Juice WRLD, Drugs, and the Deaths of Hip Hop’s Youth

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by Luke W Henderson

Like many, I was shocked to hear of the death of rising star Jarad Higgins, who went by the name Juice WRLD, this past week. His music, which blended the emotional appeal of emo alternative rock with the electronic beats typical of hip-hop, spoke to me deeply, and it was fresh to hear someone be open and honest about their emotional struggles once again in the rap game. Unfortunately, thanks to the United States’ stringent drug laws, this star fizzled out before he could truly shine.

The artist landed in a private hangar at Midway Airport to police presence. The cops had received a tip of illegal substances being on the aircraft. As they were searching the plane, Higgins began convulsing and went into cardiac arrest. Authorities gave the rapper Narcan after being told by his girlfriend that he had taken Percocet and “had a drug problem”, whereafter he briefly regained consciousness. He was taken to a hospital and later declared dead.

Higgins would often hint at his use of drugs to mask his depression with his most famous song “Lucid Dreams”, which speaks on heartbreak and trying to get out of depression. It contains a line, “I take prescriptions to make me feel a-ok, I know it’s all in my head.” He had also stated earlier this year on Twitter that he was going to swear off codeine because “addiction kills.”

His passing was a shame, as a year earlier he released the track “Legends” in tribute to XXXtenacion, who was murdered, and Lil Peep, who died of an overdose on fentanyl and Xanax. In “Legends”, Juice WRLD almost prophetically sings, “We ain’t making it past 21”, and, “They tell me I’ma be a legend. I don’t want that title now ’cause all the legends seem to die out.”

What makes the situation most damning was the news later released that people on the plane reported the rapper taking “several unknown pills” prior to the police search. Although not explicitly stated, one could assume that the pills were taken to avoid them being found on Higgins’ person. The death is even more tragic because of this, since those pills would not have been taken had the US’ drug laws not been so strict and disproportionally affect black citizens.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, 80% of the federal prisoners and 60% of state prisoners for drug offenses are either black or Latino, and prosecutors are twice as likely to enforce minimum sentencing for black citizens than white citizens. This information isn’t new to the black community, and likely influenced Higgins’ decision to swallow those pills upon seeing the police, knowing he could go to prison for decades at the most extreme.

It should not matter what any person decides to put in their body, and the fear of arrest makes drugs even more dangerous than if they were able to be sold commercially. Jay Stooksberry of the Institute of Economic Affairs explains how the homicide rate skyrocketed during the prohibition of alcohol between 1920 and 1933, and that the war on narcotics is similarly creating death. These deaths are of a multifaceted nature, concerning “turf wars between drug suppliers where civilians are also caught in the crossfire; no-knock police raids (sometimes occurring at the wrong house) where suspects are gunned down; drug addicts assaulting others to secure money for their addiction”. They can also be from overdoses from bad supplies, or as may have happened with Juice WRLD, avoiding prosecution.

The world lost another young man who could have made this bleak world a little brighter, and whose music impacted many. Until the biased War on Drugs ceases, many young musicians and everyday citizens will continue to lose their lives. RIP Juice WRLD, and thank you for your craft.

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Luke Henderson

Since joining the Libertarian Party in 2016, Luke Henderson has been active in the liberty movement through journalism and political activism. Luke is an educator, composer of fine art and electronic music, and also contributes to Think Liberty, Antiwar.com and the Libertarian Coalition.