December 8, 2019 was a dark day for music fans across the globe as one of hip-hop’s brightest stars, Juice WRLD, passed away from a toxic combination of drugs in his system.
The 21-year-old had already cemented himself as one of music’s most attractive forces by this time, jumping headfirst into mainstream popularity with his unique blend of rap and pop. Reeling in his wide-ranging fanbase with tales of his own addiction, depression, anxiety, and heartbreak, Juice connected with his audience in a unique way. He had proven himself to be one of the most emotive — and all-around best — songwriters of his generation. Had he been given the chance to expand on his blueprint, the Chicago rapper may have surpassed even the most reputable rap and pop artists at the top of the music pyramid by the end of his career. G Herbo coined him the new Michael Jackson and, while it sounded lofty at the time, looking back, his assessment was not too far off-base. That much is clear on his first posthumous album, Legends Never Die.
Much like XXXTentacion, Juice WRLD drew a legion of supporters off his artistic vulnerability. He was unapologetically himself, criticizing his own behavior and always wearing his heart on his sleeve. As he evolved, he entered a relationship that grew to be fulfilling and he created music to reflect his current mindset, which would end up becoming a journal of his final thoughts. As such, Legends Never Die marks a shift, not necessarily in sound but in topic: Juice was moving away from the anguish of heartbreak and moving towards the pressures of fame.
LND was originally announced as The Outsiders. While that album may still arrive in the future — Juice’s girlfriend Ally Lotti already confirmed that multiple other posthumous records are in the works — his estate ultimately decided that Legends Never Die was a more suitable title for the body of work.
With several of the most-streamed songs ever in his bag — “Lucid Dreams” is the sixth most popular song of the last decade, according to streaming stats — fans of the late Chicagoan were enthusiastic in their response to the album Juice WRLD’s estate pieced together. In the week following the release of Legends Never Die, it was revealed that the album had racked up 508,000 equivalent album units, earning it honors as the top-selling album of the year, as well as one of the top five highest streaming debuts ever. Clearly, the world wanted to hear more from him. Did LND deliver though? In short, yes, it certainly did.
Expectations were mixed for this album. Without Juice at the helm, it was unclear the direction his estate would take. This first posthumous effort serves as somewhat of a love letter to his collaborators, including Halsey, Marshmello, Trippie Redd, and Polo G. However, it also digs deeper into the themes that Juice explored so vigilantly during his life, especially substance abuse and anxiety.
On the spoken-word opener, the artist explains his situation as it is, noting that he is in a happy relationship and successful in his career, yet he still has plenty of issues to fuel his art. “Music was his passion and recording gave him the outlet to share everything he was going through,” stated Carmella Wallace, Juice’s mother. While Goodbye and Good Riddance and Death Race for Love both focused heavily on heartbreak and the anxieties he felt in regards to that area of his life, Legends Never Die speaks more on his overall impact as an artist, as well as anxieties that arose because of his fame.
The twenty-one song tracklist can be divided into three parts, which are organized by interludes. The first section, which includes songs like “Titanic,” “Righteous,” and the standout “Conversations,” is arguably the best stretch of the project. Throughout the album, Juice’s hopelessness is mirrored in serene production, most notably on songs like “Wishing Well.”
One of the late artist’s most powerful additions to his catalog, “Wishing Well” features lyrics that could have been lifted from Juice’s diary. The honesty displayed here, especially in the second verse, speaks to how Juice used his art to heal. He vocalized his problems, sharing them with millions of souls, hoping that somebody would hear his personal struggle and feel better about their own. He also emphasized the fact that, despite being a multi-millionaire with platinum plaques lining his home, he was still depressed. Problems don’t disappear. They simply adapt to whatever situation you find yourself in. At times, it is difficult to hear the rapper speak about his views on substance abuse, seemingly aware of the damage he was inflicting upon himself. What began as recreational drug use ended up becoming a coping mechanism that would ultimately take Juice away from us far too soon. He knew that, rhyming, “Let’s be for real/If it wasn’t for the pills, I wouldn’t be here/But if I keep taking these pills, I won’t be here.” The lines following that passage are equally chilling. “I really think I need them/I stopped taking the drugs and now the drugs take me,” he sings.
Juice WRLD could write a hit song — or a hit album, for that matter — in his sleep. “The Man, The Myth, The Legend” interlude includes vocal excerpts from some of the industry’s most well-respected artists, including Young Thug, Travis Scott, J. Cole, Eminem, and more, about how resilient Juice was, cranking out hits like it was nobody’s business. This album continues that narrative for the late star and, although it reflects the unfortunate end to his story on this planet, his impact was out-of-this-world and will continue to touch souls for generations to come.
All in all, Legends Never Die is exactly what his fans anticipated and needed. He continues to touch people from beyond the grave albeit bittersweet, as Juice is not here to enjoy the album’s success.