The 27 Club is Getting Younger, But Can Anyone Stop It?

Written By: Airielle Lowe

“It’s lonely at the top. That’s the most cliché s**t in the f*****g world, but that’s so true.” - Juice Wrld

In an interview with The Breakfast Club released in April, the late rapper Juice Wrld opened up about mental health and confiding in friends while utilizing music as a form of both therapy and a way to connect with his fan base—showing people that they are not alone in their battles.

Eight months later he was pronounced dead, a few days after his 21st birthday. He died of a seizure, resulting from an accidental drug overdose. 

In previous albums like Goodbye & Good Riddance and Death Race for Love,  he opens up about abusing substances to cope with the pain of heartbreak and a steadily declining mental health—a central theme present in the music of many rappers.

The term “27 club” was one that grew in popularity following the death of Kurt Cobain, and was initially exclusive to rock artists who had all died just under the age of 27. But as more artists found themselves succumbing to death by overdose, the circle grew and the genre expanded beyond rock. 

Today, the age of these artists are only getting younger—from 27 to 23, 22, 21, 20, artists are dying at an alarmingly faster and younger rate.

Mac Miller and Lil Peep were two artists whose untimely deaths shook the entire rap community, both being artists who spoke about heavy drug usage in their music. 

And despite the growing number of artists speaking out about their personal battles with their mental health, society is still quick to point to the popularization of drugs in mainstream music as the root of the problem. 

Lean, Percocets, and weed have been some of the more infamously talked about drugs, used either to cope with existing mental issues or to remain “trendy.”

But even if the popularization of drugs is to blame, our conversation should not center around why these rappers are glamourizing these drugs. Rather, we should be asking ourselves what is causing today's artists to rely so heavily on drugs to maintain. 

Moreover, it’s important to keep in mind the fact that music is a form of therapy for not only the listener, but for the artist. Instead of asking “why drugs,” ask why these young artists feel a need for these drugs.

“I want to tell my story, but I don’t want you to live my story.” said rapper 21 Savage in an interview with The Breakfast Club.

And while awareness around the subject of mental health has continued to rise, so has the music industry’s body count of young talent. 

But rappers speaking candidly about their battles with drug addiction, depression, and suicidal thoughts isn’t a new trend. 

Hip Hop legends such as Tupac, Biggie, and Kanye West have also gone on the record to discuss failed suicide attempts and battles within themselves—most of which have occurred either due to situations with their environment, the death of loved ones or their rise to fame. 

But when artists open up about their personal battles, are we even listening? 

And while the deleterious effects of poor mental health plague artists across all genres of music, hip hop culture especially has adopted and perpetuated the idea that artists, specifical men, must forgo doing anything that detracts from the hyper-masculine mold consumers have come to expect.

In the previously mentioned interview with 21 Savage, the rapper opened up about….well, how he doesn’t open up. After being asked about how he deals with the trauma of witnessing the death of his closest friends, he stated that he “boxes everyone out,” isolating himself and suppressing the emotions until the pain is gone. 

“Yeah I went to ain’t do shit,” said 21 Savage.

And when the subject of substance abuse, quite often a result of emotional suppression, is brought up in an artist's lyrical content, society simply shrugs. After all, drug abuse is to be expected, right? 

Sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll are the name of the game, and the downward spiral that accompanies the industry’s most prevalent vices simply comes with the territory of being a successful musician. 

So in the minds of these artists, when there’s no one to turn to and God isn’t answering your calls, the weed helps you relax, the lean takes you to a happier place, and the music releases all of that pent up anger, sadness, and trauma. 

But the cycle continues and nothing ever changes…not even when it takes your life.

With the death of each artist, the conversation is being brought to the table much more, but gauging its productivity is difficult. There's only so much the fans can do: you can reach out to your favorite artist through dm and check on them, you can give them space and be understanding if they aren’t quick to release a project, and you can learn to not be so quick to bash them on social media. 

Ultimately, the availability of resources to these artists is their strongest tool. 

But it isn't until we create an environment that promotes having open discussions about mental health that we can expect to see any real change.