Juice Wrld Drives Full Speed to the Top of the Charts
Juice Wrld's rise to hip-hop fame is no fluke. His ascent up the charts proves emo rap has found its rightful place once again.
Words: Georgette Cline
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
Saving money for a rainy day isn’t really Juice Wrld’s style. On any of the 365 days in a year, sunny skies or stormy weather, the 19-year-old Chicago native spends cash without thinking too hard about empty pockets or one less zero in his bank account. “It’s good to save money and have shit built for a rainy day, but nigga, he said rainy day, not a rainy month,” exclaims the rapper, who is equal parts a singer. Don’t get it twisted, though. Juice’s financial situation is nothing to fret over thanks in part to a reported $3 million deal he signed with Interscope Records in March. This afternoon, as the scorching hot August sun beats down on the Chinatown streets of New York City, Juice, born Jarad Higgins, showcases his insouciant attitude toward money inside Unique Hype Collection, a shop specializing in the resale of the skate-inspired men’s fashion brand Supreme.
Witnessing Juice Wrld, who’s already decked out in his own blue Supreme T-shirt and Louis Vuitton Hawaiian-style top, peruse the racks in the compact store with his stylist Michael Hope, manager G Money, cousin Sean, childhood friend Millz and Juice’s girlfriend, is like watching a kid in a candy store. The rapper is wide-eyed and on a mission despite getting little sleep the night before, since he headed straight to the studio after making his 2018 MTV Video Music Awards debut by performing his Billboard Hot 100 hit “Lucid Dreams,” a melodic Nick Mira-produced banger dipped in heartbreak and mental anguish.
No dollar amount seems too big for Juice. The store manager Lam Xie brings out even more Supreme T-shirts and jerseys for him to choose from. He’s particularly fond of a cheetah-print book bag, which he immediately adds to his bill for a total of $3,829.08—but he’s not quite done. After paying cash for the first round of Supreme drip, he heads across the street to Unique Hype’s newly opened second location, which serves as a more private shopping experience for special customers like Juice.
Once he’s done there, Juice drops another $2,177.50 for a grand total of $6,006.58. Spending this kind of money in one hour doesn’t faze him. “Trust me, it’s cool to invest,” Juice states. “I already dived into that. It’s good to put money back into communities. It’s good to give money to your family but your own personal stash, fuck is you saving for?” Money grows on trees in Juice’s world.
See Photos of Juice Wrld in Fall 2018 Issue of XXL Magazine
His attachment to Supreme began in the sixth grade during his skating days, when he got put on to Tyler, The Creator, who routinely wore the popular brand while he was on the come up. Juice’s connection to hip-hop kicked o even earlier through the likes of Lil Wayne and Bow Wow—he puts emphasis on the latter’s “Lil” to seemingly indicate the difference between being a fan of Bow Wow’s music back then rather than now. The two artists initially inspired Juice Wrld to start rapping and pen his own lyrics.
Now, seated inside Premier Recording Studios in Manhattan’s Times Square, he laughs to himself as he thinks back to writing his first rhymes. “I remember the first song I ever wrote was [to] Lil Wayne,” recalls Juice Wrld, whose moniker was inspired by the Tupac Shakur-starring film Juice. “It was a remix to Lil Wayne’s ‘I Am Not a Human Being.’ I remember some of the shit I said, too.” When asked to spit those same lyrics he wrote in the sixth grade, he’s quick to refuse. “Hell no, it was horrible,” he admits. “It was raw for my age.” Practice back then eventually made for a perfect debut album later on.
Hailing from the Chicago suburb of Calumet Park, Ill., Juice Wrld’s rise to hip-hop fame is surprising considering his access to the genre was restricted by his conservative-leaning mother and her love for gospel music. “She still inside the box, which is fine, it’s a comfort zone,” discloses Juice, a fan of chicken tenders and 7-11 Slurpees. “I think I was born outside that bitch.”
Rap still made its way to his ears as a kid thanks to his cousins playing Gucci Mane, Lil Wayne and Birdman. He also grew up honing his rap skills by freestyling on a high school radio show, which would later prove to be rewarding since he can now freestyle for an hour straight without a fault as he demonstrated on Tim Westwood’s Capital Xtra radio show in June. His freshman year marked the moment he realized rapping was a viable career option.
