ‘Wow.’ He kind of apologized.” With songs like “Xanny Family” and multiple albums named after lean (Dirty Sprite and its 2015 follow up DS2), Future, born Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn, established himself as both a product and producer of the drug culture currently assaulting the rap industry. Though Future himself has quit using drugs, his impact in rap culture’s gravitation to substances undeniable.
Most ironically, and perhaps painfully, the two rappers collaborated on a mixtape in 2017. The tape’s name? WRLD on Drugs.Similar to Lil Peep, Juice WRLD hid no part of his issues and addiction. His music is wrought with stories and lyrics about heartbreak, depression, and the subsequent drug use used to cope. Even more haunting was the rapper’s foretelling of his own death, recounting on “Legends,” a song written in homage to the late Lil Peep and XXXtentacion, that “we ain’t making it past 21.”
Juice WRLD’s drug issues were at the front and center of his music. On 2018’s Goodbye and Good Riddance’ “Lean With Me,” he raps “Told her if I die/ Ima die young/Everyday I been gettin’ fucked up/Finally know the difference between lust and love/Shawty tell me I should really sober up” among other concerning lines. Other notable cries for help include “Candles”’ “I need something other than Xannies to take the pain away” or “I know that these perccies finna hurt me” and “I am getting too fucked, too fucked up, yeah I’m too fucked up” from “Black & White.” It seems unfathomable to me that the rapper’s friends could respond so passively to their companion’s drug problem that he would die in the peak of his career. Without someone to stop, or at least discourage, destructive behavior, many users are left to their own devices — which often fail then.
Fresh off of the success of “Bandit ft. Young Boy Never Broke Again,” a reworked demo originally named “Molly Savage” only available on Soundcloud, Juice WLRD’s death seemingly came out of nowhere. His breakout hit “Lucid Dreams” remained on the charts and was trending on the popular app Tik Tok along with an unreleased song “Let Me Know.” Yet even on “Bandit,” Juice WRLD indicated his problem, rapping “I’m nice when I’m high off the pills.” Still, his death appeared as a surprise to fans, friends, and the media alike.
Similar to the wake of Lil Peep’s death, social media users flocked to tweet and post to not abuse drugs, to quit drugs, and to not let addiction kill you or the people around you. Where was this energy for the very person whose death catalyzed these tweets, snaps, and ‘grams? The night Lil Peep died he posted a video on Instagram where he was transparently on benzos, slurring that he was “on six xanax” before declaring he would see his fans at his concert planned for the night. Juice WRLD, fresh off a flight from California, was pronounced dead in Chicago before the sun rose, leaving fans to wake up to the startling news that Sunday morning.
One cannot single handedly stop another’s drug issue, but as celebrities have become increasingly transparent in their struggles it is ignorant for one to claim “I never saw this coming.” Had a friend checked in on Juice WRLD or confronted him about the copious amounts of drugs brought on his flight, maybe the rapper would still be alive. Had someone developed serious concern from the content of his music, hundreds of songs centered around drug abuse, maybe things could have gone differently. Regardless of individual actions, the current culture that seemingly rewards drug abuse with clout tokens must be stopped.
To quell this ticking time bomb, one must begin to question why their favorite artists are so heavily involved and dependent upon drugs that are destroying their lives. Mirroring the actions of your doped out favorite rapper will do you no favors. If you want to emulate a rapper’s seemingly “cool” drug use, just smoke a fucking blunt. Weed never killed anyone, but fentanyl laced, pharmacy fresh, pressed, and an excess of pills did. Artists need not be mocked or punished for inherently causing their own deaths, but we should admonish the culture that has led to these deaths.
Addiction is a life destroying disease that should be treated as such. In 2017, I implored whoever made up my “audience” to check in on their friends. As 2020 approaches, I beg of you: check in on your fucking friends. It’s ignorant to assume one can assume full responsibility of another’s life, but reaching out, checking in, and encouraging recovery could be.
The death of Juice WRLD marks a deeply depressing end of a fruitful career, and the signalling of the fall of the “Soundcloud generation.” Primarily, Juice WRLD’s impact as an artist should be remembered, but the circumstances of his death should not be forgotten. We can still do better.