Young rappers have been killing the rap game over the last decade, rising from nothing overnight, gaining loyal fanbases and a close new family to match. But has the rap industry’s music, with lyrics that talk about death, drugs, anxiety and depression, been promoting young rappers deaths?
The most recent rap death shuddered the online world. Chicago-bred and SoundCloud success Juice Wrld died Dec. 8, 2019, as a result of something he consistently rapped about in his personal life — drugs.
“I thought it was a joke,” sophomore Jeremy Binning said, reflecting on the few perturb texts he had received from his friends that morning. “I didn’t believe it. It was crazy. He was so young. He had just started.”
At 21, known for hits such as “Lucid Dreams” and “All Girls are the Same,” Jarad A. Higgins was pronounced dead at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Illinois, after suffering from a drug-induced seizure in the middle of Chicago’s Midway International Airport. After landing in his own private jet that day, federal agents and officers were waiting for his arrival, in suspicion that Higgins had drugs in transport.
Onboard, federal agents confiscated six bottles of prescription codeine cough syrup, more than 70 pounds of vacuum-sealed marijuana, a .40-caliber pistol, two 9 mm pistols, a high-capacity ammunition magazine and metal-piercing bullet.
It was unclear online whether or not Higgins had died from a certain drug overdose because Juice Wrld took “several unknown pills.”
Fans theorized the death was due to an overdose of percocet, considering the rapper consistently addressed his addiction. These references can be seen in songs such as “7 AM Freestyle”: “I’m on a whole ‘nother level/I take Perkys to fight all my demons/Sipping on red lean/Pour me a four and another, I love it,” and in“Hard Work Pays Off”; “Call my doctor to handle my pain/Perky’s taking my life away.”
It was later found during his autopsy Jan. 22, at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, that Juice Wrld’s death was caused by an accidental overdose of oxycodone and codeine. Higgins was just one of the few artists among a stream of young rappers that had begun to rise in fame including Mac Miller, Lil Peep and XXXTentacion. Fans theorized some of these deaths were predictable due to their lyric content and the stigma that surrounds the rap industry.
“It makes you wonder what the rap industry has turned into,” senior Tanner Bonanza said. “It’s one of those things where he had passed away, and before that Mac Miller passed away, rappers continued to pass away. In a lot of these songs, a lot of them are asking out for help, but are they actually getting that help?”
In an age where 21 is becoming the new 27 club, young death has become a normality. The 27 club is a list notorious for listing artists who have died at 27, a common age, due to drug and alcohol overconsumption. These artists include Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain, two musicians that were in their prime until mental illness and addiction took over their life.
In 2017, Lil Peep died at 21 due to an accidental fentanyl and Xanax overdose. After consuming cocaine and counterfeit oxycodone containing the synthetic opioid fentanyl, Mac Miller died suddenly at 26 years old in 2018. Additionally, XXXTentacion was killed in 2018 from a robbery in Florida, where two masked gunmen approached and shot him multiple times in pursuit of a Louis Vuitton bag which contained $50,000.
But what is the real reason these artists keep dying in their prime?
“You have to watch out for what the artist is really saying,” Binnings said.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness, a racking 46.6 million people reported in 2017.
Mental health issues are stressed less than the normative drug intake rappers discuss in their lyrics. Gems about these issues are often hidden, and it’s not taken seriously until it’s too late. Juice Wrld actively includes these small tidbits in his lyrics, such as in the song “Fast”; “I go through so much, I’m 19 years old/It’s been months since I felt at home/But it’s okay ‘cause I’m rich/Psych, I’m still sad as a b**ch, right.”
In an interview with The Times, Juice Wrld also discussed his struggles and how they’re interpreted through his music.
“I talk about stuff like that because those are subjects that people are A: too scared to touch on or B:, don’t do it the right way, where people can learn from your mistakes,” Higgins said.
Mistakes that Higgins could not take back this time ultimately led to his death when he was still striving to the peak of his career. He had only begun his career in 2017, his hit “Lucid Dreams” peaking No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2018. The death was a shocking tragedy among others that fans hadn’t expected.
But had they?
“It’s crazy with the life they were doing,” Binning said, “that it could take them down that way. Fans messed up. We chose not to believe. Pay attention to the lyrics.”
While Juice Wrld frequently touches on themes of mental health, suffering and drug addiction in his lyrics, he also touched on the death of his friends in the industry. In June 2018, he released a two-track EP online titled “Too Soon.” This EP included the song “Legends,” in regards to XXXTentacion and Lil Peep’s deaths leaving a permanent mark on the world. They, too, had unfortunately died during their prime.
“This time, it was so unexpected/Last time, it was the drugs he was lacing.” Juice Wrld rapped, in reference to Lil Peep. “All legends fall in the making/Sorry truth, dying young, demon youth/What’s the 27 Club?/We ain’t making it past 21/ They tell me I’ma be a legend/I don’t want that title now/Cause all the legends seem to die out/What the f*ck is this ‘bout?”
Due to this epidemic, young artists themselves have begun to try and make a change. Lil Xan told TMZ, during a video interview in 2018, that he planned to change his name in the coming year. Many rappers began discussing how more artists in the industry will begin quitting the abuse of substances like lean and Xanax due to the death of Lil Peep. Stopping addiction before it starts is a step toward less deaths in the industry.
What the deaths are really about is the drug industry that has taken a toll on artists trying to make it big. Combined with mental illness and the pressures to make it into the rap game, it is enough for rappers to start addiction and become violent.
Alongside Juice Wrld, XXXTentacion struggled with fighting his own demons. These dark songs such as “SAD!” , “NUMB” and “Jocelyn Flores’’ have topped the charts. Although dark when he began in the industry, some of his music began to take lighter notes in the album “17,” but still dealt with his struggle of depression.
Many fans believe he faked his death, in an attempt to promote his music and gain more fame. One Twitter user, @vasinvain, suggests that the star faked his own death due to “the amount of conspiracy in his life along with the overwhelming fame.”
Another theory to back up the staging has to do with the song “Train Food,” released after his untimely death. The song talks about the clothing and scenery he was around, matching with the same setting he had died in in South Florida.
Although there may be many theories to these deaths, the real conspiracy is that as a society we keep letting this happen. The lyrics are transparent, but often distraction is stronger than listening to what’s clear.
“At the moment it’s sad,” Bonanza said. “Then a few weeks go by, and they’re not going on about it like they used to. Young people have a hard time comprehending death.”
Although hard, awareness of mental illness and drug addiction within the artists’ lives is a step to saving those struggling. There are several factors we can look at as a society: accessibility to drugs and the history that surrounds it, money accessibility to get the resources, mental illness reaching a young fan base and the stigma of making it big in the rap game. A cycle that’s been around since the 80s, it continues with each year that passes.
In the words of Juice Wrld: “We keep on losing our legends to the cruel cold world, what is it coming to?”