Hip-Hop

'A Work of Love': How Juice WRLD's Family and Team Are Crafting His Legacy

Juice WRLD
Nabil Elderkin

Juice WRLD

Juice WRLD’s death at age 21 last December from an accidental drug overdose left the music industry, his fan base and his team at Grade A Productions/Interscope (IGA signed him through a joint venture with Grade A in March 2018) grappling with the shocking loss of one of hip-hop’s most influential young stars. The rapper born Jarad Higgins seemed destined for a long career — and with the sheer volume of new music he left behind, his team could have immediately jumped on prolonging it.

“We could’ve dropped an album the month after he passed,” says Lil Bibby, a Grade A partner and close mentor to Juice. “But I wanted to make sure there was a meaning behind it. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t glorifying drug use.”

Instead of racing to release new material, his label team followed the lead of Juice’s mother, Carmela Wallace, by supporting her creation of Live Free 999, a foundation providing assistance to those struggling with mental health and substance abuse. It wasn’t until July that she and Juice’s team decided to release his first posthumous album, Legends Never Die, and it found an eager audience. Debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with 497,000 equivalent album units in the United States, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data, it got a boost from the fourth-largest streaming week ever at the time and over 100 different bundles tied to the project, including a merchandise collaboration with esports powerhouse FaZe Clan.

For an artist who was a stunning streaming-driven success in his lifetime, those numbers weren’t entirely surprising; still, Lil Bibby and Interscope chief revenue officer/global head of streaming and strategy Gary Kelly both say they exceeded expectations. Once data for individual tracks became available, says Kelly, the Interscope team “expanded our streaming strategy on a global level.” The label particularly pushed solo track “Wishing Well,” a fast fan favorite, to editorial hip-hop playlists and employed flashier features — like Marshmello on “Come & Go” — to “reach the next 10% to 20% of fans” in new markets. The latter became Juice’s first entry and first No. 1 on Hot Rock & Alternative Songs.

As for the rest of Juice’s surplus of unreleased material, Lil Bibby says he thinks about the best route forward every day. Additional collaborations could happen — though they need to be “super strategic” and with friends or fans “that really f--ked with Juice” — as well as commemorative releases, like the recent track “Real Shit” that dropped Dec. 2, the late rapper’s birthday. In the near future, Lil Bibby says, a Juice documentary is planned for fall or winter 2021 release — a potential vehicle for new music, and one in keeping with Interscope’s mission: to “maintain his legacy,” says executive vp/co-head of A&R Nicole Wyskoarko. “There are different elements of Juice’s creative vision that will continue to come out with the help of Bibby and Carmela. It has really been a work of love with all of us coming together.”

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 19, 2020, issue of Billboard.