(December 13, 2019). The hip-hop world as a whole and the local Chicago community in particular have been in shock the past five days as they both continue to mourn the sudden loss of one of music’s brightest stars in young rapper Juice WRLD.
Upon waking to the news of his death last Sunday, many of us couldn’t fathom that an artist who’d exploded onto the scene just under two years earlier – one who not only had warp-speed commercial success, but was also highly critically acclaimed – was gone, just like that.
In the absence of an act of violence or some tragic accident, it didn’t make sense that a 21-year-old could just suddenly collapse in an airport and be pronounced dead hours later. That it was a budding international hip-hop superstar made it even more unconscionable or, at a minimum, surreal.
Then the details started filling in where holes existed. There had been law enforcement officers waiting when the plane carrying Juice (real name Jarad Anthony Higgins) landed at Chicago’s Midway International Airport in the wee hours of Sunday morning. They had been reportedly tipped off by the plane’s pilot that there was contraband aboard the private jet in the form of weapons and narcotics.
During a search, agents reportedly found 70 pounds of marijuana (which, ironically, will be legal in the state of Illinois beginning Jan. 1) and three handguns, which are illegal to possess in every major airport in America (per FAA regulation).
The police arrested two of Juice’s employees for weapons possession and, according to accounts, encountered the rapper who at some point had gone into a “medical emergency,” reportedly in the form of convulsions or a seizure.
It’s not clear who administered life-saving procedures to save Juice at that point. Did the local agents’ role shift from that of law enforcer to life saver? Or was it members of Juice’s entourage – ones with more familiarity of what likely triggered the event – who had to go into that mode?
Either way, the efforts were in vain. Juice WRLD was pronounced dead at nearby Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, IL two hours later.
More details about the tragedy have since unfolded as people close to the situation have begun to speak about the circumstances surrounding Juice’s death.
It’s now being alleged that he died after ingesting several Percocet pills while law enforcement agents searched the private jet after it landed. He allegedly consumed the pills to conceal them from police while they searched the aircraft following the pilot’s tip-off.
While neither an official police report nor a toxicology report has yet surfaced, this accounting of events seems to be corroborated by Thursday’s statement from the late rapper’s mother, Carmella Wallace, who acknowledged his well-known drug addiction to TMZ.
“As he often addressed in his music and to his fans, Jarad battled with prescription drug dependency,” Wallace told TMZ. “Addiction knows no boundaries and its impact goes way beyond the person fighting it. Jarad was a son, brother, grandson, friend and so much more to so many people who wanted more than anything to see him defeat addiction.”
Wallace went on to say that she hopes “the conversations he started in his music and his legacy will help others win their battles as that is what he wanted more than anything.”
If that happens, and by some social media accounts it already has, then Juice will not have died in vain. Every life that is saved by his story will be a testimony to his true impact on today’s young generation – one in which severe depression and drug addiction run rampant – and his mother and family may be able to take some small amount of solace in knowing that.
But it shouldn’t have ended this way.
The young rapper, who hailed from the south Chicago suburb of Homewood, IL, had just celebrated his 21st birthday six days earlier on December 2, and seemed to be on the top of the world with this tweet…
In fact, 2019 likely couldn’t have gone much better for the young “legend” in the making – at least not professionally. He entered the year as Billboard Magazine’s top new hip-hop artist of 2018 – in large part due to his breakout and now-classic single “Lucid Dreams,” as well as other big hits like “All Girls Are the Same” and “Fine China” (with Future).
“Lucid Dreams” was certified 6-times platinum in the U.S. (peaking at No. 2 in Billboard) and reached the top ten in many other countries including Sweden, Portugal, New Zealand, Finland, Australia, Israel and Canada.
He won this year’s Billboard Music Award for Top New Artist, he earned a cover story in that trade publication, and in just nineteen months he amassed 25 different chart entries on the magazine’s flagship list, the Hot 100 (some songs were in collaborations with other artists, but still no one aside from maybe the Beatles had ever had as many chart hits in their first 19 months of charting).
