Juice Wrld Is on a Mission to Change the World, One Step at a Time
Juice Wrld bid goodbye and good riddance to love then went on a death race to find it. Now, armed with platinum plaques, a $3 million-dollar deal and his girl by his side, he’s on a mission to change the world.
Words: Georgette Cline
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
Juice Wrld is armed, but he’s not dangerous on this blazing hot August afternoon in Bellflower, Calif.—unless pelting friends with hundreds of paintballs at extreme speeds counts. Suited up in a purple camouflage hoodie decorated with smiley faces and iris blue swishy pants, the 20-year-old rapper is strapped with a paintball gun. Despite the 80-degree heat, Juice and his friends are ready to take full advantage of Hollywood Sports Paintball & Airsoft Park. This is the first time in almost four years that the Chicago native has had the chance to partake in one of his favorite pastimes. Just before getting into the day’s activities, the freestyle dynamo flexes his rap skills by offering a quick impromptu verse for the video cameras tracking his every move.
“She gon’ miss me when I’m gon’ on that Drake shit/These niggas really good at one thing and that’s hatred/I don’t got no time for this shit, these niggas basic/And, bitch, I’m strapped up like I’m goin’ to basic training/Presidential brain from your bitch like Sarah Palin/I pull up on the scene and blast, my choppa sprayin’,” Juice raps, using his tactical gear and imminent paintball battlegrounds as inspo. He could easily keep freestyling for hours, but there's business to handle in the trenches.
On this particular day, Juice brings with him a motley crew, including his cousin Sean, longtime friends Chris, Ty and Joe—all from Chi-Town—rapper The Kid Laroi, photographer Chris Long, engineer Ben Lidsky, Kelvin “Brother Nature” Peña and FaZe Adapt, a.k.a. Alex, a FaZe Clan YouTube gamer. After the rhymer spends $379 on gloves and paintballs for the team, he eats a few churros and guzzles some Glacier Freeze Gatorade before pulling his mask down to hit the Forbidden City, Mad Max, Apocalypse and Lunar Wars paintball fields with his entourage in tow.
For roughly three hours, Juice and the squad divide into two teams and go crazy in the sweltering weather, shooting yellow paintballs with reckless abandon. Juice and Chris, his boy from Chicago, even put their acting skills to the test as they pretend they’re literally at war while resting for a few minutes in the shade to drink some much-needed water. Later on, after taking photos and signing autographs on cell phone cases and hoodies for a handful of kids who recognized him, Juice reviews his own paintball performance while seated in a private room at the park. “I only got shot like once, so I guess I ain’t really lose,” he asserts.
Losing has no place in Juice’s world. Since the artist, born Jarad Higgins, left his Calumet Park, Ill. stomping grounds (a suburb on Chicago’s South Side) in 2018, he’s been winning. By now, Juice’s story is quite familiar. The MC’s conservative-leaning mother wasn’t too fond of his love for hip-hop—from the drug-fueled rhymes of Future to Lil Wayne’s explicit bars—but Juice was able to flex his own lyrical skills by freestyling both in class and on a high school radio show. His predilection for rock bands is no secret, but he’s a rapper’s rapper at heart.
An avid piano player, Juice uploaded his songs to SoundCloud in hopes of garnering a fan base and worked at a factory that made car parts to make ends meet. Then, two years ago, thanks to “Lucid Dreams,” his biggest hit to date, he was plucked from obscurity at 18 and signed to Lil Bibby and G Money’s Grade A Productions. “That’s one of the best choices I probably ever made,” he says. In 2018, a $3 million deal with Interscope Records followed and he eventually crossed over to mainstream success. Now, he’s arguably the premier voice of his generation: a rapping, rock-inspired raconteur painting lyrical pictures for tortured souls navigating their own journey to solace.
Currently, “Lucid Dreams” is five-times platinum plus Juice has a double-platinum track with “All Girls Are the Same,” in addition to seven other platinum and eight gold songs to his name. As of mid-August, Death Race for Love, the gold-certified sophomore LP he released in March, has since spent 24 consecutive weeks on the Billboard 200 chart after hitting No. 1 upon its initial release. His platinum-certified, debut studio album, Goodbye & Good Riddance, has never left the Billboard 200 since it peaked at No. 4 on the chart in May of 2018, when it was released, bringing the total to 66 weeks and counting. He’s also among an elite group of artists who have the most Billboard Hot 100 entries of 2019 so far, coming in at the fifth spot with 13 songs on the chart [Editors' note: The Billboard chart placements and RIAA certifications listed here are based off information released in August of 2019].
