Liz Foster ’22
“Sometimes it feels like I can’t die, ‘cause I was never alive,” raps Juice WRLD, nee Jarad Higgins, whose untimely passing ripped through the music industry exactly one year ago. His first posthumous album Legends Never Die, released in April of 2020,arrived over a year after his last full length LP Death Race for Love. Packed with features from previous collaborators like Halsey and Trippie Redd, the album features sixteen tracks–some of which had previously leaked to streaming platforms while Juice WRLD was still alive.
Legends Never Die is bookended with soulful, staticy pre-recorded messages from the late rapper. “Anxiety” shows his struggle with his mental health even while showing gratitude for his fame and fortune–a common theme throughout the album–while “Juice WRLD Speaks from Heaven” ends the album in a soulful message: “I love all y’all to death, 999, forever, the party never ends.” The number “999” became synonymous with the rapper, with him explaining it “represents taking whatever hell, whatever bad situation or whatever struggle you’re going through and turning it into something positive and using it to push yourself forward.”
Juice WRLD’s praises are sung on the interlude, “The Man, The Myth, The Legend,” featuring interviews from previous collaborators such as Eminem and Travis Scott where the artists praise the late rapper for his talents. Many highlighted his freestyles as particularly impressive, noting the multiple times that the rapper freestyled for an hour straight on the radio show Westwood. Rapper Lil Dicky praised Juice WRLD’s knack for rap, remarking how “[Juice WRLD] would go in the booth, go three minutes over the beat, and it be a hit, and then he said, ‘Okay, another one.’”
The most devastating aspect of Legends Never Die is the artist’s uncanny foreshadowing of his own untimely death, an accidental overdose just days after his birthday. As the rap industry sinks down a codeine filled and xanax laced hole, overdoses of young artists, often those in the peak of their career, have become all too normalized. This current culture is a dark cloud looming over rookie rappers whose personas seemingly rely on their drug abuse. Throughout his career, both while alive and posthumously, Juice WRLD hid no part of his struggle with addiction and mental illness. On Legends Never Die, his struggles are equal parts transparent and overwhelming. The album’s outro serves an eerie reminder that the rapper foresaw his untimely end, saying “I’m on Instagram live from heaven” in a goosebump inducing chuckle.
Legends Never Die showcases Juice at his apex, with fiery one-liners and a vicious flow above beats made by the producers that know him best such as renaissance man Benny Blanco and hip-hop staple Ronny J. “Fucked up, I did, fucked up, I am,” he sings on “Titanic,” as he muses on hopelessness. There’s a charm to some of these simple, seemingly self explanatory lyrics as his voice croaks. “Numb the pain with Oxy and Dior, pricey,” he sings on “Conversations,” continuing the theme of Juice WRLD’s replacing feelings with drugs and materialism. “Wishing Well,” returns to the rapper’s dependency. He relays his secrets to his listeners, crooning “I stopped taking the drugs and now the drugs take me.” The song appeared on streaming platforms as a leaked song, “Lauryn Hill,” prior to its official release on the Legends Never Die, its presence on the album is presumably an act of fan service.
“Man of the Year,” in particular shows the rapper’s intersection with early 2000s emo-rock, pop-punk, and 2010s trap-rap. Juice WRLD emerged in a wave of rappers like Lil Peep and XXXTentacion,both of whom passed away unexpectedly at ages 21 and 20 respectively, who implemented their own taste in emotional, guitar heavy production into their own music. The song features Juice singing about his success, but serves as a nod towards his fans as he sings, “I know my lyrics saved you/I know I helped your breakthrough.” The heart-racing “Come and Go,” produced by Marshmello, blends together grimey guitars with electronica influences. Juice WRLD sounds like a bonafide pop-punk star akin to a Warped tour band member more so than the Soundcloud rapper image his career has been shrouded in.
On “Life’s a Mess” with alt-pop star Halsey, he muses on loneliness and finally finding the love of his life. Juice WRLD’s girlfriend, Ally Lotti, was described by him as “Everything [he] can ever want and ever need..period.” His dedication to Lotti separated the Chicago rapper from the presumed promiscuous lifestyle of a rapper. The two previously joined forces when the rapper appeared on Halsey’s viral “Without Me.” Halsey also appears on “I Want It” as the subdued, haunting backing vocals laced beneath the track; the singer has inked “life’s a mess” and “999” on her hand in homage to her collaborator.
The untimely passing of young, emerging stars has seemingly become a trend within the rap industry. Soundcloud pioneers like Lil Peep and Juice WRLD were lost to addiction. Pop Smoke, XXXTentacion, and King Von were both shot and killed whilst their music finally reached mainstream audiences. Serving as an ode to the late rapper’s struggles, accomplishments, and blossoming talent, Legends Never Die has successfully immortalized Juice WRLD as a soul gone too soon.