“Lonely, I’ve been getting no peace
OD, feel like overdosing” – Juice WRLD, “Empty”
Whether you like it or not Juice WRLD makes catchy music. It wouldn’t be hard to generate a shopping list worth of problems with the young man as an artist — the fact he’s a “rapper” who sings, his unapologetic promotion of lean (to the point he brags “I solve problems with styrofoam” on the track above), the fact there’s less depth to his lyrics than reading a phone book, and so on. None of that holds a candle to the fact he’s got a captivating AutoTuned presence that is easily imitable to legions of listeners, backed up by a cadre of producers who create booming backdrops to bolster his popularity. Although his biggest hit to date shamelessly jacked Sting you can’t say producer Nick Mira didn’t do so with hella swag. Whether or not Juice WRLD is style over substance doesn’t hold a candle to the fact it works ENORMOUSLY well on the radio and to millions of devoted listeners.
He also looks more dapper than Dan in a black suit and tie in his “Robbery” video if we’re all being honest. The visuals are worth the price of admission alone. Juice puts a whole forest on fire as he attends a wedding for an ex he’s clearly not over — crooning “she told me put my heart in a bag and nobody gets hurt” to let out all the pain he feels inside. At the end of the video though it’s said ex who goes up in a ball of flame, disappearing in a flash as though Thanos had just snapped his fingers. There’s no shortage of different ways to interpret these visuals. It could all be a “Lucid Dream”, it could be his ultimate revenge fantasy, or his ex might even have been a fire demon who simply vanished from this realm — his obsession with fire a reflection of his infatuation with her love. It’s as though he’s Jake and she’s the Flame Princess.
Let’s put all of that aside and talk about “Death Race for Love“, which is itself a contrarily cinematic title for an album. “Death Race” implies no survivors other than the winner, while a “Race for Love” would be a run toward hope and a rejection of the depression that seems to fuel his codeine binges. Jarad Higgins exists entirely within this competing yin and yang of joy and pain, and it’s only fair to give him credit for wearing his heart on his sleeve. While previous generations of artists strove to be as hard as f–k or as straight G as they could be, Juice is going on an inner journey to discover his “HeMotions” and get in touch with himself beyond his external image.
Hit-Boy provides yet another smooth track for Juice to get his T-Pain on and get “back on my bulls–t, double emoji”. It’s alright though Juice. Lead the way through song to let your peers get in touch with their emotions too. Other collaborators all similarly successful on “Death Race for Love.” Purps from 808 Mafia has another guaranteed chart topper on “Hear Me Calling,” a track which rides a light tropical breeze that taps, snaps and clicks its way into your subconscious. No I.D. works with G.Ry, Bryvn and Hit-Boy on “The Bees Knees” to pump out a bass line so hard I want to drop the top on my convertible and ride it out (too bad it’s awfully cold in March). And of course you’ve got Nick Mira back for a slew of tracks like “Flaws and Sins,” and if anybody understands the sound of Juice WRLD it’s him. This is also the song where Juice gives us his idea of romance in the modern era.
“Whoa attaboy! I been turned to a… man
Hot chills when my skin is on your… skin
Hope you know that if you ever try to… end
You gon’ catch a couple out the F and… N
That mean Cupid ain’t give you a head shot
So I ain’t got no choice but to leave you with a head shot
Look at the way I make that f—in bed rock
Where your ring finger at? I need wedlock”
Those aforementioned “Flaws and Sins” are not his own but those of his prospective mate, who he compliments by saying “your scars are really gorgeous”. I get the sense he’s talking about emotional scars as opposed to literal ones, but that’s also problematic since he’s causing emotional scars by threatening to shoot her if she “ends” their relationship. That’s not love Juice, that’s abuse. And thus we come full circle to the nature of Juice WRLD’s “Death Race” existing in an hour long cycle of warring mind states. Juice wants to love others but he can’t even love himself. Juice wants to get in touch with his feelings but then drowns them in a gallon of syrup. He once crooned that “you make my heart ache” but he seems to constantly be at war with the idea of experiencing that pain without a purple haze to filter it.
In the end “Death Race for Love” ends up being a chocolate coated oxycontin that looks and tastes like candy but leaves you straight f—ed up and addicted once you take it. Thankfully you can wean yourself off his drug by simply turning off the music and taking a break, while those in the throes of our nation’s opioid crisis have a much more difficult road. Even though I really do enjoy his “catchy tunes” at times, it’s hard to call them rap songs and even harder to ignore the subtext that drugs are both the cause of and solution to his problems. Irresponsible abuse of powerful narcotics or prescription medications solves nothing. It’s easy to pretend Juice WRLD is just a fiction character Jarad Higgins portrays for the sake of music, but too many of his peers have died over the years for me to safely assume it’s all just a gimmick.