The rapper and singer reached millions by filling a void in hip-hop: tackling depression, addiction and heartbreak in anthems trembling with trauma

Jarad Higgins’ career was a corrective. Growing up, the rapper and singer best known as Juice WRLD listened to hip-hop like everyone else in his hometown of Homewood, Illinois (albeit behind his religious mother’s back). Though the music thrilled him, as a depression-prone teenager, he couldn’t connect to the lyrics about luxury, fast cars and mansions. So when Higgins started recording demos on his iPhone while still in high school, his aim was to fill that void. His songs, he decided, would be impassioned blood-lettings full of frankness and vulnerability that listeners battling similar emotional storms might be able to find comfort in. “Everybody’s got pain,” he said when I interviewed him for the Guardian earlier this year. “Depression, addiction, heartbreak: these are human characteristics.”

Higgins released two albums, two mixtapes and multiple EPs that interrogated those characteristics before his death from a reported seizure in Chicago this weekend. In 2017, the breakout anthems All Girls Are the Same and the Sting-sampling Lucid Dreams propelled him to the pinnacle of emo-rap, a sub-genre he helped tailor into one of the decade’s defining new sounds. Born on SoundCloud, it infused hip-hop with 00s rock heartache: two genres that Higgins, who grew up idolising Kurt Cobain as much as Kanye West, knew intimately. He found the angst he couldn’t see in rap in bands such as Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco: Higgins was perfectly placed to join the likes of Philadelphia rapper Lil Uzi Vert in making emo-rap infamous.

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