Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Juice WRLD's 'Death Race For Love' No. 1 Debut

It's his WRLD now: The rapper born Jarad Higgins and better known as Juice WRLD debuts at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart this week with his sophomore solo LP, Death Race For Love. The set moves 165,000 equivalent album units in its first week of release, while also landing six tracks of its on the Billboard Hot 100. 

It's a career week for the ascendant 20-year-old, establishing him as one of the most successful young talents of his generation. But just how big is he already? Who is his current success most reminiscent of? And what other even newer, younger rapper is up next after him? Billboard staffers debate these topics and more in this week's Five Burning Questions. 

1. Does this No. 1 debut cement Juice WRLD as a superstar? 

Josh Glicksman: That depends. Juice WRLD is undeniably a staple in any conversation regarding the faces of SoundCloud rap, but it may be a stretch to include him among the giants of the hip-hop genre at large, for now at least. There is ever-dwindling doubt as to whether or not Higgins can make the leap at some point, given an already notable résumé that includes monster streaming numbers, splashy singles, a collab album with Future, and now a No. 1 debut. Still, he could also serve to benefit from lending a few knockout punch guest verses and turning in his -- for lack of a better term -- superstar status album. Getting some more dates in during the Nicki WRLD tour and continuing to expand his global reach couldn’t hurt, either.

Carl Lamarre: Hell no. It would be pretty reckless and premature to pin such a strong title on Juice this early in the game. If I'm anointing him with that superstar tag, then that means I'm placing him amongst the likes of Drake, Cole, Kendrick, Future, Cardi, Chance, Gambino and Meek. To me, those elite eight make up the superstar category for the new generation because of their long line of consistency (except for Chance and Cardi who rocketed their way into rap royalty). For Juice to reach that mark, he needs to not only lock in a permanent address on the Hot 100 and Billboard 200, but also to become an arena artist, and that's a hard feat within itself. I think Juice is on the cusp of superstardom along with A Boogie Wit da Hoodie and Lil Uzi Vert, but he needs to pad his stats a little bit more. 

Jason Lipshutz: He’s an established star, especially within the hip-hop universe, but he falls short of “superstar” status. Part of that has to do with longevity: “Lucid Dreams” was a bigger hit than anything in, say, Future’s singles discography, but Future has been a driving force in rap music for eight years, and that’s why he’s still a bigger name. Juice also doesn’t possess the type of immediate artist persona that engrains itself to popular culture in the same way that contemporaries like Cardi B and Post Malone do. What Death Race For Love intends to accomplish over its 72-minute run time is define the person behind the radio hits, and while the album does shed some light into Juice’s psyche, he’s not quite at the “household name” level yet.

Ross Scarano: He needs another top 5 single and another no. 1 album before we can throw that title around. So many of the non-quantifiable attributes of the superstar accumulate with time, and with Juice it’s just too early to call it.

Andrew Unterberger: Agree with my co-workers here, but will add that if he's not a superstar yet, he's now probably at the very top of the class for the tier below. "Lucid Dreams" is a true crossover smash on a level that many artists bigger than him have yet to manage, but it already feels like Juice is all the way out of its shadow, and his 2019 is really only just beginning with Death Race's big week. Some touring success, a memorable award-show performance or two, and a couple more radio hits sticking around through the warm-weather months, and there's no reason he shouldn't be in the A list discussion this time next year. 

2. Between the three songs that seem like the biggest hits off Death Race so far -- "Robbery,"  "Hear Me Calling" and "Fast" -- which do you think will emerge as the album's defining single?

Josh Glicksman: Although “Fast” is the only of the three to not be released ahead of Death Race, the track is both the album’s catchiest and the best look into Higgins’ current mindstate: “I speak from the standpoint of the true definition of an imperfect person,” he said in his recent Billboard cover story. Lyrics like “I go through so much, I’m 19 years old/ It feels like months since I felt at home” best demonstrate that sentiment, showing a kid opening up about the struggles that accompany a whirlwind ascension within the industry. Higgins continues to be his best at his most vulnerable, and partnered with a hypnotic beat and an easily repeatable hook, “Fast” feels like one we’ll be hearing all summer.

Carl Lamarre: I'm leaning on ”Fast.” "Fast" is a record Post Malone would pen: an emo-tinged joint with a dash of swag. The keys are somber; the lyrics are soaked with drug references and of course, it makes you want to get in your bag. ”Hear Me Calling” is a close second and is a home-run record that should garner a healthy amount of success. It's a summery bop that makes you feel like you're sunbathing in the tropics. 

Jason Lipshutz: “Robbery” is the one taking off on the streaming services, but it’s all about the sad-boy anthem ”Fast,” which not only features catchiest hook but also its most quotable lyric (“It's okay 'cause I'm rich/ Psych, I'm still sad as a bitch”). “Fast” best plays to Juice WRLD’s strengths as a melodic rapper who can mumble off a list of grievances about getting high, making money and feeling confused, and then toss out an undeniable refrain -- and could end up filling the same crossover radio lane as Post Malone’s “Psycho” or Lil Uzi Vert’s “The Way Life Goes,” especially if the song receives a remix with a featured artist who can bolster its back half. Maybe Halsey can pay Juice back for hopping on her “Without Me” remix a few months ago?