All those victories aside, Juice establishes he’s a millionaire at this point. Besides his $3 million record deal with Interscope, album sales, streaming revenue and merch sales, Juice inked a global publishing administration agreement with BMG and signed to talent agency WME last year, toured alongside Nicki Minaj and headlined his own Death Race for Love Tour stateside and overseas earlier this year. But just because Juice has secured plenty of bags doesn’t mean his palate or inner circle has switched up. He’s still got love for run-of-the-mill fare like chicken fingers and keeps his day ones from Chicago by his side. It’s not unusual to see Juice’s cousin Sean and closest homies Chris, Ty and Joe rolling with him often.
“It’s been crazy to see him get to this point,” Sean conveys of Juice’s newfound success. “When he was just starting, like, making songs for the first time, singing them to me, you know, they were always really good. So, I always encouraged him to keep going.” Ty, who’s known Juice since they were freshmen in high school, has witnessed Juice’s rise from a school student spitting freestyles in class to rocking sold-out shows in foreign lands. “If he’s not freestyling, then I don’t know what he doing, sleeping,” Ty remarks. “So, I know he puts his work ethic into the music. I mean, it always been like that, but now, it’s just like, his words and how he do stuff is just way up there.”
Going up is the next natural progression for Juice Wrld. As he continues breaking the stereotypical rapper mold based off his sound alone, sits among the upper echelon of artists with Billboard hits this year and feels satiated by the love of his girlfriend, Ally, Juice is priming his third studio album for release on Dec. 2, his 21st birthday. The new LP, for which he’s still mulling a title, will be the second album he’ll drop this year. If this effort also goes No. 1 like Death Race for Love, the feat would place Juice in a distinguished league of artists that also dropped two No. 1-selling albums within a calendar year—Justin Timberlake and Future, who Juice considers a G.O.A.T., among them. This present career trajectory proves Juice is headed for superstardom fast, fast, fast, fast.
Rapper. Singer. Pop star. Rock star. There are many descriptors to label Juice Wrld when it comes to his music, but he doesn’t necessarily agree with them all. According to him, he’s a rapper “sometimes, not all the time,” considers himself a singer first, “not yet” a pop star and “most definitely” a rock star. The songs he’s crafting for his forthcoming third album will certainly showcase the genre-bending, alt-rock sounds and candid, angst-ridden lyrics with which he’s become synonymous. While rappers Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane and Young Thug, among others, and bands Escape the Fate, The Devil Wears Prada and Green Day have helped shape his sound, this new project will find Juice coming into his own.
While prepping the new release, Juice records 10 songs per night at times. Other days, he sticks with perfecting one track. “It’s really just something that I’m feeling my way through,” the lauded artist expresses of the album’s direction. “It’s always good to put thought into shit, but something’s gonna come more from like, a feeling and heart and the soul, less like the mind.” His supporters know he doesn’t feature many artists on his projects, but he does plan on including one of several songs he’s recorded with Young Thug on the new album. Nick Mira, who crafted beats for Juice’s previous hits “Lucid Dreams,” “Lean Wit Me” and “Robbery,” to name a few, and Metro Boomin will create some of the production for the impending opus.
“[Metro Boomin] was at the front end helping create the waves and shit, so, I can’t do nothing but respect him and respect his talent and respect his hustle and work ethic,” Juice affirms. “If you a real muthafucka, you gonna always gravitate to genuine energy and activity. He one of the greats. He a legend, for real.”
He also plans to put out another project prior to the album. Juice’s collaboration project with Young Thug is still in the works, as is his joint effort with Ski Mask The Slump God. However, Juice doesn’t confirm if either of those will precede his third album. Thugger, who featured Juice on his latest album, So Much Fun, on the track “Mannequin Challenge,” recently compared Juice to the “2006 to 2009 Lil Wayne” in a No Jumper interview from July.
“Coming from somebody like him, and what Young Thug means to me as far as an artist, he’s really one of the people that set trends,” Juice continues. “Not a follower but like, a leader. So, with that coming from him and he know about Wayne for real—he says Wayne was his favorite artist—so for him to say that, somebody that I value as a friend, as a brother, it means a lot.” Wayne, along with the band Senses Fail, are on Juice’s bucket list of artists to collaborate with. Getting both on the upcoming LP would be a dream come true.
