The Moral Discourse Behind Posthumous Albums; Revisiting Juice WRLD's 'Legends Never Die'
Juice WRLD’s third and final album, 'Legends Never Die', was a peephole into the soul of a young artist who never shied away from confessing his personal struggles with drug abuse and anxiety. Many of the songs make for a tough listen, with stark admissions about popping pills and sipping lean to cloak his underlying issues. This has been a staple of Juice WRLD’s music ever since his first studio album, Goodbye and Good Riddance, released back in 2018. In his relatively short career, the Chicago rapper quickly ascended to the throne of musical stardom after being plucked from obscurity by Interscope Records. He went from an unknown Soundcloud rapper to a global superstar, winning the Billboard Music Award for Top New Artist in 2019.
'Legends Never Die' was a beautiful album, a fitting testimonial for a man who dedicated his music to those fighting with their own demons. With catchy hooks and pain-ridden verses about drug addiction and loneliness, the 21-song tracklist was a port in a storm for millions of grieving fans. Despite laying bare the sombre reality of Juice’s struggles, the album is not entirely devoid of hope – the chorus of ‘Man of the Year’ is a cheerful and honest reflection of the late artist’s accomplishments, revolving around the lyrics: ‘let’s raise our hands, let’s sing and dance, I know my lyrics saved you.’ While the project does ruminate over the sadness of his untimely passing, it equally celebrates the remarkable legacy he left behind.
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Posthumous albums are hardly a new phenomenon in the music industry. Record labels have been unearthing surviving studio recordings since the days of Elvis Presley. This is because they are flytraps for human ears; people hear about the news of their death and instantly flock to their Spotify page. Notorious B.I.G.’s posthumous album, 'Life After Death', was a huge commercial success in 1997, reaching number one in the global charts.
The same was also true of the late Amy Winehouse, whose album, 'Lioness: Hidden Treasure', was released just six months after her death. These days, with so many musicians tragically dying before their time, producers are discovering hundreds of unheard snippets on throwaway hard drives and compiling them into albums. It raises the moral question over whether these record labels care for upholding the artist’s standard of craft or whether they simply want to optimise their profits.
In a recent interview with VLADTV, Lil Bibby, who signed Juice WRLD to his label, Grade A Productions, confessed that the Chicago rapper had over 3,000 unreleased tracks. "I keep finding more and more," he said. "Juice has got at least 600 to 700 songs that are leaked on the internet right now." With hardcore fans desperate to hear this goldmine of new material, it comes back to the same ethical dilemma of commercialism.
Though posthumous releases are often a welcomed reminder of the artist’s talent beyond the grave, they can also go wrong. Badly wrong.
The most recent example of this mismanagement was XXXTentacion. Following his murder in June 2018, the rapper’s label brought out two albums, 'Skins' and 'Bad Vibes Forever'. While you can be forgiven for thinking the first release was a necessary commemoration, the same unfortunately cannot be said for the latter album. It was nothing but a failed attempt at squeezing every last dime out of a flourishing career. They took all of X’s slapdash ballads out of a trash bin and tried salvaging a project by plugging the gaps with an entourage of underwhelming artists. The vast feature list only made him appear like a castaway on his own album, highlighting the downside of some posthumous work.
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In spite of the rather notable pitfalls in making a posthumous album, 'Legends Never Die' was proof that a project of this nature could be done successfully. Most impressive was how the album captured Juice’s eccentric emo-rap style, a trademark heard in ‘Lucid Dreams’ which was responsible for catapulting him to Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100. This was no surprise given that the producer, Nick Mira, had worked closely with Juice since the infancy of his lucrative career. Accompanied by a legion of experienced producers, including the likes of Ronny J and Marshmello, it would have been easy for the project to lose focus of Juice’s unique artistic vision. T
hankfully, Lil Bibby was tasked with overseeing the album’s culmination and ensured it remained in keeping with his friend’s authentic ambitions. ‘I tried to put it together to kinda tell a story and like I said, the last talks I had with Juice, I kinda remember where his mind was at and I wanted to explain exactly what he was going through at the time,’ he told XXL.
Not only did 'Legends Never Die' accumulate 479,000 album sales on its first week, but it also surpassed The Weeknd’s 'After Hours' to earn the highest week of sales in 2020. Having said that, it’s little wonder why Juice WRLD’s estate are so enthusiastic to produce another album. With a masterful talent for writing contagious songs, the late musician is a cash cow for Interscope Records. But will the prospect of an eight-figure paycheck take priority over the importance of maintaining artistic integrity? Time will only tell.
With another Juice WRLD album in the works, fans can only hope that it does not fall short of expectation. Though an exact release date has yet to be confirmed, the recent trilogy of quick-fire singles featuring The Kid LAROI and Young Thug suggest that the next chapter of Juice’s legacy is edging closer to completion. But will it live up to the standards of the previous album? Legends Never Die was a brilliant appendage to the young artist’s impressive discography and nobody wants to see that tarnished for the sake of financial gain.
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Words: Richard Sayell
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