All the Legends Seem to Die Out” – Juice WRLD

From Vincent van Gogh to Kurt Cobain, Heath Ledger to Robin Williams, legendary artists all too often tragically die prematurely. Perhaps the human psyche is designed in such a way that the purest and most original forms of creativity can only originate from the depths of minds that already unconsciously have one foot on the other side.

Within a period of two and a half years (November 2017 – February 2020), hip-hop lost five of its brightest up-and-coming stars, four of whom were 21 years old or younger. Although we’ll never get to witness how they and their music will evolve through the years, these young artists influenced the industry, the people around them and their fans in their short times in the spotlight.

Like supernovas, these legends shone quickly but brightly to bring the world their music.

Rest easy.

Just like a supernova only lasts a few months yet puts out about as much energy as the rest of the galaxy combined, these 5 legends burnt quickly but intensely.

Lil Peep

January 11, 1996 – November 15, 2017 — 21 Years Old

Lil Peep

Lil Peep is often credited for almost single-handedly bringing a new genre of music (emo rap) from Soundcloud to mainstream popularity in the mid-2010s. Often referred to as the “Next Kurt Cobain”, Peep’s melancholy lyrics display themes of depression, addiction and relationship difficulties.

Peep Always Was a Sensitive, Creative Guy

Born to a Swedish-American father, Lil Peep (Gustav Elijah Åhr) always felt like a bit of an outcast growing up in Long Island. He was a creative, sensitive kid and would participate in various different dance classes, while other boys his age would play sports such as lacrosse.

Feeling like he didn’t fit it in high school (multiplied by the fact that he already had numerous tattoos by this time), he started spending more and more time at home in his room, doing drugs and making music online, trying to find like-minded people on the internet. The days he did try to go to school, he’d feel so anxious that he’d vomit and leave.

From a young age, Lil Peep was said to be sensitive and creative; he battled with depression, substance abuse and social anxiety.

Feeling depressed and alone in Long Island, when Lil Peep was 17 he moved out to Los Angeles with his childhood friend, Brennan Savage (who also went on to become a rapper, with a dark style similar to Peep’s).

Brennan-Savage
Brennan Savage, Lil Peep’s childhood friend. When Peep was 17, he and Brennan moved to Los Angeles together to make music.

It was here in LA, that through music and the internet, Lil Peep was able to connect with other people similar to him. Eventually, there were a group of alike artists living together and making music together in Peep and Brennan’s house.

Lil Peep Selflessly Pushed Himself to the Limit

Lil Peep rose to fame rapidly over the course of a couple of years, which is when he began touring America and Europe. Still battling with drug addiction, depression and social anxiety, Lil Peep would need to take Xanax before shows and interviews to calm his nerves.

He kept pushing himself. Physically and mentally exhausted, Lil Peep would play show after show without a day off. For someone battling with mental illness, it’s important to take downtime to recover your energy. Even “good stress” can be deadly in excess. Lil Peep’s mother blames the record label for, “pushing him onto stage after stage in city after city, plying and propping him up”.

Lil Peep would play show after show for days on end; most shows he would need to take drugs before.

Lil Peep only had two days left on his tour. But on November 15, 2017, Lil Peep’s manager was unable to wake him up from his bed on his tour bus. He was pronounced dead due to an accidental overdose from a combination of Xanax and fentanyl. We’re going to talk more about fentanyl later, unfortunately.

Music, Is It a Cause or an Effect of Addiction and Depression?

Not surprisingly, Peep’s genre of music (as well as the genres of the other 4 rappers on this list) is often surrounded by an extremely self-destructive subculture that often witnesses young people tragically dying, either from overdoses or from other outcomes resulting from being apathetic towards self-preservation. Many argue that this type of music causes people to become this way and is partially to blame for certain tragedies.

Another theory is that music like this attracts people who are already going through a lot of difficulties, and actually allows people to feel less anguish and get through their challenges, to feel like they’re not alone. Following this theory, music like this would actually help to save people and prevent, or at least postpone, tragedies. A quote from Lil Peep echos this view:

My goal in music is to save people’s lives like how my life was saved. I was very suicidal and depressed and I was addicted to some drugs and a lot of different artists helped me get out of that with their direct lyrics. It’s amazing how specific some lyrics are. Sometimes you feel like an artist is talking directly to you. That’s what I try to do with my music. I try to think about different problems people are having.

