Juice WRLD Legends Never Die album cover

Juice WRLD – Legends Never Die

Grade A Productions / Interscope
★★★☆☆

When Juice WRLD died of an accidental drug overdose on December 8, 2019 at Midway International Airport, just six days after his 21st birthday, it felt eerily foreshadowed.

The Chicago-born emo-rapper born Jarad Anthony Higgins had been predicting his own death for years. A pioneer of the emo-rap genre, he would regularly post melancholy raps on SoundCloud about struggles with drug addiction, mental illness and heartbreak. It was this intense vulnerability that propelled him to the top of his charts with his hit single “Lucid Dream,” a song about using drugs to cope after a breakup. 

 

On his later studio albums Goodbye and Good Riddance and Death Race for Love, Juice unapologetically referenced his suicidal thoughts and destructive drug habits, even going so far as to predict in his song “Legends” that he, just like his friends Lil Peep and XXXTentacion, may not live past 21.

His songs were dark and depressing, but that’s what made Juice WRLD so painfully relatable. Many of his fans viewed him less as a celebrity, and more as a friend who made them feel less alone in their hardships, some going so far to say he saved their lives. The more candid Juice WRLD got with his lyrics, the more people listened…or so it seemed. 

 

Juice WRLD

When Juice WRLD died, it came as a shock to everyone — his fans, his friends, his record label — despite a lead-up to his death that bled through the majority of his lyrics, prompting the question: Were his songs a call for help? And if so, why weren’t these calls answered before it was too late?

“[Anxiety’s] something I feel like a lot of people neglect, which is completely and utterly wrong,” Juice WRLD once said in a Billboard interview.  “And me speaking from an African-American man, I know that that stuff is neglected in our community. . . .That’s not how it should be, but that’s how it is. And that needs to change.” 

 

This mental health stigma is present not just in the African-American community, but the music industry as well, with record labels rarely taking accountability for their artists mental health, something the rapper Wale has criticized.

Since Juice WRLD’s death, his mother Caramela Wallace has teamed up with Grade A Productions and Interscope Records to launch the Live Free 999 Fund, an organization that helps youth struggling with mental illness and normalizes dialogue around mental illness. This feels like a step in the right direction. It’s unfortunate that Juice WRLD will never see its fruition.

 

Juice WRLD 2

Nonetheless, Juice WRLD’s legacy lives on through Legends Never Die. This posthumous project breaks down mental health stigmas, diving deep into Juice WRLD’s emotionally-tormented psyche and immortalizing him in his authentic state, while still pushing toward a newly-evolved sound. In this sense, the album honors Juice WRLD’s sound and legacy in the best way possible.

“I wanted to explain exactly what he was going through at the time with the music,” said Lil Bibby who spearheaded the creation of the album as CEO of Grade A Productions. “Somebody that was fighting addiction, anxiety, detachment. It’s a lot of stuff that he was going through and I just wanted to make sure that the music told the story.”

Creating a posthumous album is no easy feat, especially for an artist as complicated as Juice WRLD. Fortunately, the record label did him justice. There were a number of standout tracks like “Wishing Well” (which is arguably one of his most beautifully composed songs in his entire discography) that perfectly capture the paradoxes of Juice WRLD’s existence: the paradox of wanting to quit drugs, but feeling like quitting will kill you; the paradox of wanting help but not knowing how to ask, or feeling like even if you did ask, nothing would come of it; the paradox of trying to see the brighter side of things, but feeling that life will always be a mess. 

 

Mirroring the highs and lows of his life, bangers are often spliced between softer, more melancholy tracks. Yet even these more “hype” songs have dark themes. “Conversation” boasts a funky trap beat and quick-witted flow, but at its core, is still a song about numbing pain with oxycodone and designer clothes. 

In other moments, Juice WRLD fights the darkness, trying to stay positive with tracks like “Bad Energy,” a song that alternates between the paranoia of verses like “soul screaming and crying, feel my brain frying” and the more hopeful chorus “drain out bad energy / forget bad memories.” In many ways, “Bad Energy” is a song that memorializes Juice WRLD’s “999” philosophy — an inversion of the Devil’s numbers “666.” 

 

“999 represents taking whatever ill, whatever bad situation, whatever struggle you’re going through and turning it into something positive to push yourself forward,” Juice WRLD said in an interview with Tidal. Motivating people to keep pushing until they became the best person they could be was at the core of Juice WRLD’s mission, and it’s part of the reason so many of his fans looked up to him as a beacon of hope.

Unfortunately it’s often the people who speak the most positivity into the world that are in the most pain, who need most themselves. This was certainly the case with Juice WRLD, his emotional torment bleeding into every single track, especially on his final album.

Though songs on “Legends Never Die” give insight into Juice WRLD’s life, all of them follow nearly the same storyline. After a while, the album begins to feel a bit like deja vu. Throughout the album, Juice repeats his usual tropes — demons, drugs, designer clothes — again, and again. And while this repetitiveness doesn’t take away from the emotion each song elicits, by the middle of the album, you start craving something more dynamic. Any variety comes in the form of sonic risks, in moments where Juice WRLD builds upon his usual emo-rap sound in new and exciting ways.

 

Juice WRLD 3

In “Tell Me U Luv,” Juice WRLD collaborates with his close friend Trippie Redd. While he still touches on the same themes of drug addiction and relationship problems, his incorporation of a psychedelic trap-dance beat and groovy guitar adds dimension to his album. Trippie Redd’s smooth, R&B-esque chorus also adds a nice contrast to Juice WRLD’s tormented rap-lament, making for the album’s most eclectic track, outside of maybe the lively, EDM-infused “Come And Go.”

 

There are also a number of interludes that add dimension to the album. “Get Through It,” which clocks in at a mere 21 seconds, packs a punch, revealing how in moments of extreme sorrow, Juice WRLD would let his fans know how important they were to him. “If anybody’s going through anything / I hope and I pray that you get through it,” he speaks over an ambient instrumental. “And just know that you do have the strength to get through / Whatever the fuck you goin’ through / No matter what it is.”

From the introductory track “Anxiety” to the punk-rock finale “Man of the Year,” messages of support and empowerment echo throughout Legends Never Die, making it clear that the album is not only about preserving his own own legacy, but his fans’ legacies too.


 

Stream Juice WRLD’s Legends Never Die