Two days after the second anniversary of Juice WRLD’s untimely death, his label Grade A Productions has released his fourth studio album – which is also his second posthumous record (the rapper – aka Jarad Higgins – tragically died from an accidental drug overdose aged just 21). It is a rare thing: a posthumous album, crafted with care, that deepens an artist’s narrative.
His second album, 2019’s ‘Death Race For Love’, released while he was alive, was commercial and upbeat, utilising afroswing, distorted trap and his rock-rap niche. But ‘Fighting Demons’ is much more sombre, slipping in soundbites from Juice WRLD’s Billboard interview in March 2019 and offering a monologue from one of his inspirations, Eminem, who reflects on his own drug addiction.
There are superstar appearances from Justin Bieber and Suga from world-conquering K-Pop group BTS. Over ‘Wandered To LA’’s breezy guitar strums, Bieber and Juice detail their relationships, with the rapper focusing on dark themes: “Maybe it’s because the lies, they fill her up / You see the ghost on her front porch”). Bieber’s lines and melodies, although sweet, don’t fit in so well with such gothic tone of the song: “Reminiscing about the days you broke my heart / Thankful that we worked it out – we come so far.”
The absence of upbeat instrumentals, found on Juice WRLD’s previous albums, can make this an oppressive listen – though there are plenty of gems here. ‘Rockstar In His Prime’ finds Juice at his most boastful and playful, his repeated claims that he’s a “rockstar” nothing short of charming. ‘From The Window’ is similarly rocky, though leans more heavily on a trap-influenced sound. This time Higgins insists on telling us how tough he is, using “money from the label… spend it on ammunition”. In life, Juice WRLD’s untouchable stance was always fun, especially when you were reciting his words back in a fit of passion with some mates. It’s moving to think that he could manage to create these communal moments even after he left us far, far too soon.
In the main, though, ‘Fighting Demons’ shows the other side of Juice WRLD, which was never explored enough while he was live, so focused were his fans on the upbeat, high-octane Juice WRLD we saw on stage. The former NME cover star called himself the “codeine Cobain”, and ‘Fighting Demons’ is evidence of a nuanced, complex artist whose legacy is stunning in its richness.
Record label: Grade A Productions
Release date: December 10th