To celebrate the release of Juice WRLD’s new posthumously assembled album, Legends Never Die, we’re reposting the TIDAL tribute published immediately following his passing last year.
In his short time on this planet, Juice WRLD, born Jarad Anthony Higgins, experienced some dark days. But he was able to flip his pain into success, which birthed a mantra that he endorsed until his untimely death on December 8, 2019. He had just celebrated his 21st birthday six days earlier.
During a 2018 interview with Sway on MTV’s TRL, the rapper broke down the cryptic themes in his music and posts on social media. Sway asked him about the meaning behind the number “999,” which Juice WRLD had tattooed on his arm and consistently referenced in his music, social-media pages and merchandise.
The rapper explained that the number was an inversion of 666, also known as “the mark of the beast,” a biblical term indicating Satan. “999 represents taking whatever ill, whatever bad situation, whatever struggle you’re going through and turning it into something positive to push yourself forward,” Juice WRLD said.
It was apparent that the rapper, who was just 19 at the time of the interview, possessed depth beyond his years. Unfortunately, fans would never get to see that depth refine with age. After the news of the rapper’s death broke, fans and artists alike took to social media to pay their respects. Chance the Rapper said on Instagram: “Millions of people, not just in Chicago but around the world are hurting because of this and don’t know what to make of it. I’m sorry. Love you and God bless your soul. #legend.”
Drake also weighed in via Instagram. “I would like to see all the younger talent live longer and I hate waking up hearing another story filled with blessings was cut short,” he wrote. Juice WRLD follows XXXTentacion and Lil Peep, two other hugely influential Gen-Z rappers whose work explored the darkest corners of sadness and mental illness and whose lives were tragically curtailed.
Reared in Chicago, Juice WRLD dealt with depression and substance abuse in his adolescence. He told the New York Times in 2018 that he had used Xanax while in high school. He also tried lean, telling Vulture that same year that rapper Future had sparked his usage of the deadly concoction.
Throughout his hard times, he turned to music for solace; in June, he explained to Rolling Stone how he used it as his therapy. His tastes were eclectic — the hip-hop of Tyler, The Creator and Future alongside emo and metal bands like Panic! at the Disco and Bullet for My Valentine — which led him to craft his own hybrid sing-song take on rap music.
By his mid-teens he was using his cellphone to record music and posting his tracks on SoundCloud. At this time, he chose to use the name JuicetheKidd, which he would later change to Juice WRLD, according to CNN. Both names were inspired by Tupac’s character in the 1992 film Juice.
In 2017 he uploaded the song “Lucid Dreams,” an emo-rap lament for a love turned sour. The single, famous for its prominent reworked sample of Sting’s “Shape of My Heart,” became the rapper’s ticket to stardom. The song helped him earn a $3 million deal with Interscope in 2018, resulting in his debut, Goodbye & Good Riddance, released in May of that year. “Lucid Dreams,” included on the album, ended up at No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 the following October.
Though the song was successful, producer Nick Mira, who created the beat, revealed on Twitter that Sting owned 85 percent of the single’s royalties. Despite the controversy, Juice WRLD expressed on Twitter that the song’s impact tremendously outweighed its profitability. Sting had told Billboard that the song was a “beautiful interpretation that is faithful to the original song’s form.”
In addition to “Lucid Dreams,” other singles off his debut included “All Girls Are the Same,” “Lean wit Me” and “Wasted,” the lattermost featuring Lil Uzi Vert. He later got the chance to collaborate with Future, one of his biggest inspirations, on the joint mixtape Future & Juice WRLD Present… Wrld on Drugs. That project would spawn collaborations with Young Thug and Lil Wayne, among others. The rapper’s final project, Death Race for Love, which featured the singles “Robbery” and “Hear Me Calling,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
Though Juice WRLD’s promising career came to an abrupt end, his legacy and influence in hip-hop are indelible. He was a vital part of a generation of artists who stamped emo rap as a legit hip-hop subgenre. In that process, he proved to rap fans how it’s OK to express vulnerability.