When you’re a humor writer, what do you do when you can’t find anything funny to say?
That’s how I felt last Sunday morning—waking up, casually strolling through Twitter, and feeling like a school bus hit me when I saw the headlines about Juice WRLD’s death. It feels achingly familiar, something we’ve seen in hip-hop far too often these past few years.
Minutes after hearing about Juice’s death, I listened to his 2018 track “Legends.” Not because it’s a beautiful song—which it is—but because of how painfully prevalent the lyrics feel, on a damn near-supernatural level. Written as a tribute to the late Lil Peep and XXXTentacion, “Legends” is a song illustrating how exasperated we all feel.
I house “Legends” on a playlist that I named “David,” a collection of tunes that have helped me cope with the death of my close friend David, who, in July 2017, was reduced to a sinister statistic from the opioid crisis. Anyone who’s watched someone who they love die young knows this grief is like a slasher movie villain.
“Legends” is a touching tribute with no catharsis. It stands out among the other songs on the playlist because it doesn’t come to any grand, optimistic conclusions. It doesn't have the warm nostalgia of Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You” or an uplifting, inspirational vibe like Eminem’s “You’re Never Over.” “Legends” captures grief while it’s still fresh, in all of its rage and confusion. “Legends” is a song for when you have nothing left to say, but you still feel the need to say something.
Within seconds of pressing play, you can hear the pain in Juice’s voice. With his voice cracking, he hectically spills out his thoughts, sounding exhausted and frantic like he just listened to the news of X’s murder, which he did. Juice wrote and recorded “Legends” in under a day, and you can tell by how visceral and panicky it feels. Juice’s delivery sounds like a melodic version of my friend Erik’s voice when he called me to break the news of David’s death. He said something that stuck with me for the past two years: “I wish there were something we could have done.”
Like every rapper I love, Juice WRLD felt like a friend. Listening to his heavyhearted bitterness on the poppy heartbreak anthem “Robbery,” or the jaded “Ring Ring,” made me feel like I was listening to a drunken buddy vent his frustrations over a few Jack and Cokes. This closeness added an extra dimension of devastation when I heard of his passing. And after all the rappers that have left us in the past two years alone, I was met with a tired, hopeless feeling. “Oh, God. Him, too?”
“Legends” is the musical rendition of the “Him, too?” feeling. It completely mirrors the existential, Tyson-like knockout punch of “What the fuck kind of life is this?” when you spend sleepless nights wrestling with grief and trying to make sense of it. But there’s beauty in acknowledging you don’t have any of the answers, despite relentless attempts to find them.
Is David a “legend”? Well, he is for me. Not because he changed the world, but because of what he meant to me. He was a legend for his smartass, abrasive humor that made him difficult to bring around new people, yet also made him impossible to dislike. He was a legend because he would roast the fuck out you like a 22-year-old, stoned-out Don Rickles, yet was also the first friend to immediately reach out to you when you needed support. He’s a legend because I still have a photo album in my phone of screenshots of ridiculous shit he’d text me to make me laugh.
Whether it’s your goofy friend who left too soon or a rising star in hip-hop who made his fans feel less alone, a legend is a fucking legend.
The current gut-wrenching cycle of watching young rappers leave us prematurely has created a certain trauma-bond with hip-hop fans; a universal “Him, too?” feeling. Rap Twitter, over the past eight days, has been plastered with anguished fans praying for the kids, wondering what’s going on, and a general sense of despair and fatigue.
“What’s a 27 club? / We ain’t makin it past 21.”—Juice WRLD, “Legends”
Like many of his peers, Juice WRLD let us into the darkest corners of his mind. “Legends,” even before Juice’s death, is a song that hits you on a carnal level. We can all relate to his desperate “What the fuck is going on?” thesis in some way. It’s a song that articulates how I feel about David in ways I don’t have the musical talent to express. So I write this piece not out of heartbreak, but out of gratitude.
“Legends” reminds me there are some questions I will never have the answer to, and I’ll lose my mind if I waste time trying to find meaning in tragedy. “Legends” reminds me that, sometimes, all I can do is say my prayers and keep going.