Carmela Wallace – the mother of late emo-rap stalwart Juice WRLD (aka Jarad Higgins), who died from a seizure at age 21 – has opened up about Live Free 999, a foundation she started in Higgins’ honour.
Speaking to XXL yesterday (December 27), Wallace explained that the charity’s aim is “really to just normalise the conversation around mental health”, and “take the stigma away from” seeking help for mental illness. She noted that Live Free 999 contributes to various other organisations that follow the same goal, as well as those focussed on helping people through struggles with drug use.
“Then we have another part of us that provides opportunities,” Wallace continued, pointing to the charity’s merchandise as an avenue to give up-and-coming artists a chance to “showcase their talent”. Live Free 999 also operates a free and confidential, 24/7 crisis text line, “where if they need help, they have someone to talk to, where they are not being judged”.
“I think people just need to feel comfortable about talking about themselves not being OK,” Wallace said, “and that’s a good avenue. We have seen such great numbers in the African-American male community responding to that text crisis line and so, it’s a big deal.”
Wallace also makes it clear that the foundation is “still growing” and “would like to be more hands-on”. She envisions an expansion for Live Free 999, being involved in more events and progressing beyond its current work. As she told XXL: “In the future, I hope to see us sponsoring events and just getting more into the legwork, you know, not just making donations, but actually contributing in other ways we find best.”
As for the charity’s origin, Wallace spoke on her process of grieving after Higgins’ death. She noted that she “started receiving messages from people” that were impacted by Higgins’ music as Juice WRLD, who told her that “[his] music helped them with depression and anxiety”.
“I felt like it was a void,” Wallace said. “I felt like it was my obligation to continue that message – Jarad’s message of healing – ’cause he really touched on mental health in his music. He talked about mental health. So, I felt like as his mom, I needed to carry that forward.”
Earlier this month, HBO released a documentary covering Higgins’ rise as Juice WRLD, titled Into The Abyss. In addition to his trailblazing rap career, the film touched on Higgins’ struggles with mental illness, and how during his short time in the spotlight, he became “a therapist for millions of kids” and “a voice of that generation”.
Preceding the film’s release was Higgins’ second posthumous album (and fourth overall), ‘Fighting Demons’. In a four-star review of it, NME’s Kyann-Sian Williams praised it for being “much more sombre” than Juice WRLD’s previous efforts, calling it “evidence of a nuanced, complex artist whose legacy is stunning in its richness”.