“He laid out his life for people to connect”: why Juice WRLD’s legacy lives on

With a second posthumous album and new documentary released this month, the late SoundCloud rapper's influence continues to reverberate

Two years on from the harrowing day on which Chicago’s emo-rap hero Juice WRLD sadly died from an overdose, the music world still feels the tremors of his absence. Jarad Higgins, who was just 21 years old when he passed, turned his legions of fans onto his ’00s emo influences while also dubbing himself the “codeine Cobain”. Touring to sold-out crowds and topping the charts with his second album ‘Death Race For Love’, Juice WRLD was taken from the planet as he was on the cusp of greatness. But that hasn’t stopped him from being one of today’s biggest stars.

He allegedly left over 200 songs in the vault after his passing, according to a tweet from his manager, Chicago drill star-turned-label Grade A label founder Lil Bibby. Juice’s first posthumous album, ‘Legends Never Die’, topped the US and UK album charts with his inimitable brand of rock-infused bounciness. Now a new documentary, Into The Abyss, detailing the life and aftermath of Juice WRLD, accompanies another posthumous album, ‘Fighting Demons’, which NME called “evidence of a nuanced, complex artist whose legacy is stunning in its richness”. Here’s why that legacy endures…

Even his posthumous releases go hard

Juice WRLD’s posthumous music has been of the same calibre as the music he released while alive. And there aren’t many artists you can say that about. He was able to rattle off endless feel-good rap hits with such ease and talent that transcends his lifespan. Just look at all the crazy collaborations to come out after his death. Juice WRLD was hitting it big before he passed, featuring on songs with Ellie Goulding, Future and more, but his posthumous features are even wilder: he finally got to feature on a song with his idol Eminem; ‘Godzilla’ tops both of the rapper’s Spotify popular track lists, with almost 800 million plays.

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Then there was the tune he made with his friend and tenured hitmaker Benny Blanco. Juice was alive when they made ‘Graduation’, but had passed by the time it was released this year. Speaking about Juice and 6 Dogs, another SoundCloud rapper who tragically passed too soon, and with whom the producer collaborated on posthumously released work, Benny told NME: “We’re making music, and then we went out to dinner. We talked about anxieties – I’ve been to their houses. It wasn’t transactional. So [their deaths] hit me hard. We had some great music, and I want it to be the way they would want to hear it and make it as good as I possibly can.”

His freestyling ability remains unmatched

Juice WRLD’s superior freestyling skills seemed effortless. On the spot, Juice showcased one of the hallmarks of true hip-hop by rapping stellar verses off the top of his dome. And this could go on forever; check out his Capital Xtra freestyle on Tim Westwood’s show. It’s over an hour of Juice rapping over Eminem beats – you could never get bored of it. Few could match this spontaneity, which has mesmerised rap fans and his peers. Long-time collaborator Taz Taylor of Internet Money summed it up when he told NME: “Literally, when he’s on a record, he doesn’t stop”.

Other great freestyles to remember Juice by: his appearance on Fire In The Booth, a British freestyle platform that is a staple in UK rap culture, and ‘Evil Twins’, a freestyle he created with his best friend, Ski Mask The Slump God, during an interview with YouTube channel Montreality, which fossilised their amazing friendship shortly before Juice died .

As does the emotional intelligence he displayed

With his amazingly captivating rap skills, Juice WRLD was able to inspire a generation of kids to tap into their emotions. Juice spoke openly about his pain and heartbreaks, which became signature themes in his music – at odds with rap’s typical braggadocio. It’s his ability to narrate the inner turmoil of many kids – who perhaps couldn’t speak up for themselves – that won the hearts of a generation. Punk newcomer Jxdn spoke to NME in February about his love for Juice WRLD, describing his attendance at one of Higgins’ shows as life-changing: “It’s his authenticity. Not only is he not scared to be authentic in his words and how he delivers it; he doesn’t want to do anything else… He laid out his life for people to connect to him.”

His style was super-diverse

As well as helping kids out with his emotional intelligence, Juice WRLD was on the frontier of this new punk-rap wave that we see today. In love with emo bands such as Panic At The Disco! Escape The Fate and My Chemical Romance, to name a few, Jarad Higgins seemed like the school outcast who was in love with punk and rap music. Naturally, as he’d grown up listening to this cocktail of genres, his music ended up being stunningly reflective. Want proof? Check out the posthumous DJ Scheme collaboration ‘Buck 50’, which came out this year, and most enduringly his Billboard-charting, SoundCloud-topping, Sting-sampling ‘Lucid Dreams’, with its lyrics “I don’t know how to feel / Swallowing all these pills”

He helped to coin genres such as ‘bedroom rap’ and ’emo-rap’, which are still thriving today

‘Lucid Dreams’ pioneered so much more than Juice WRLD could have probably imagined. Going multi-Platinum in 12 countries and reaching Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, he proved that the internet kids who have learned how to make studios in their bedrooms, out of sheer convenience, could become true chart contenders.

