A number of artists have passed this year, and as the news spread through the media, so did their music. Streaming and album purchases spike after the death of an artist. After hearing the news, many people wonder who the artist was and what inspired them. Sometimes they look for clues to better understand their life and emotional state. This has occurred with three high-profile rap and R&B artists who have died in recent years: XXXtentacion, Mac Miller and Lil Peep.
The death of XXXtentacion was said to be a robbery gone wrong while he was motorcycle shopping in Florida when a group of men ran up to his car, shot, and robbed him. His song, “SAD!” spiked over 10 million streams in only twenty-four hours; shattering Spotify’s record for most streams in one day. Not only did it break records, but it climbed up the global top 50 on Spotify’s popular playlists. From news feed, to social media, within hours of the loss of X, the news was viral and shared amongst the world.
Experiencing the loss of an influential person forces the public to wonder who he was as a person, and to reevaluate what his music represents, and what significance we can find in his lyrics. In the case of XXXTentacion, fans and other artists in the industry strongly admired how he expressed his emotions fearlessly through music. Some were inspired express themselves a more openly as well. Others condemned him for homophobia and for physically abusing his ex when she was pregnant.
Rap culture is known to promote certain negative ideas, from misogyny to the glorification of violence to its promotion of drug use. Since many deaths in the music industry are related to overdoses, these deaths also lead to a reconsideration of how songs and videos portray drugs. Do these music videos promote the message that drug usage is “cool”? Or is it simply a fact of life for many artists who are dealing with a lot stress from different media platforms and pressure from fans and competition to release new tracks.
Mac Miller died in an accidental drug overdose. This could have happened for a variety of reasons, but many fans pointed to the fact that his ex, Ariana Grande had recently gotten engaged to comic Pete Davidson. Miller stated in an interview with HipHopDX that the engagement was strange (the two had not been dating long) but he was happy for her. Both Grande and Davidson have dealt with a lot of blame and backlash after the rapper’s death.
Another accidental drug overdose by rapper Lil Peep who passed away in 2017 at the age of only 21 years old. Like many artist’s his drug use was a constant feature in his lyrics and public persona. With these accidental overdoses, fans are unlikely to blame the rappers since they are being poisoned by drug dealers who lace their product with fentanyl without the users’ knowledge.
Despite the spike in streaming, popularity and seemingly sincere thoughts and concerns in the wake of these deaths, it seems unlikely that anything is going to change. Fans will still consider the deaths of musical artists as tragic but predictable outcomes of the lifestyles that we valorize with our entertainment choices.