Juice, who plays the piano and guitar, logged countless hours of studio time at Chicago’s Enviyon Entertainment to perfect his craft and utilized SoundCloud to get his early music to the masses—all while being a student. His very first release on the music-sharing platform is the love ode “Forever,” featuring a sample of singer Yuna’s “Lullabies,” which was recorded on a cell phone and uploaded when he was 16 under his first rap name JuiceTheKidd. While he’s got a list of rappers that “without them, wouldn’t be no Juice Wrld,”—Future, Lil Wayne, A$AP Rocky and Young Thug included—rock artists Billy Idol and Ozzy Osbourne in addition to groups Green Day, The Devil Wears Prada and Fallout Boy also helped to inspire his alternative, genre-bending sound infiltrating the Billboard charts.
Two years after he uploaded his first track to SoundCloud, Juice’s life began to change when he dropped “Lucid Dreams,” which first appeared on SoundCloud in the summer of 2017 as part of his Juice Wrld 999 EP. Whether it was his emotional candor, breezy singing, the frankness of his vices (“I take prescriptions to make me feel A-okay, I know it’s all in my head”) or that captivating interpolation of singer Sting’s “Shape of My Heart,” the song pushed him into the public eye, increased his social media profile and landed him an Interscope Records deal this year. When Juice signed the deal, “it felt like I was starting up a really, really, really fast car.” Eight months later, he’s got the pedal to the metal. “I’m not pushing the brakes. [Only] when I die. I’ma go out on a chariot of fire.”
“Lucid Dreams,” eventually removed from SoundCloud to receive an official major label release in March, appeared on Juice Wrld’s debut album, Goodbye & Good Riddance, via Grade A Productions/Interscope Records in May. Since then, the track peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has racked up more than 380 million streams on Spotify while two other songs from the album, “All Girls Are the Same” and “Lean Wit Me,” also entered the Hot 100. Goodbye & Good Riddance, more than 15 weeks removed from making its debut on the Billboard 200 at No. 15, has spent most of the summer resting comfortably in the top 10.
A man with an appreciation for nature, Juice has a polished finesse woven throughout his first emo rap-centric album, a sing-song diary into a life of relationship woes, self-medication and no fucks given. Aware of the impact he has on a legion of fans that are even younger than his own teenage self, he doesn’t take his influence for granted. “It just kinda pushes me to create somewhat of a lesson out of the shit I’m saying,” Juice shares. “Or at least, even if I’m talking about something that’s negative, I look at it as putting my mistakes out there for people to learn from it.” Take note, kids.
Producer Nick Mira, the 18-year-old Virginia native responsible for producing eight of the 16 songs on Juice’s debut LP, in addition to tracks like XXXTentacion’s “Fuck Love” featuring Trippie Redd, applauds Juice for the ability to connect with his audience as well as his musicianship. “He knows what sounds good and he’s not just going in the studio to record a bunch of random, unthought-of bars,” states Mira, who’s worked with Juice since 2016. “He’s really good at melodies and just developing good songs. I feel like a lot of it is actually the quality of music and how people can relate to it or can easily attach themselves to it because it’s not just some braggadocios, flex rap or mumble rap that everybody’s being saturated with nowadays. It’s something a little different and it’s giving people real music to listen to and that’s why he’s been able to succeed.”
The studio is Juice Wrld’s happy place. A recent session with Future and producer Wheezy, and another with Trippie Redd, means there’s more music on the way. There are 120 songs in the stash, three albums worth of material and a collaboration mixtape in the works with an artist he won’t name just yet [Editor's note: Juice Wrld has since released the collaborative album Wrld on Drugs with Future]. But music isn’t his only objective. Before biting into some pizza while seated in front of the studio console, the MC reveals his next plan of action is to delve into directing and have complete control over his music videos—Odd Future’s “Sam (Is Dead)” battleground visual starring Tyler, The Creator and Domo Genesis is one of his biggest artistic inspirations.
Until he masters that skill, his focus is on what he excels at best: hitting the studio to record. Tonight’s session may turn into another 10-hour doozy in hopes of creating a new banger, but it’s a breeze when there’s something real and raw that keeps him coming back to the booth time after time. “Getting fucked up,” Juice Wrld begins, “off life.”
Check out more from XXL’s Fall 2018 issue including Meek Mill's letter to his younger self, Show & Prove interviews with Gunna and City Girls, Lil Durk opening up about his Signed to the Streets 3 album and more.