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‘Lucid Dreams’ was produced by Nick Mira, also of Internet Money fame, who created beats in his room to sell on kids on YouTube and other platforms. He sent beats over to Juice after meeting him through a mutual friend and producer, Sidepce, and the two developed Higgins’ signature down-in-the-dump breakup songs. Being emotive D.I.Y musicians, they both paved the way for more expressive kids and moodier sounds to become the norm in mainstream music. And thus emo-rap and bedroom rap have become popular sub-genres in the pop world.

Credit: Andy Ford for NME

Rebellion never gets old

Juice WRLD had such a IDGAF attitude to the world and establishment – unless it was about his craft, of course! He was such a free spirit, a quality that made his fans fall in love with the charismatic Chicagoan. For example, he always had a quirky sense of style that went against most conventions of rap fashion: check out our stellar collection of pictures from Juice’s March 2019 NME cover story, when he mixed preppy styles with basketball shirts. And he wasn’t afraid top speak his mind. Cancel culture? In that interview, he told NME that we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn others: “Our heads are so imperfect; we drown ourselves in this imperfection. We don’t know what imperfection is.” No wonder he referred to himself as an “old soul”.

He’s immortalised online

People don’t often stop to think about how exposed you can be as a musician with a social media account, or out here doing interviews. As as we’ve seen, Juice wasn’t afraid of putting himself out there. And that’s also partly why the legacy of Juice WRLD lives on. Go  back to our cover story, his interviews with influential podcast NoJumper and scroll through Instagram pages dedicated to his life and you’ll find a piece of Juice WRLD’s story to connect with. Blowing up on the career-changing, cultural taste-making platform Lyrical Lemonade, Juice WRLD always knew how to get his face in the coolest places. Thank goodness: he’s been immortalised forever.

He’s the Godfather of SoundCloud, which he revived

With songs such as ‘Lucid Dreams’, which was a SoundCloud sleeper hit in 2017, Juice reinforced SoundCloud’s notoriety for harbouring astonishing raw talent. The golden age of SoundCloud may have birthed Gen-Z icons such as Playboi Carti and Trippie Redd in the mid-10s, but many fans stopped checking on SoundCloud as interest in the platform dimmed. But with Juice WRLD’s fresh face topping the charts thanks to his debut album ‘Goodbyes & Good Riddance’ its aforementioned follow-up ‘Death Race For Love’, it seemed you couldn’t count Soundcloud out. Through Juice’s success we’ve seen other rising superstars such Lil Tecca, The Kid LAROI, iann dior and more show off their talents to a wider audience.

The coolest friends are keeping his name alive

Speaking of those SoundCloud kids: a lot of them still keep his name alive. Some, like Jxdn, watched and were influenced by him from afar, but there are also those rappers and fellow musicians who worked so closely with Juice WRLD that their stories about the once-in-a-generation talent will keep his memory alive. Australian star The Kid LAROI was once constantly compared to Juice, as he also makes emotional music and was signed to Grade A Productions. LAROI told NME last year: “I love Juice – shout out to my brother, RIP, one of the greatest of all time. He was obviously a close friend of mine and a mentor… He is one of the greatest of all time… He is one of the people who made me who I am today.”

Juice WRLD
Juice WRLD. Credit: Andy Ford / NME

He’s the Gen-Z Kid Cudi

Given that he mixed everything together, Juice WRLD’s musical delivery was almost crooner-like most the time, reminiscent of a young Kid Cudi. Let’s think about that for a moment. A revered rap star who flipped hip-hop production and rap delivery on its head to inspire a generation – we could be talking about Cudi or Juice here. And despite the fact that Cudi keeps us waiting between releases and Juice’s was tragically cut short, both have such have impactful discographies that aren’t diluted by rubbish throwaway efforts for clout or money. There’s a lesson in there for young, emerging artists.

In fact, rising Puerto Rico-born star iann dior told NME last November: “If I had to say what my role is, I would say I’m picking up where Juice WRLD left off.” Able to tap into the hearts of a generation by cathartically divulging his inner-most feelings, Juice tackled the usually unspeakable hidden demons that affect many out there. Defying the harmful myth that men shouldn’t be emotional, he knocked down barriers around mental health and, like any true great rapper, gave a voice to the voiceless. He truly proves that a legend can never die.

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