Inside Pop Smoke and Juice WRLD’s Lasting Legacy on Hip Hop Even After Death

Pop Smoke and Juice WRLD received posthumous nominations at the 2021 Billboard Music Awards. We revisit their legacy ahead of the awards show.

By Kaitlin Reilly May 19, 2021 1:00 PMTags
Watch: Rapper Pop Smoke Shot to Death by Home Intruders

Though they aren't physically here, Pop Smoke and Juice WRLD's legacies continue to live on.

Take, for instance, the upcoming 2021 Billboard Music Awards, where the latest artists received multiple nods at this year's award show, including Top Artist.

After releasing his debut single "Mpr (Panic Part 3 Remix)" in 2018, Pop Smoke (born Bashar Barakah Jackson) officially skyrocketed to fame in 2019 with his breakout hit "Welcome to the Party." The Brooklyn native, whose stage name originated from a nickname given to him by his grandmother, was just 20 when he was shot and killed in a home invasion in the Hollywood Hills last February.

Despite still being a newcomer to the hip hop scene, Pop Smoke had already worked with some of music's heaviest hitters by the time of his death. He released a remix of "Welcome to the Party" with Nicki Minaj in 2019, and his track "Gatti," which he worked on with Travis Scott, peaked at no. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100. Other collaborators included DaBabyQuavo and Kid Cudi

50 Cent produced Pop Smoke's debut studio album, Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon, which was released posthumously in July of last year. 50 Cent told Billboard he refused to accept a salary for finishing the album of his young protégé, who sampled the rapper's song "Many Men" on the track "Got It on Me." 

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"When I met [Pop Smoke], I told him, it was time to do my records over," he said of the sample. "Those [first two albums of mine] are [from] '03 and '05. If there's something that struck a chord in you and it's dope, the new artist is supposed to use that or make their version of it."

Paras Griffin; Arik McArthur/Getty Images

Other songs off the album include "What You Know Bout Love," which peaked at no. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became a popular sound on TikTok. 

Of the popularity of Pop Smoke's music on TikTok, music executive Steven Victor, who worked closely with the artist on his posthumously released album, told Variety, "TikTok wasn't something he was overly familiar with or used a lot, it took a life of its own. There's couple songs fans and people like and decide to make TikToks to it, but he never deliberately made music for TikTok. That wasn't even a part of the conversation."

Victor also spoke about why he was so impressed with the young rapper.

"His determination; his passion; his ability to listen, internalize and digest things. His ability to make decisions—that's very important," he explained. "Having an objective outlook on the things, being able to listen. He was 18 or 19 when I met him. Mostly 18 or 19-year-olds think they know more than they do, but he was like a sponge—super-wise beyond his years and a very caring and thoughtful person."

He added, "He always wanted to be a global artist and be able to make different colored music of all the different things that had an impact on him. He really loved R&B, Afrobeat, the drill sound, New York hip hop. Putting all those things together and packaging it out, I'd think about the times we had together. Making sure that I put together something he'd be proud of."

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Unfortunately, his death is hardly the only to shake the hip hop community. Two months before his passing, Juice WRLD—born Jarad Anthony Higgins—died from an accidental drug overdose shortly after landing at Chicago's Midway Airport in December 2019. He was 21.. He was 21.

Still in high school when he began his career on Soundcloud in 2015, he reached massive popularity on Spotify three years later with his tracks "Lucid Dreams" and "All Girls Are the Same." Signing with Interscope Geffen A&M Records, the rapper—he coined his name from Tupac Shakur's character in the film Juice—received a $3 million signing bonus, according to Billboard. He went on to open for Nicki Minaj during her 2019 tour. That year, the rapper also went on to collaborate with other artists such as Suga and RM of BTS on the song "All Night," as well as Ellie Goulding on the track "Hate Me."

Following his death, fans noted an eerie similarity between his death and lyrics in his song "Legends." which was released in June 2018 off his EP Legends Never Die. "What's the 27 club? / We ain't making it past 21," Juice raps on the track. "I been going through paranoia / So I always gotta keep a gun / Damn, that's the world we live in now / Yeah, hold on, just hear me out."

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Following his sudden passing, Minaj paid tribute to her friend, putting out a call to action for those battling drug dependency. 

"And I want to tell everyone that ‘drugs isn't the problem' isn't the way we fix our problem," she said while accepting The Game Changer Award at the 2019 Billboard Women In Music Event. "So, it's so important that we don't pass judgment, so that people don't feel ashamed to speak up and ask for help. It's so important that we talk about mental health. It is. Because people are dying because they don't want to express how miserable they are and how much they're suffering, so they'd rather medicate themselves." 

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According to Billboard, a Juice WRLD documentary is currently in the works, with a planned release date for later this year. The doc, which may include yet-unreleased music from the artist, will forward Interscope's plan to "maintain his legacy." 

Lil Bibby, a close mentor of the rapper, added that due to the sheer volume of material Juice WRLD left unreleased prior to his death, a new album may be in the works as well. 

"We could've dropped an album the month after he passed," he explained. "But I wanted to make sure there was a meaning behind it."

Juice WRLD is nominated in seven categories at the Billboard Music Awards this year for Top Artist, Top Male Artist, Top Billboard 200 Artist, Top Rap Artist, Top Rap Male Artist, Top Billboard 200 Album and Top Rap Album. Pop Smoke, who scored 10 nods this year, is also nominated in the above categories, as well as Top Hot 100 Artist, Top Streaming Songs Artist and Top New Artist. 

The Billboard Music Awards will air live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on May 23 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on NBC.