Juice WRLD’s purpose in making music was to help people. By vulnerably putting his own flaws on display combined with vivid storytelling baked into effortlessly free-styled verses, the voice of a generation was seemingly born overnight.
From the time he burst onto the mainstream scene in mid-2018 until his untimely in December 2019 death at the age of 21, Juice WRLD’s star burned bright and fast as he meteorically rose from SoundCloud darling to once-in-a-generation rap sensation.
Enter Tommy Oliver, who was tasked with picking up the pieces of Chris Long and Steve Cannon’s archival footage featuring Juice WRLD’s most precious moments and compress his story into under two hours. Oliver served as the director of HBO’s Juice WRLD: Into the Abyss documentary, which hits HBO Max on Dec. 16 and is the final installment of HBO’s Music Box series.
“It was an interesting journey for me getting dropped into somebody’s life in such a personal way,” Oliver tells Billboard. “It was really emotional. Just imagine getting handed somebody’s diary who is no longer here and you just have all of their most intimate, honest, and vulnerable thoughts.”
While Into the Abyss features candid sit-down interviews from those closest to Juice WRLD — including Cole Bennett, Ski Mask The Slump God, girlfriend Ally Lotti and his mother Carmela Wallace — Oliver made sure Juice’s music carried the film. Fans will be privy to never-before-heard freestyles and unreleased tracks from the Chicago native.
“I wanted the film to be as much through [Juice WRLD’s] voice as possible,” he explains. “I didn’t want me or anyone else to come in and editorialize it and tell you how to feel. I wanted it to be through his words. His freestyles and music operate as his in-person interview. I just wanted to make sure I got out of the way and for him to tell his story.”
As someone who came to love Juice WRLD without having a conversation with him, Oliver wanted to do right by the music community and more importantly, Juice’s mother.
Juice WRLD’s mom, Carmela Wallace, wrote a letter to him today, which is what would’ve been his 23rd birthday 💔 pic.twitter.com/ZKUU6VxoG7
— Travis (@TravisWorlddd) December 2, 2021
The Carnegie Melon University alum even hopped on a Zoom with Wallace when the film was in its infancy stages, and flew out to Chicago twice for a pair of face-to-face interviews with the mother of the fallen superstar. Oliver even brought the film’s final cut to her front door to receive a last stamp of approval.
The Philadelphia native breathed a huge sigh of relief when Juice’s mother signed off on the film in what she described as an “honest” and “respectful” portrayal of her son. Into the Abyss doesn’t shy away from Juice’s drug use, whether that was popping pills or sipping lean.
The film’s ending essentially gives a heartbreaking play-by-play of the flight to Chicago’s International Midway Airport on Dec. 8, 2019, where Juice suffered a seizure and died due to toxic levels of oxycodone and codeine in his system. His death was ruled an accidental overdose, according to Cook County medical examiners.
“I did not know the extent of his addiction,” Wallace tells Billboard. “I also did not know that he had so many enablers in his circle.”
Wallace has been able to partially find solace in the droves of fans who have shared experiences of having their lives positively impacted by Juice WRLD’s music.
“I learned how deeply his music touched the lives of millions and helped so many who struggled with anxiety and depression,” she continues. “I still receive messages from fans saying how his music helped them.”
Juice WRLD’s openness about topics such as depression, anxiety, addiction and love in his music is still being felt by the masses after his death. He was Spotify’s No. 1 artist across all genres in the U.S. in 2020, and remained in the top five for 2021.
2 years ago today, Juice WRLD passed away.
He earned the biggest debut sales week for a posthumous album this century and was US Spotify's #1 artist in 2020. His single "Lucid Dreams" is one of the most streamed songs of all time, with almost 2.5 billion in the US alone.
— chart data (@chartdata) December 8, 2021
Grade A Productions added another chapter to Juice WRLD’s posthumous legacy with the release of his Fighting Demons album on Friday (Dec. 10), and Juice WRLD season continues with the anticipated upcoming arrival of Into the Abyss.
“Somebody said to me, ‘Why does nobody think about Juice WRLD as the Kurt Cobain of his generation?’” Oliver recalled. “My response was, ‘Because they haven’t seen this doc yet.’”
Watch an exclusive clip from the film below.