Snippets of newer songs Juice has recorded have made their way onto the internet after he shared teasers in Instagram posts and IG Live sessions, which fans then uploaded to YouTube. Juice says it’s possible some of those songs will make the album’s final tracklist, though they don’t have confirmed titles yet. “Man of the Year,” a title fans gave to a snippet on YouTube, is a song Juice recorded in London with producer Rex Kudo and a band in July. “Man of the year, still got problems/Lookin’ in the mirror, you look awful/Talkin’ to myself, do it too often/J-K, Juice Wrld, you’re so awesome,” he sings over a beat replete with an electrifying guitar and punk drums. This is rock star material right here.
Max Lord, Juice Wrld’s engineer and a member of production outfit 808 Mafia, is working closely with the rapper on the approaching as-yet-untitled album. While they hopped around to different studios for the Death Race for Love LP, this time, they’re squared away at home without outside influences. “We’re focusing a lot more on [Juice Wrld’s] evolution in terms of where like the first album was more dealing with the bad relationship and with heartbreak and with the torment that brought,” explains Max, who also lives with Juice so they can record at a moment’s notice. “The second album was really going through finding love again with his girlfriend, Ally, and kind of finding some solace in gaining success and how to handle it. And now, a lot more kind of dealing with the anxieties and the current state of mind that he’s in now where, you know, 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.”
One thing Juice Wrld won’t have to wrestle with is whether or not he’ll be on an XXL magazine cover. XXL Freshman Class fans expected him to originally be on the 2019 XXL Freshman cover released in June. Juice, who mentions he loves the XXL freestyles (“I fuck with that better than that BET shit.”) felt conflicted when he was presented with the opportunity to be on this year’s Freshman cover. “It was kind of like, yeah and no,” the rapper reveals. “Just due to certain things, it was a yeah and no situation. I love XXL, though. I watched the freestyles; I remember when Future was on XXL. When Lil B and Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$ and Action Bronson [were on the cover]. So, I fuck with XXL heavy. It was just one of them situations. It just felt like the best choice for me, you know what I’m saying, it was just to hold out.” The universe’s timing ultimately worked in his favor.
Rare moments like spending the day paintballing with friends are an escape from reality for Juice Wrld, whose father died from a heart attack in June. “It wasn’t no typical father-son relationship,” admits Juice, whose mother is alive and well in Chicago. “He wasn’t there all the time. I mean, shit just happens, I guess. It’s unfortunate, you know, rest in peace to him. I wish things could’ve been different. I actually planned to fix things though, and I feel like that’s what fucked me up the most. If you think about something, you gotta do it because you never know when somebody’s time gon’ come.” If he could sit down and have a conversation with anyone in the world, dead or alive, Juice chooses his late father (“We could just have a chance to talk”) and the late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain (“I always wanted to pick his brain”).
Music and his “soulmate” Ally—with whom he lives in a Los Angeles mansion he admittedly doesn’t know how much he paid for—are what he turns to when life-altering moments like a family member’s death happens. He also tries to pray to God every day, though he considers himself more of a spiritual person rather than religious. And instead of using codeine to numb the pain, as he has in the past, Juice kicked the cup in July. It’s no secret he’s been sipping lean since he was a sixth-grader listening to Future. His lyrics are also evident of that habit. After tweeting he would “leave that shit alone 4 good” in July, Juice followed that up with another tweet to his girl. “Bae I’m sorry I be tweaking, you’ve put up with more than ppl know I know I be scaring you, fuck Codeine I’m done. I love you and I’m letting it be known publicly that ain’t shit fucking up the real love I found. Learn from this everyone. Addiction kills all but you can overcome,” he wrote.
“It just wasn’t healthy,” Juice confirms on why he quit drinking lean—his Juul e-cigarette and weed are still typically within an arm’s reach. “People really be dying off these things. I’m tryna avoid that.”
As a result of the ups and downs he’s facing right now, commotion is the word he uses to describe himself because “it’s always like a lot going on.” The term is in stark contrast to the words his own family and friends use to label him: “legend” (Ty), “focused” (Sean) and “prolific” (Max).
With an album arriving right before Christmas, Juice Wrld will be headed into 2020 equipped with two things: a more respected voice that speaks for a generation that lives outside the box and a whole lot more zeros in his bank account. From freestyling to crafting punk anthems, he’s a wunderkind that isn’t easily defined. Hip-hop is ever malleable and Juice is a new-gen rock star shaping it to his liking.
Resting his head against the concrete wall in the paintball park’s private room, waiting for his order of hot dogs from Portillo’s to arrive, he maintains that the money coming in from his talents across multiple genres is welcomed, but it’s not the motive for success. “I wanna be more than just a millionaire,” Juice proclaims. “I wanna change the world.” How will he do that? “I’m taking it one step at a time, tryna do it my own way.”