The decade ends in 22 days. But units of time like years and decades are arbitrary by comparison with actual world-altering events. We’ll remember today, December 8th, as the day an era actually ended.
Not a week after turning 21, Jarad Higgins, better known by his stage name Juice WRLD, has died. He collapsed from a seizure Sunday at Chicago’s Midway Airport after returning from a trip to California. The cause of death isn’t yet known.
There should be a German word for feeling surprised and unsurprised at the same time. This is all familiar, and it shouldn’t be. Each year, it seems, another young SoundCloud rap superstar dies. Hip-hop’s woozy punk subgenre barely ignited before it began to burn out. In 2017, Lil Peep overdosed. In 2018, XXXTentacion was murdered. And now, Juice WRLD.
Juice, of course, displayed worrisome signs. His art, like that of his peers, always hovered at the macabre fringes. He rapped frequently about fear of violence and also about recreational use of prescription drugs. He was confident that he would “be fine” and that he was “put on this earth for a reason,” but America’s opioid epidemic has been ruthless and undiscriminating, taking the young as well as the old, the famous as well as the publicly anonymous (in addition to Peep, these past few years we’ve lost A$AP Yams, Prince, and Mac Miller).
On the other hand, Juice seemed like the SoundCloud artist best poised to persevere. He was deeply affected by the deaths of Peep and XXXTentacion—“They tell me I'ma be a legend / I don't want that title now / 'Cause all the legends seem to die out,” he sang on “Legends,” a gutting song he recorded quickly after the latter’s death. Afterwards, he hinted at changing his behavior accordingly. In an April trip to Greenwood Cemetery with the New York Times, Juice said that he planned on detoxing, admitting that “every now and then I have concerns.”
If one SoundCloud rapper was going to build a long-lasting crossover career that carried forth the torch of the dark, reckless subgenre, it seemed it would be Juice. His March album, Death Race For Love, was moody and emotionally raw, but it was also soft around the edges, a resounding pop success (it debuted at Number 1 on the Billboard 200). Around the same time, Juice was profiled by many of the highest profile magazines (including this one). He was emerging as the SoundCloud rap figurehead, a style icon, and a go-to pop collaborator (see: “Graduation” with Benny Blanco, Ellie Goulding’s “Hate Me,” A Boogie Wit da Hoodie’s “Demons and Angels”). Where the deaths of Biggie and Tupac in the ‘90s perversely catapulted Jay-Z and Nas, it seemed like the same would happen for Juice WRLD following the deaths of Lil Peep and XXXTentacion.
But history rarely repeats itself to a T. And Juice’s death, a tragedy on its own, also may have far-reaching implications on the broader musical landscape. The emo sounds (the wobbly crooning, the morbid melodies) and fashion (the bright hair, face tattoos, dark streetwear) of SoundCloud rap have been quickly dripping into pop music since the movement’s inception. That won’t stop with the death of Juice WRLD, just as it didn’t with the deaths of Peep or XXXTentacion, or the recent legal woes of Tekashi 6ix9ine. But it’s hard to imagine SoundCloud rap as we’ve known it continuing as a bonafide movement. The subgenre’s biggest stars are mostly gone. Its novelty has worn off. What’s left is a fragment. Juice’s death is a supernova event. Death has won the battle.
Or, at least it’s put a dagger into a movement’s momentum. But that movement’s impact—and Juice’s impact—that will last. Juice’s mission was to “lead people through whatever they’re going through.” He did that for millions of young people. And his music will do that even when he’s gone.