There’s a certain familiarity to Juice WRLD’s music, even though he’s no longer with us. It’s easy to force comparisons between other emo, sad-boy rappers, but when Jarad Higgins dropped tracks, they stood out further than anyone else. Elements of his native Chicago, the home of drill music, underpinned his music, despite him singing like the frontman of Wheatus. A sheen of pop enabled him to work within multiple genres and never boxing his sound into one. Unfortunately, this intrinsic element of his success is missing on the posthumous album, ‘Legends Never Die’.
Following a collaborative mixtape with Future (‘Wrld on Drugs’) and a string of hit singles, Juice WRLD went from a SoundCloud rapper to being the rapper others on SoundCloud tried to emulate. Upon release of his second album ‘Death Race for Love’, six months before his death, NME called it a “moment that solidifies his status as one of rap’s most exciting new stars”.
Juice WRLD’s first posthumous album, ‘Legends Never Die’, is a sprawling 21-track project that pays necessary homage to the talented rapper, but is too bloated and featured-packed to say much about him. With more than two thousand unreleased songs in the vault, his estate has satisfied fans’ demand for more from a voice gone too soon. This release ensures that Juice’s estate is well taken care of, but the album does little to serve his legacy justice. It sputters and starts like a stuttering engine; it’s painfully obvious that the creativity behind the work is missing.
READ MORE: Juice WRLD, 1998-2019 – the NME obituary
On ‘Conversations’, Higgins raps about dealing with demons and how he struggled to cope. Here he spits: “Sit back in my chair, relaxing and reclining / He has not a care in the world, no, I’m lying / Takin’ all these meds to the face got me flying / Takin’ all these meds to the face got me dying”.
‘Titanic’ has Higgins compare his life to the sinking ship while on ‘Bad Energy’, he obsesses over drugs to cope with the paranoia, stating: “Can’t explain this feeling / Kinda feels like I’m losing even though I’m winning”. With lead single ‘Righteous’, Higgins’ chaotic brain is on full display, creating an anthemic track for the fans he left devastated with his death. Over a warm piano, softly plucked strings and snappy hi-hats, Higgins’ laid-back voice looms large on the chorus: “I know that the truth is hard to digest, yeah / Five or six pills in my right hand, yeah / Taking medicine to fix all of the damage / My anxiety the size of a planet”.
Throughout the album, Juice WRLD paints both sides of drug dependency, using his own life and addiction as both a warning for others and a sign of hope. The first quarter of the album is a soothing ode to an immense talent gone too soon. But soon the record starts to sprawl and spiral. With a total of 23 producers – including Marshmello, Skrillex, Rex Kudo and frequent collaborator Nick Mira – it’s simply too packed. Add to that 40-plus writers and features from Polo G, The Kid LAROI, Trippie Redd and vocals from Halsey and it’s almost cartoonishly overloaded, like one of those tiny cars dozens of clowns keep piling out from.
Where other posthumous projects have succeeded – see the recent Pop Smoke album ‘Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon’ – in ensuring that these larger-than-life characters are accurately represented in their charisma and verve, ‘Legends Never Die’ falls flat. What mattered most to Juice WRLD and his fans was his voice and his message. Despite the contagious nature of most of the tracks, that message is muted or left jumbled within a meandering album. Juice WRLD’s music came to life most when he made it seem like you were the only two people in the room like he was speaking directly to you, the listener. That intimacy is sadly missing here.
There is a sense that this posthumous project didn’t heed the very words of the person they were trying to commemorate. Album opener ‘Anxiety’ quotes an interview in which Higgins summed up his message: “This materialistic money stuff don’t really mean nothin’ – like, you know my relationship is good, I got money, but there’s still other issues to talk about.” Too bad his estate wasn’t really listening.