Juice WRLD Leaves Behind a Thorough Artistic Statement With ‘Legends Never Die’
Chicago’s Jarad Anthony Higgins, known famously as Juice WRLD, was a poster child of the most Gen Z phenomenon emo rap. His moniker comes from the quintessential hip-hop film, 1992’s “Juice,” and from his professed aim of “trying to take over the world.” Juice’s debut album, 2018’s “Goodbye & Good Riddance,” and his follow up, “Death Race For Love,” demanded attention for their unique marriage of moody musings and sugary hooks, and their collision of overtly urban and traditionally suburban aesthetics. Like emo-style rappers, XXXTentacion and Lil Peep, that stand out for their spark, Higgins lived fast and died young, leaving behind a considerable body of work. As soon as he had left us, posthumous vocals started to appear on tracks by the likes of Eminem, Chance the Rapper, and Lil Uzi Vert. Now, after several leaks and teasers, Juice’s full posthumous album arrives amid much fanfare. “Legends Never Die” is a fully-formed release that captures Juice in his complete creative range, showcases his singular style, and celebrating his legacy.
“Anxiety” is an apt name for an opening track, diving headlong into an issue that plagued Juice. But while the intro begins with Juice speaking on the titular subject, it promptly segues into an uplifting message, as he urges, “I wanna tell you that you can do anything you put your mind to, period.” On this note, the music starts, and Juice gets to his trademark tricks. “Conversations” is minimal melodic rap with a bleeping instrumental refrain and an easy hook. The repetitive simplicity can be a bit grating, but it’s indisputably catchy. As for the sentiment, it begins the album in devoted hip-hop excess, with a chorus of “I can have my cake and eat it too” “Titanic” takes a cue from the Kid Cudi playbook, with an infectious, slacker singalong. Juice elongates his vowels in typical emo rap fashion, sings with a dramatic relish, and loses himself in spacey warblings.
The amateurish quality of Juice’s comfortably off key singing is of course by design — or is it? It’s difficult to imagine such shabbiness being a product of cultivation. Juice has a talent for stringing together effortless hooks, but his singing can be insufferably poor. On “Bad Energy,” he makes an appalling demonstration of how low musical standards have incomprehensibly become. Both that track and the next, lead single “Righteous,” are about drugs and depression, topics that one would hope to at least inspire better lines than “My anxiety the size of a planet.” Everything from the timbre of Juice’s voice to the apathy of his melodic phrasings rings like a caricature of adolescent gloom, as do song titles like “Blood On My Jeans,” in which Juice sings with an impressive lack of enthusiasm about the likes of killing enemies at close range. His vocals get especially colorful and whimsical at moments, as he dons alien voices for random interjections.
Single “Tell Me U Luv Me” makes a considerable departure from the usual tempo, with Juice turning his mumbled melodies toward a Carribean rhythm. Guest feature Trippie Redd’s throwaway hook is a breath of fresh air, the most mellifluous bit of the album yet. Rather scary lyrics from Juice, like “If you leave, I’ll take your life away” give way to a helpless plea of “So tell me you love me,” revealing an emotional volatility made all the more fascinating by the spiritless, deadpan drawl in which it’s delivered. Such sentiments are hardly new for Juice. His 2018 track “Fine China” featured a similar line of “if she leaves, I’ma kill her.”
The Marshmello-produced “Hate the Other Side” features a verse from Chicago’s Polo G, who appears crisp and gritty alongside Juice’s la di das, as well as one from Australian rapper The Kid Laroi, who performs a more skilled and colorful version of Juice’s melodic rapping shtick. In this company, Juice’s free stumblings come are more palatable. The interlude “Get Through It” is a sweet moment, with Juice extending a prayer to anyone experiencing hardships. The soundbite is the same that appeared in the video for Juice’s first posthumous release, Eminem’s “Godzilla.” Further soft sentiments follow on single “Life’s a Mess,” which includes such pure thoughts as “I belong with the one put on this earth for me” scattered among the typical moping. Halsey joins Juice, but sings along only faintly in the chorus, as if representing the spectre of Juice’s romantic musings, before briefly taking the spotlight in the end, her voice a welcome moment of clarity.
Another single, “Come & Go,” stands out with an upbeat, almost post punk chorus that strikes suddenly, out of hazy meanderings, and breaks into a catchy melodic refrain, courtesy of Marshmello. The hook finds Juice clinging to a positive feeling, singing, “I don’t wanna ruin this one / This type of love don’t always come and go,” with a repetition that attempts to sustain the sentiment. Juice dons a particularly wispy, breathy voice over an instrumental befitting new age R&B on “I Want It,” as blissful female voices guide him along. Lines like “Baby girl, don’t run from me,” however, don’t ring so pleasantly in the context of earlier songs’ death threats. “Fighting Demons” returns to the usual subject matter, while lingering in the sonic space of airy soul, and taking up the inspirational spirit that began the album, as Juice entreats, “Take my hand / Don’t give up.”
“Wishing Well” places Juice over dream pop guitars and trap percussion. At one point, his singing conjures Blink-182 in an alternate hip-hop universe. When Juice despairs about his struggles with drugs, his shabby singing becomes purposefully expressive, and lines like “I stopped taking the drugs and now the drugs take me” ring with authenticity. Love wounds, Juice’s other favorite topic, take focus on “Screw Juice,” a generic Juice track with all his signature elements predictably lined up. There’s a rare moment that captures his emo hip-hop aesthetic at its freshest, in a line, “Cupid did a drive-by, shot me from the sunroof.” Juice goes on to search for serenity on “Up Up and Away,” singing the eponymous phrase with a particularly soft voice, as if ascending from the abysses of his sordid struggles.
“The Man, The Myth, The Legend” is an audio montage of interview clips, featuring snippets of Young Thug, J. Cole, Travis Scott, Eminem, and G Herbo describing Juice with such superlatives as “best freestyler alive” and “most talented songwriter in music.” Such effusive praise sets up for an inevitable let down, and when the music continues, on “Stay High,” many will struggle to connect the trite lyrics and primitive musicality with the preceding fanfare. The song is at least catchy, as Juice’s songs invariably are, reaffirming his consistent, natural melodic instinct. In the occasional instances when his hooks ring to snappy one-liners, the accolades begin to make sense, for instance on ““Can’t Die,” in which he sings, “Sometimes it feels like I can’t die / ‘Cause I never was alive.”
When out of the blue comes the upbeat rocker “Man of the Year,” Juice is ebullient and beaming in an anthemic chorus. While this level of positivity, combined with this calibre of singing, is hard not to take as farce, one has to at least feel happy for Juice, as his near hour of lamentations finally gives way to a celebratory chorus of “Let’s raise our hands, let’s sing and dance,” coupled with a presumptuous claim of “I know my lyrics saved you.” Surely, there are those for whom the statement holds true. After all, one need only remember the words of encouragement that began the album. In the final moment, they emerge a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Juice finally appears content and audibly at peace. On an outro taken from a livestream with DJ Scheme last year, Juice announces, “I’m on Instagram Live from Heaven.” He declares his love for his fans, and after everything, insists, “The Party Never Ends.”
“Legends Never Die” is available July 10 on Apple Music.