This piece was first published in December 2019. It is being reshared today, December 8, in memory of Juice WRLD one year after his death.
One of life’s cruelest jokes is that the weight of your contributions is rarely felt until you leave them behind. But in the case of Jarad Anthony Higgins – better known as Juice WRLD – his actions were so impactful that they were heeded in real time.
Thrust into the spotlight after the world caught wind of soon to be multi-platinum selling single "Lucid Dreams," the Chicagoan prodigy skyrocketed to fame, releasing two Billboard-dominating albums in 2018’s Goodbye & Good Riddance and the sprawling Death Race For Love. But beyond plaques and accolades, he was imprinted on the hearts and minds of fans around the world before his tragic death on Sunday [December 8, 2019] from a seizure.
Predictably, mainstream media honed in on the idea that he prophesized his own exit in the tradition of Tupac Shakur or XXXTentacion. But when discussing an artist that inspired millions to outrun their own demons, it’s by no means a fitting summation of his legacy. Nor is it the moment to look at what Juice’s death – alongside that of Lil Peep and Mac Miller – represents as far as a hip-hop drug epidemic goes. Instead, it’s time to focus on the totality of what was lost.
A mother has lost a son. Artists such as Lil Yachty, G Herbo, Ski Mask and Nick Mira have lost a dear friend and collaborator, while the music world at large has bid farewell to one of its leading lights for the next decade.
Musically, one of Higgins’ most captivating attributes was his open-door policy on emotion. Operating in a genre where posturing has been culturally prescribed, Juice delved into cloying sadness, embittered longing, and, at times, hopelessness since his infancy, and by doing so provided a conduit for listeners to broach their own sorrows. It was a role encapsulated on 2019’s "Empty," as he crooned “I was put here to lead the lost souls / exhale depression as the wind blows.” This was but one of countless times in which Juice spoke about music’s restorative capabilities and what he was here to do.
When Genius’ Rob Markman asked him how it felt to be helping hip-hop by urging young fans to engage in their feelings, he said that “it’s a blessing and honestly, somebody’s gotta do it… You could miss your opportunity not expressing yourself.”
In the same vein, Juice’s cognizance of art’s wide reach left him unfazed by the court’s decision to give Sting – whose "Shape of My Heart" forms the basis of "Lucid Dreams" – 85% of the track’s royalties, tweeting “the song impacted to many ppl in a good way for me to be upset over it.”
Led by an abolitionist approach to genre that came from counting “Lil Wayne, Kanye and Escape the Fate” among his favorite artists, it seemed that Juice could have become Chicago’s next great iconoclast, and Higgins certainly harbored Ye-level ambition.
“I wanna be more than just a millionaire,” Juice told XXL in one of his final profiles. “I wanna change the world… I’m taking it one step at a time, tryna do it my own way.”
Capable of delivering beyond the melodic poignance that’s associated with the “emo-rap” tag, Juice’s propensity for delivering mesmeric, off-the-dome freestyles defined him as a post-generational talent that could’ve succeeded in any era. If older fans wanted to dismissively conflate his output with his contemporaries, Juice would tear up a slew of classic Eminem beats for over an hour at will, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that, among many other things, he could rap.
Fueled by an unrelenting work ethic that yielded “over a thousand songs,” Juice was unconstrained by any industry gatekeeping, and his aptitude for the game saw him rapidly embraced by top-tier artists. Compared to a “2006-2009 Lil Wayne” By Young Thug, his WRLD on Drugs project with Future legitimized Juice in the early stages before working with Travis Scott on “NO BYSTANDERS,” while joining the “Nicki WRLD” tour allowed him to bypass the ascendancy and head straight for superstardom.
But where others would rest on their laurels and watch the streams of “Robbery,” “Wasted,” “All Girls Are the Same,” and final single “Bandit” roll in, Juice continued to expand his catalogue and teased releasing a new project to mark his birthday on December 2nd. Speaking prior to Juice’s death, engineer Max Lord suggested that it contained both musical and personal growth as Juice took stock of his life through his most cathartic method:
“It’s everything that’s happened over the last year… catching up and dealing with a lot of responsibilities and how he’s able to wrestle with that in his own mind."
An idealist in an industry rooted in cynicism, Juice was known to conclude his shows with a rousing inspirational speech. As such, it’s only fitting to end on the immortal words that brought the curtain down on his last ever show in Melbourne, Australia:
“Y'all can do whatever the fuck you want to do in this life. Whether you want to be a rapper, an actor, a doctor or a lawyer, whatever the fuck you want to be, you can do that shit. So, go out there, put in the work and do that shit…. I fucking love y'all. Juice WRLD, until the world blows.”
Rest in Peace, Jarad Anthony Higgins- 12/2/98-12/12/8/19