He began posting songs online while in high school. But it was his debut EP, “9 9 9,” that caught the attention of labels after its release in 2017.
Juice WRLD, one of a crop of sweet-voiced singing rappers who emerged from the streaming platform SoundCloud in recent years, died on Sunday, the authorities said. He was 21.
The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office in Illinois confirmed the death in a statement.
Identifying the artist by his real name, it said Jarad A. Higgins, of Homewood, Ill., had been pronounced dead at 3:14 a.m. at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. The cause of death was not available and an autopsy was to be done, the office said.
The rapper’s sharp, catchy songs — which were often freestyled in only a few takes — combined the melodic hip-hop instincts of Lil Yachty, Post Malone and XXXTentacion with the heavy-hearted angst and nasal hooks of emo and pop-punk bands like Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco.
“I’ve always been different,” he told The New York Times last year. “I used to try to hide it a little bit, but now I have a platform for being different.”
Juice WRLD began posting songs online that he had recorded directly onto his cellphone while in high school in 2015. But it was his debut EP, “9 9 9,” that caught the attention of labels after its release in June 2017.
After “All Girls Are the Same,” his breakout breakup song — “All this jealousy and agony that I sit in/I’m a jealous boy, really feel like John Lennon” — took off on SoundCloud, he was signed to Interscope Records at age 19.
From there, his profile rose quickly with the success of “Lucid Dreams,” another belted, distressed lullaby, built around an interpolation of the pillowy guitar in Sting’s 1993 hit “Shape of My Heart.” (Sting, who owned the majority of the royalties for the Juice WRLD song, called it a “beautiful interpretation that is faithful to the original song’s form,” while also joking that it would put his grandchildren through college.)
“Lucid Dreams” went on to hit No. 2 on the Billboard singles chart, anointing Juice WRLD as one of the few SoundCloud rappers to break through to the pop mainstream.
His first album, “Goodbye & Good Riddance,” was released in 2018 and eventually certified platinum; its follow-up, “Death Race for Love,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in March. In between, he released “Wrld on Drugs,” a collaborative mixtape with the rapper Future, a stylistic forebear who seemed glad to pass the torch.
Juice WRLD frequently touched on themes of mental health, suffering and mortality in his music.
In June 2018, following the deaths of two of his musical contemporaries, XXXTentacion and Lil Peep, he released a two-track EP online titled “Too Soon,” including the song “Legends,” in which he sang, “They tell me I’ma be a legend/I don’t want that title now/‘Cause all the legends seem to die out.”
Fellow rappers and collaborators expressed their shock on social media. Chance the Rapper called Juice WRLD “a young legend” on Twitter. Ellie Goulding, who sang with Juice WRLD on the song “Hate Me,” wrote, “You had so much further to go, you were just getting started.”
Interscope Records said in a statement on Sunday: “Juice made a profound impact on the world in such a short period of time. He was a gentle soul whose creativity knew no bounds.”
Jarad A. Higgins was born in Chicago on Dec. 2, 1998. He was raised there largely by a single mother, coming to music through childhood piano lessons and from listening to local rappers like Kanye West and Chief Keef, along with rock acts like Senses Fail, Paramore and even Billy Idol. And while his unique combination of influences made for a decidedly nonregional sound, the rapper would eventually fall directly into Chicago’s rap music lineage, with management and career guidance from the local artist Lil Bibby and his brother G-Money.
Throughout his brief career, Juice WRLD would speak openly about his early struggles with substance abuse, including his exposure to prescription pills like Xanax and Percocet as a freshman in high school. Drug use, he said in an interview with No Jumper, “opens doors to feel emotions that you probably wouldn’t usually feel,” but he added, it “can destroy you — utterly destroy you.”
As his star rose, Juice WRLD said he was trying to take better care of himself. “I smoke weed, and every now and then I slip up and do something that’s poor judgment,” he told The Times. “I have a lot going for me, I recognize it’s a lot of big things, a lot of big looks. I want to be there, and you don’t have to overdose to not be there.”
In another interview with The Times, he addressed his penchant for morbidity disguised in sugary hooks. “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,” he said. “I cherish every mini-second of this life.”
Dec. 8, 2019Updated 4:48 p.m. ET