Juice’s most recent album, Death Race for Love – released earlier this year – debuted at No. 1 in the Billboard 200 in March, becoming his first chart topper.
With a planned new album, plus a rumored song vault that would rival the late Prince’s, and the celebration of his 21st birthday, the world certainly seemed to belong to Higgins who only two years earlier had graduated from Homewood Flossmoor High School, less than 30 minutes from where I’m writing this. (So recent was Higgins’ high school graduation that grief counselors were made available to students at the school who were there when he attended.)
In other words, the young rapper was on top of the world, and the future seemed limitless.
But something in Juice’s life was apparently amiss, and the rapper knew it. He said as much in the song “Legends,” where he deadpanned about people like him not living past the age of 21.
“What’s the 27 Club? We ain’t making it past 21!” – he rapped, with a side reference to the many musicians who famously died at the age of 27.
Juice often wrote and performed songs about death and depression – namely his own and people of his generation – an “emo” rapper, the industry called him.
Yet it was a depression in his case that was accompanied by powerful drug use, namely highly addictive prescription drugs like Percocet, the one that allegedly took him out.
But was it really his addiction that caused his death? Surely, the rapper was experienced and knew the consequences of his final act – assuming it was true – and that the consumption of so many pills could lead to his ultimate demise.
In other words, did Juice decide in that final moment that the possibility of being arrested and being dragged through the Illinois or federal judicial system for the crime of transporting and possessing contraband through airports and across state lines just wasn’t worth living through?
Or taking this a step further, should we even be focused on Juice’s immediate actions leading up to his death? Whose decision was it anyway to transport so much smoke on a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago? And who were they working for? Was Juice or members of his entourage serving as runners for a larger, more organized entity? And, if so, should (and will) that group be held accountable?
But the most important question is why a young rapper with a known serious illness – prescription drug addiction – was able to have ample access to the very poison that might have killed him? Who were the enablers that provided him whatever he needed whenever he needed it to feed his addiction?
All of his major label projects were either testimonials about the rampant drug culture and depression that plague today’s youth, or blatant cries for help, neither of which appeared to be taken seriously – or maybe they were viewed as mere art by their peddlers.
Just look at these album and mixtape titles: Goodbye and Good Riddance, Death Race for Love, Wrld on Drugs…
Yet, Juice was likely just a commodity to his record label Interscope Records, to which he was connected via a contract through Lil Bibby’s Grade A Productions. As that “sad rapper” whose lyrics about drugs, loneliness and depression connected emotionally with millions of music consumers, Juice had made Interscope millions of dollars in a very short period of time.
Think about it. Can you imagine a scenario where label execs held meetings and said let’s help this young man get out of the trap he’s in so he can stop singing about these dark, nihilistic topics that just fattened our bottom line?
Neither can I.
So it’s worth asking: Why is it that artists like Juice WRLD only become human to us after a tragic loss like this?
Addictions are nothing new among rock and hip-hop musicians. And, sadly, Juice WRLD isn’t the first and he certainly won’t be the last artist to succumb to this type of fate.
Still, one needs to look beyond simply his addiction to address the circumstances surrounding Juice’s demise. Had it not been for that ill-fated flight, he would still be here. Had it not been for the transportation of illegal contraband, the pilot wouldn’t have had to phone authorities, causing Juice to panic.
Had he not been enabled to do the very thing that would ultimately kill him by those in his circle, people who really cared might still be trying to think of ways to help Juice out of his addiction.
And had he felt that there was another way out – both in the beginning and particularly on the night of his final act, folks wouldn’t be thinking something more than his addiction was at play here.
All of this is assuming that what’s being reported about the pills he allegedly took is true.
Juice WRLD was supposed to be among that next generation of talented hip-hop artists that would carry us into the next decade and even beyond. Instead his is yet another young life snuffed out before it really got started.
May you finally have the peace that so eluded you here, Juice!
Rest well Jarad Higgins (December 2, 1998 – December 8, 2019).
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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