Favorite Track: "Wishing Well" Least Favorite Track: "I Want It"
According to the CDC, more than 750,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose. Those 750,000 people have stories. Some of them needed a vice, some simply needed medication, some made mistakes, and some were pawns in the profitable game that big pharmaceutical companies play by distributing unnecessary amounts of pain-relief medication to overly-trusting and susceptible patients. Jarad Higgins, better known as Juice WRLD, is one of those stories. His tragic but predictable death has left a monumental wound on the hip hop community that won’t be healed for years to come. His posthumous album Legends Never Die is our first look into his mind from the other side.
The first leg of this album sounds as if it is in the business of translating a mood; much of it sounds noticeably intoxicating and dreary. It seems to be that this deliberate aesthetic choice aims to encapsulate the state that Juice WRLD was in before his passing. Minimal, soft, and subdued beats often take a backseat to Higgins main instrument on this project: his voice. The subject matter on Legends Never Die doesn’t stray too far from what he covered on his previous release, Death Race For Love, but it seems to lack some of the charm that his debut release, Goodbye & Good Riddance, so obviously and proudly wore on it’s sleeve. Themes of addiction, anxiety, and depression often become a topical troupe of this project. Much like Death Race For Love, this album feels rather bloated, which is the main criticism I levied against DRFL in my review of it last year. Maintaining cohesion and consistency across twenty two tracks is a nearly impossible task. In that way these projects are one in the same, but Legends Never Die maintains something inherently it’s own; it’s context.
The first leg of the album boasts lots of solo cuts that seem both confessional and hypnotic, providing a warm and drunk emo-trap soundscape that does a great job at making you feel like you’re the one entrenched in the deep grips of addiction. “Titanic” uses a sinking ship as a metaphor to describe the self-destructive lifestyle that Higgins endures from day to day. “Abandon all ships, it’s about to go down like titanic”, confesses Juice over paper thin hi-hats as the minimal beat takes a backseat to his codeine fueled poetry. This cut is just one of the many clever ways he re-invents this beaten subject matter all over Legends Never Die. “Bad Energy”, is another highlight for me early in the tracklist. I love Take a Day Trip’s sleek production on this one, their punchy drums combined with the song’s absolutely attention-grabbing and roaring hook make for one of the project’s best listens. The 808Mafia produced “Blood On My Jeans” is one of the first questionable moments for me on Legends Never Die. I really see the song’s attempted direction with it’s sweet and dreamy acoustic lead, but the lyrics here are painfully under-written, and feature what I think to be some of Juice’s weakest writing ever. I truly want to like this track more than I do. One brow-raising moment is when he recounts confusion between his dick and a gun, needless to say I could have gone without hearing it.
The vast majority of the twenty two tracks provided on Legends Never Die are harrowing tales of addiction and depression, but the few bangers that Juice pens here are almost equally convincing. “Hate The Other Side (with Marshmello, Polo G, and The Kid LAROI)” has stuck with me more than almost any other track here. Both guest verses are equally as hard-hitting, and the fact that Polo G and The Kid LAROI each maintained such close relationships to Juice provides the song with the fuel that makes it such a powerful posse cypher. Following this, Juice and Marshmello go full pop punk on “Come & Go”. The track pans out much better than I thought it would, and provides a pretty unexpected touch of EDM to this crop of tracks.
To me, no track on this posthumous release is nearly as tragic as “Wishing Well”. Over some beautiful keys that tell of an honest man looking ahead to better days, Juice WRLD confesses all his secrets in a deeply personal and especially haunting way. The conviction in his voice is tear jerking as he relays “If it wasn’t for the pills I wouldn't be here, but if I keep taking these pills I won't be here”. I think that line says everything that needs to be said. Juice WRLD, like millions of other Americans, had a problem. Drugs were an engraved element of the deeply impoverished Chicago community in which he grew up. As they did for so many others, they provided Higgins with alleviation to his anxiety that was worth more to him than any habit, despite the sad fact that the habit became what ultimately took his life.
If it wasn’t for his supremely short life I think Juice WRLD could have gone on to become a voice of this generation like few could have. I believe he would have gone on to write anthems of his time, tracks like “Lucid Dreams”, that would have gone on to live in infamy alongside trap anthems like “SICKO MODE” and “XO Tour Llif3”. He understood the youth of today on a level that many artists, let alone people, ever have. He shared their sorrows, their problems, and the flaws that plagued them. His legacy will live on as a reminder of the perpetual loneliness felt by this generation. Nonetheless, who he was and his genuine selflessness was never discrete and if he wanted one thing at all, I think it would have been for nobody to ever feel alone. 999 forever.