Juice WRLD, the Young Rapper, Confronts Death at a Brooklyn Cemetery – Smart Media Magazine

Juice WRLD, the Young Rapper, Confronts Death at a Brooklyn Cemetery


It’s not as scary as I thought it was going to be, as far as graveyards,” said Juice WRLD, the 20-year-old rapper from Chicago. He was visiting Green-Wood cemetery, the 478-acre burial ground in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn.

It was a bright and gusty April afternoon, but the spirits guided him correctly: The pastoral resting place of Boss Tweed, Bill the Butcher, Leonard Bernstein and Jean-Michel Basquiat is more a destination for picnickers than horror buffs.

“Damn near too much to take in, you almost gotta close your eyes,” Juice WRLD said cheerfully. “It’s so dead, it’s alive.”

He had arrived at Green-Wood with two friends and a record label publicist in a black 15-seat Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. He was in New York to promote his second album, “Death Race for Love,” which debuted atop the Billboard 200 chart and has remained among the Top 5 since March 8.

Juice WRLD was handed a pen and a scrap of yellow paper. He wrote intently for several minutes and slipped his note through the slot: ‘It’s too juicy for the music,” he said of his secret. “It has to go underground.”

One of his pals asked if he had signed it. “I did on purpose, after you told me not to,” he said. “They’re going to look at it, ‘Juice WRLD was here?’”

He already traffics in oversharing. His music is woozy, emotional goo, a disgorgement of heartbreak, boastfulness and drugged-out memento mori that reflects influences as disparate as rappers like Chief Keef and Drake, and early 2000s rock bands like Fall Out Boy and Escape the Fate.

In Gen Z fashion, he was first exposed to diverse sounds by the video game Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 and learned keyboard chords through YouTube tutorials.

The atmospherics at Green-Wood were an easy segue into discussing the morbid bent of his music.

“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.”

Next up was a frigid, manicotti-shaped structure: catacombs built in the 1850s for families who could not afford mausoleums of their own. Harry Weil, the director of public programming at Green-Wood, unlocked the imposing iron gates.

After 20 minutes in the catacombs, it was time to visit the grave of Basquiat, the Brooklyn-born artist who died in 1988. Everyone piled out of the Sprinter and walked in the direction of Basquiat’s nondescript headstone, a popular attraction that was festooned with flowers.

Juice WRLD stayed in the vehicle, ostensibly to charge his Juul vape pen. “I’m going to get out in 45 seconds,” he said.

He did not. A few minutes later, he said he was suffering from a stomachache. “I didn’t know he died from a heroin overdose,” he said of Basquiat. “His art makes so much more sense to me. I look at him like I look at ’Pac” — referring to Tupac Shakur — “I’m not the biggest ’Pac fan, but I admire their work greatly.”

Juice WRLD, who was born Jarad Higgins, raps frequently about drug use, and, considering his oscillations between chipper acuity and heavy-lidded mumbling, it does not appear to be a stage persona. “When I was getting high at a young age, I’d be scared to tell people,” he said. “That wasn’t normal.”

Did learning about Basquiat’s death trigger something uncomfortable in his sense of mortality? “Every now and then I have concerns,” he said, revealing that he planned on undergoing a detox in Los Angeles, where he lives. “But at the end of the day, I’ll be fine. I was put on this earth for a reason.”

Soon the Sprinter was winding its way toward the Green-Wood gates and back to Manhattan. Juice WRLD plugged his phone into the stereo and played an untitled track that he had just recorded in the hotel. “When I die, put me in a tomb / That’s what zombies do,” he sang out.



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