RIP Peep.

A video made in tribute to Lil Peep and XXXTENTACION.

XXXTENTACION

January 23, 1998 – June 18, 2018 — 20 Years Old

XXXTENTACION

Extremely Troubled Youth

Like Lil Peep, XXXTENTACION (Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy) had a rough time growing up. However, unlike Lil Peep, XXXTENTACION’s short life was fraught with violence. Since the first time he attacked his mom’s aggressive boyfriend with a glass shard at the age of 6, X would be frequently involved in fights throughout middle school and early high school, before getting expelled in the 10th grade and kicked out of his home.

With his father serving a 9-year sentence for drug charges and his mother busy as a stripper, X lived in multiple households growing up including stepparents’ homes, a group home, his grandmother’s home, on the street and with friends.

X spent 9 months in a juvenile detention center for a gun charge, and then later, over half a year in jail and on house arrest for an array of heavy charges including robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, domestic violence, false imprisonment and witness tampering. There are hours of recordings of delirious, disturbing things that he said while in jail and even during interviews. XXXTENTACION is one of the only artists ever to have his music actually removed (temporarily) from Spotify due to issues in his personal life.

XXXTENTACION was an extremely controversial figure due to his legal and personal issues. I’m not talking about some Hollywood “Oh, he cheated on her!” controversial; I mean, X was facing some seriously heavy accusations.

A Style Like No Other

Similar to Lil Peep, XXXTENTACION rose to fame through Soundcloud. X had an ambitious style of music that fuses elements of genres in a way that was never heard before. His music often involves heavy distortion and incorporates elements of hip-hop, trap, emo, R&B and metal.

On his brief tracks (usually not too much longer than 2 minutes each), you’re just as likely to hear him screaming to distorted, massive trap beats in between bars of quick, aggressive, violent rapping as you are to hear him singing melodically among lucid-sounding, flowy beats. It’s great music for the gym imo.

X’s single “Look At Me!” propelled him into mainstream popularity while he was in prison.

Put an X playlist on and it’ll take you for a ride through a variety of different genres and emotions. You’ll be able to feel the instability and neuroticism in this troubled, stormy individual rapidly transitioning to dark, yet tranquil oceans of calm and vulnerability.

XXXTENTACION’s track “SAD!” peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart a week following his death.

XXXTENTACION’s Murder

On June 18, 2018, while in his car leaving a motorcycle dealership in Florida, an SUV pulled up and blocked X’s car’s path. Two men got out and shot XXXTENTACION multiple times before grabbing X’s Louis Vuitton bag containing $50,000 and fleeing.

XXXTENTACION’s last moments. He was in the driver’s seat of the electric BMW in the foreground.

The incident was stated to be a “wrong-place, wrong-time” robbery. However, many of X’s fans, including his mother, believe that X’s death was planned and intentional. There is a pretty wild theory that actually has some weight and lyrical evidence to support it, but I’m not going to get into that right here.

As full of controversy as his life was, it’s difficult to deny that X was an immensely talented artist with a unique sound who made quite an impact in a fleeting time.

I feel like this video does justice at capturing X’s troubled, alienated mind.
RIP X.

Mac Miller

January 19, 1992 – September 7, 2018 — 26 Years Old

Mac Miller

A Carefree, Talented Kid

Unlike Lil Peep and XXXTENTACION, Mac Miller (Malcolm James McCormick) had a happy youth, which is reflected in his early music. From a young age, Mac was heavily into hip-hop and would spend most of his free time with his friends recording music in his attic. He actually signed his first deal with a record label while still attending high school.

Gaining fame for regularly dropping dozens of different exceptionally-viral youtube music videos and mixtapes when he was a teenager, Mac’s music originally gave off a carefree, youthful, live-in-the-moment kind of vibe. Throughout his early videos, he can be seen laughing and joking with the same group of friends.

Things changed for Mac as he gained fame. Unfortunately, the industry didn’t take his first studio album too seriously, as many critics found it too lighthearted and immature, yet Mac still had an army of fans during this time. Mac seemed to take the criticism to heart and started shifting styles over the next couple of years.

Growing up Brings Wisdom and Respect, but at What Cost?

Slowly, he transitioned into becoming a darker, more solemn, more introspective guy. This transformation is reflected in his music, where he began to start referencing hard drugs more and more. In interviews, he would openly talk about his depression and drug addiction. His style became more diverse and distinctive; he sang frequently in his later albums, which were much more well-received by critics.