Ross Scarano“Fast.” If you had played that song for me blind I would’ve guessed it was Post Malone (until the use of the n-word, anyway). Bodes well for the song’s success. Listening to “Robbery,” it occurred to me that Juice is the YA fiction of rap music, and lots of adults like to read YA -- could be that one too. But the chorus for “Fast” embeds better.

Andrew Unterberger: Yeah, I'm gonna rep for "Robbery" here. Tough to bet against "Fast" and its hitmaking pedigree -- co-producer Louis Bell has already had his fingerprints on three of this year's five Hot 100 No. 1s so far -- but it feels even more misguided to doubt the potential of "SHE TOLD ME PUT MY HEART! IN THE BAG! AND NOBODY GETS HURT!" as a chorus ringing across festival grounds all summer. None of the three would be a huge surprise, though. 

3. How are you feeling about the album's 22 tracks in general -- does Death Race justify its length? 

Josh Glicksman: As a general rule of thumb, if the album isn’t Pusha T’s Daytona, it can almost certainly benefit from shortening the runtime. Given that Scorpion pulled in 82 percent of its streams on just six of its 25 cuts, it’s hard to imagine that Death Race is going to get any sort of balanced airplay, either. Fans’ attention spans inevitably dwindle. Admittedly, thisisn’t the same marathon slog as many of Death Race's run-of-the-mill companions, thanks in large part to it avoiding top-heaviness -- the final stretch of the album regains steam, and Juice WRLD saves a Young Thug-assisted “ON GOD” for a late treat. Regardless, I’d bet you’ll be hard-pressed to name half of the tracks on the album a few months from now. 

Carl Lamarre: Because we’re in a time where we're receiving such an influx of new music weekly, Death Race is A LOT to digest. At the same time, the colorful production and sugary melodies make the album such a smooth ride. Brent Faiyaz crushed his feature on ”Demonz” and reminded us why he's on the brink of stardom. Genius move by Juice in passing the baton and allowing Brent to shine during his intermission. 

Jason LipshutzDeath Race For Love is too long, but then again, almost every album that has 22 tracks is too long. We can’t all make Stankonia! But as a ploy to dominate streaming services as well as flesh out Juice WRLD’s personality a bit, this very full full-length is successful enough. Only a few songs stretch past the four-minute mark, or stand out as totally skippable clunkers; meanwhile, songs like “Feeling,” “The Bees Knees” and “Won’t Let Go” allow Juice to experiment with different production approaches and shed some light into his WRLD. Also: give me “Flaws and Sins,” with its tale of toxic romance over a humming Nick Mira beat, as the strongest deep cut here.

Ross Scarano: Very few albums justify 22 songs, Death Race being no exception. That said, the back-half of this album has some of the standouts from my vantage: “10 Feet” and “The Bees Knees” have some of the most atypical production on the project, and jut out all the more by coming so late on the record, after the dominant sound has been established. His flow on “10 Feet,” working with almost Joy Orbison esque production, built around a Daniel Caesar flip, is a novelty on Death Race. And the beat switch on “The Bees Knees” is surprising and smooth -- Hit-Boy and No I.D. hooked him up. (Sidebar: It's good to see Hit-Boy’s name in the credits for a rap album so many times.)

Andrew Unterberger: I'm actually in the minority that says many of the best rap albums of last year were 20-plus tracks: I loved nearly the entirety of SR3MMCulture II and yes, even Scorpion. This isn't quite on that level for me, but I'll also echo that Juice was wise to save many of the set's most intriguing and compelling cuts for late -- even hooking the '90s heads who'd otherwise decry this post-millennial paragon with a Stan Getz sample repurposed from The Pharcyde's "Runnin'" on closer "Make Believe." This isn't necessarily intended for hours of foreground listening anyway; a viral tweet this weekend aptly called Juice "shut the fuck up, mom, i'm playing video games" music, and those kids should happily let Death Race soundtrack 70-plus minutes of Fortniting without switching playlists. 

4. Fill in the brackets in this analogy: Juice WRLD is to 2019 as _____ is to _____. 

Josh Glicksman: As Kid Cudi is to 2008. The two emo rap savants both stand out as Internet icons of their respective times, with the former serving as one of the first artists to truly blow up as part of the digital era. Like Higgins, Cudi first turned heads with an irresistible single -- “Day 'n' Nite” -- that deals with an altered state of consciousness. Following such a release, both rappers experienced swift and monumental ascensions, with Cudi’s Man on the Moon peaking at No. 3 in 2009, and Death Race topping the Billboard 200 a year after the release of “Lucid Dreams.” It’s also tough to avoid drawing something of a comparison between Kanye West and Future serving as mentors for Cudi and Juice, respectively.

