When Juice WRLD passed away in 2019 at 21, it seemed like the entire music industry was shaken up. Everyone from Hot 97 host Peter Rosenberg to Vince Staples to Drake shared their fond memories and condolences. Chance the Rapper posted on his Instagram, shortly after the Chicago native’s death, “This is ridiculous. Millions of people, not just in Chicago but around the world are hurting because of this and don’t know what to make of it.”
But most devastated were his legions of young fans, who flooded social media with recollections of what his music meant to them. It’s not surprising. If the term “teenage wasteland” were intellectual property, Juice WRLD surely would have had it copyrighted—his songs, addressing loneliness, addiction, and depression feel like what is to be anxious at the age before our brains are fully developed. Fighting Demons, his second posthumous album is a tortured but overall grateful memento mori from a talented artist who left us all too soon.
Recorded in the last three years, the songs on Fighting Demons sound as if they’re from one session that could have been just yesterday. He had a knack for being on the cutting edge going back to 2017’s “Lucid Dreams,” which hit SoundCloud like a forecast from some burgeoning stoner future. Here, “Rockstar in His Prime,” a downtempo Top 40 contender could still sell out stadiums. The song’s fidgety hi-hats and clean synths—energized by Juice’s soaring chorus—make a muted plea for help (”I can’t deal with this hurt on my own/I cannot deal with this hurt in my downtime”) feel like a euphoric mosh.
The MetroBoomin’-helmed “Burn,” with its gunshot-punctuated percussion and 808s feels like a modern-day equivalent to psychedelic ‘90s journeymen P.M. Dawn on a track by DJ Premier. The contrasts, while thrilling, don’t seem too shocking today. But Juice WLRD hails from the same family tree as P.M. Dawn, who were denounced decades ago for their emo image, bright harmonies, and the kind of content that made Juice WRLD such a beloved figure. “Burn” is all ragged feels (”This remind me of hell, sometimes I wonder if that’s where God really sent me”) made melodic. And it’s a testament, thankfully, to how times have changed—that, in his passing, kids in Juice WRLD’s axis have a safe space to vent without having their agency challenged.
“Wandered To LA” features Justin Bieber and is the sunniest of the album’s 18 tracks. Its staccato guitar and cozy hacienda aura make Juice WRLD’s hazy, “Hotel California” mindset something you’re delighted to inhabit. Elsewhere, “Feline” is a fun lyrical exercise with Trippie Red and fellow Chi-town chum, Polo G. Juice hits a slick pocket, threatening, “Stand up to the opps, never back down/He’ll get beat with the belt like it’s smackdown.” It’s a reminder that he was as keen with his bars as he was with a mellifluous hook.
Though cuts like “My Life In a Nutshell” and the dour “From My Window” wear you down by the album’s end—blame it on dull production and one too many mentions of the drugs that would take Juice’s life—you can’t walk away from Fighting Demons feeling anything but affirmed. His graciousness to his listeners is highlighted in the interlude, “Juice WRLD Speaks,” where he says, “Me talking about certain things could help somebody else through what they going through, as well as me trying to figure it out myself.” He made us feel seen in our struggles. That was Juice WRLD’s purpose and purity.