A far cry from his original tracks, Mac’s music gained a more serious tone and slowly began to reference hard drugs and depression frequently.

Mac battled with personal highs and lows; he was on-again, off-again sober. He and singer Ariana Grande dated for two years before breaking up as Ariana felt like she didn’t want to be “a babysitter” and that Mac “couldn’t keep his shit together.”

Mac Miller and Ariana Grande dated for 2 years.

Shortly after breaking up, Mac crashed his G-Wagon into a utility pole and was charged with a DUI. A few weeks after that, Ariana Grande became engaged to comedian and actor Pete Davidson (recently seen in the 2020 comedy-drama film The King of Staten Island). Despite all of this, people around Mac Miller claimed that Mac always remained a friendly, chill, sociable, compassionate dude throughout everything he was going through.

Too Many Accidental Overdoses, Too Many Lives Abruptly Cut Short

In a very similar situation to Lil Peep’s, on September 7, 2018, Mac’s personal assistant found Mac kneeling over and unresponsive in his room. An ambulance was called and Mac Miller was pronounced dead. Toxicology reports determined the cause of death to be an accidental overdose related to alcohol, cocaine and fentanyl.

The man who sold Mac the pill’s cut with fentanyl just pled guilty last month (November), and is expected to be sentenced to 20 years.

In the last decade, America has seen a dangerous rise in the popularity of fentanyl. It’s cheap, so it’s often cut with other drugs. Most of the time, drug users aren’t aware of this. It’s also extremely addictive, dangerous, potent (80-100x more than morphine) and fast-acting. You can find a long list of people (celebrities included) that have been killed in the last few years by consuming drugs that unknowingly contained fentanyl. The Covid -19 epidemic has only contributed to an increase in the fentanyl epidemic.

Personally, I think that because it’s only drug users who are dying, this problem isn’t given the attention it deserves.

The last decade has seen explosive growth in a dangerous trend of drug dealers lacing fentanyl with other types of drugs. As a result, the number of deaths caused by drug overdoses has rocketed.

Although he’s gone, Mac Miller sings to us in his 2020 posthumous album “Circles”, like an emotional, soft, bluesy farewell from the other side.

It’s like Mac’s singing to us from the grave in his 2020 posthumous album “Circles”.
RIP Mac.

Juice WRLD

December 2, 1998 – December 8, 2019 — 21 Years Old

Juice WRLD

Freestyles, Pills and Lucid Videos

Raised by a single mother, Juice WRLD (Jarad Anthony Higgins) ironically wasn’t allowed to listen to rap music growing up, so gravitated toward pop rock and punk rock such as Blink-182. Imo, a couple of Juice’s more melancholy tracks sound reminiscent of Blink’s emotive hit “I Miss You”.

Later on in high school, influenced by listening to rappers such as Gucci Mane and Future, Juice and his friends started a radio show at their high school where Juice could practice freestyling. He started making music on Soundcloud, and then later caught the attention of music video director Cole Bennett (founder of Lyrical Lemonade). Juice and Cole eventually went on to make numerous highly successful videos together.

Quite heavy into pills even before he became famous, Juice attributed a great deal of his talent music to the creativity he felt under the effects of Xanax and Percocet.

Juice WRLD’s deep, dreamy, shadowy flow and music video director Cole Bennett’s style complement each other immaculately.

Juice WRLD flexed his talent over the next few years, pumping out hits and collaborating with Lil Uzi Vert and Future. On two separate occasions he freestyled for an hour straight on live radio; that’s not easy yo. His entire second album (Death Race for Love) was allegedly entirely freestyled.

On December 8, 2019, Juice WRLD and his encourage were on a private flight to Chicago. However, the pilot called the authorities after noticing the passengers carrying guns and drugs onto the flight. Throughout the flight, Juice had been taking numerous substances. When the flight landed, as police were searching everyone’s luggage, Juice ingested a large number of Percocet pills to attempt to hide them. This action proved fatal.

It’s Like They Felt the Reaper Coming

As with the previous three artists on this list, Juice WRLDs lyrics reflect themes of depression, heartbreak and drug abuse. In their songs, Peep, X, Mac and Juice deep down all seemed to know and understand what was coming, like they could almost sense the inevitability.