Carl Lamarre: As Post Malone is to 2016. These guys are obviously similar sonically. They both enjoy crafting genre-bending tunes and prefer not to be classified as mere rappers. In 2015, Posty came out of nowhere with "White Iverson" the same way Juice did last year with "Lucid Dreams." Though Stoney was Post's debut album in 2016, it allowed him to stretch outside of rap and become a redoubtable act in popular music, period. With Death Race, Juice has the potential to sit inside the Billboard 200 for a while because of its robust singles. And if you remember, Stoney churned out six singles and was still making noise two years after its initial release. 

Jason Lipshutz: As Big Sean is to 2011. At the start of this decade, Sean quickly established himself as a bankable rising star who could seamlessly enter the pop world, but was not interested in overhauling the sound and aesthetic of popular hip-hop. Based on his current output, Juice WRLD has not displayed the ambition needed to reinvent the wheel, and that’s okay -- he has tons of fans, has already impacted mainstream music and has a bright future ahead of him. Think of hits like “Lucid Dreams,” “All Girls Are The Same” and “Fine China” as the late-2010s equivalents to “Marvin & Chardonnay,” “My Last” and “Dance (A$$)”: they’ll stick around for a while, even if they’re not breaking any new ground.

Ross Scarano: As Postal Service is to 2003. “They tell me life is a riddle/ I found the answers on her tongue in the middle of kissin” is the new “I am thinking it's a sign/ That the freckles in our eyes/ Are mirror images/ And when we kiss they're perfectly aligned.”

Andrew Unterberger: As Blink-182 is to 1999. I'm hardly the first to point out the bratty pop-punk wavelength Juice's self-loathing complaint rap hits on, but it's evident throughout Death Race. And more importantly, the hooks are just as strong and the choruses just as shout-along as Blink's were on Enema of the State. Now, if we could just get him in a positive enough relationship to write us one "All the Small Things..." 

5. Which rapper is currently bubbling up in the mainstream -- like Juice WRLD was starting to with "Lucid Dreams" around this time last year -- who you think will be around Juice WRLD's level this time next year?

Josh Glicksman: Given the mainstream success of “Thotiana,” Blueface makes sense here, even though he’s actually over a year older than Juice WRLD. The California native has managed to spin the viral hit’s success into a Cardi B and YG-assisted remix, which should give the track ample egs for some time to come. The real test will be whether or not Blueface can string a few more hits or notable features together to propel himself to the next realm. The much-discussed G-Eazy collaboration “West Coast” didn’t yield the immediate results that either party had hoped for, as the song has failed to chart to date. Still, Blueface clearly has a strong streaming pull, à la Juice WRLD, and appears to have the tools to map out a similar trajectory.

Carl Lamarre: Interscope has a penchant for attracting young, versatile talents and they may have hit the jackpot with Lil Mosey. He's from Seattle and released his debut project Northsbest last year. His single "Noticed" already went platinum, but he also has "Greet Her," which samples Chris Brown's "Yo (Excuse Me Miss)." The video dropped two weeks ago and is almost at the 5 million mark. The scariest thing about Mosey, he's not even 18. Be on the lookout. 

Jason Lipshutz: It’s Blueface, baby! “Thotiana” has the potential to linger in or around the top 10 of the Hot 100 for months, just as “Lucid Dreams” did last year, and Blueface possesses the charisma to transcend his breakthrough single and set up a fruitful career. We’ll see what else he has up his sleeve in the coming months -- his 2018 release Famous Cryp has some memorable moments, if nothing to quite rival the virality of “Thotiana” -- but he’s already getting the type of superstar co-signs and mainstream exposure to serve as the foundation of a major year. 

Ross Scarano: Their music has essentially nothing in common, but I’d love to see Megan Thee Stallion enjoy the success and attention Juice receive. She can rap her ass off, she’s charismatic, and she’s been working at this for years now, building a name for herself in Houston. Her song “Big Ole Freak” is starting to catch Twitter buzz reminiscent of “Thotiana”; Megan may blow up well before this time next year. Thinking that far ahead, Compton’s Roddy Ricch is another contender. “Die Young” was one of 2018’s best rap singles, and Meek Mill has expressed interest in the young rapper’s career.  

Andrew Unterberger: Let's give a shout to last week's least-expected debut entrant on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart, Lil Nas X. His "Old Town Road" is crashing the charts of streaming services with out-of-nowhere velocity akin to what "Lucid Dreams" was doing a year ago -- sparking a bidding war in the process --  and a cursory listen to the MC's other available tracks (or a scroll through his must-follow Twitter account) reveals a clever, prolific and highly multi-faceted artist whose best stuff is still well down the line. Plus, the TikTok-assisted success of "Old Town" is nu-school enough to make Juice himself feel old. 

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