One of Juice’s later videos; more real, and thus scarier, than any Hollywood horror film.

Juice’s songs especially contain lyrics that give disturbingly accurate descriptions of what happened to him the night he died.

A lesson that Lil Peep, Mac Miller and Juice WRLD have taught us is the undeniable proof of what the end of the road often is for even a few short years of heavy drug use. It’s important not to ignore the ultimate fact: that these great artists (and hundreds of thousands of other people) died young due to drug use. Peep, Mac and Juice would want their fans to understand and appreciate this.

Just over a year before he died, Juice wrote the song “Legends” to honor Lil Peep and XXXTENTACION. I think maybe a part of him knew he was talking about himself as well.

A haunting homage to Lil Peep and XXXTENTACION that Juice WRLD released in 2018.
We ain’t making it past 21.”
RIP Juice WRLD

Pop Smoke

July 20, 1999 – February 19, 2020 — 20 Years Old

Pop Smoke

Instantly a Star

Pop Smoke (Bashar Barakah Jackson) is known for his distinctive, attention-grabbing, ridiculously-gritty baritone voice that’s basically the equivalent of a massive, window-shaking drop in a trap song.

As a child, Pop Smoke would sing in a church choir with his mother, and play congas with his father. Involved in gang activity from an early age, in the eighth grade, Pop Smoke got caught bringing a gun to school and later spent two years on house arrest. During that time, he won a scholarship to play basketball at a prep school, but due to the discovery of a heart murmur, he quit playing ball and lost his scholarship. Going back to the street, Pop was able to make enough of a stack from selling drugs to buy a BMW 5 Series when he was 16.

Pop Smoke actually didn’t start recording music until late 2018, but was an instant natural. He wasn’t signed to his first record deal until April 2019, less than a year before his death. He rapidly gained fame first in Brooklyn, then in New York State, then across America, then throughout the world, playing sold-out shows in the UK. It was around this time that Pop Smoke befriended his idol, 50 Cent.

Pop Smoke (right) with his idol, 50 Cent (left).

Pop was coming up expeditiously; within a year his reputation had absolutely blown up. His first mixtape had a couple of insanely popular tracks, and it seemed like the sky was the limit for this young artist.

“Dior” showcases Pop’s one-of-a-kind thunderous, growly voice.

The 100% Real and Tangible Dangers of Social Media

On February 18, 2020, Pop Smoke posted on Instagram a photo showing off gift bags that he had bought that day; however, what he didn’t realize is that the photo showed the address of a house Pop was renting in the Hollywood Hills.

Four teenagers, two of which were underage, pulled up to Pop Smoke’s home that night around 4 AM. They had seen Pop’s Instagram post and were there to take his jewelry, although they were armed. Three of the teenagers crept around and rushed in through the backdoor and went upstairs. Pop was showering with his necklace on when the trespassers confronted him and demanded he surrender his chain. Pop Smoke resisted, a struggle ensued and a 15-year-old trespasser fatally shot Pop Smoke three times.

If it weren’t for social media then Pop Smoke would almost certainly be alive today. It would be wise to take this tragic story as a lesson.

Pop Smoke’s killers found his home when Pop unintentionally posted his address on Instagram.

Relatedly, the main reason how detectives were able to find Pop Smoke’s killers was from getting a warrant to see the suspects’ Google search history, as well as GPS locations based off of pings from cell towers. The detectives were able to see that one of the suspects searched Pop Smoke’s address on a real estate website (along with photos of the home’s interior) a couple hours before the shooting. Through triangulation, They also saw that the suspect’s phone was outside of Pop’s home when the shooting occurred.

In just over a year, Pop Smoke went from recording his first rap song, to being on the radar of some of modern hip-hop’s biggest names. It’s a shame the world will never find out what this extremely gifted artist would’ve accomplished.

Pop Smoke’s posthumous album “Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon” was produced by 50 Cent and features over a dozen famous rappers.
RIP Pop Smoke.

Gone, but Not Forgotten

Unfortunately, Hip-hop is a genre that sees a disproportionate amount of artists die prematurely. From November 15, 2017 to February 19, 2020, Death relentlessly claimed five tremendously talented rappers.

Although they’re gone in the physical, Lil Peep, XXXTENTACTION, Mac Miller, Juice WRLD and Pop Smoke will live forever through their music.

RIP legends.

Peace,

James

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