‘He’s the Voice of These High School Kids’: Remembering Juice WRLD’s ‘Meteoric Rise’
Young artists who blow up thanks to a sudden surge in viral interest often hit a wall when trying to repeat a breakout single. This was not a problem for Juice WRLD last year. After the heartbroken “All Girls Are the Same” announced him as a commercial force, Juice WRLD launched “Lucid Dreams,” a thumping track as desolate as it is vindictive, which rapidly became ubiquitous. The singer then moved quickly to strengthen his foothold in pop’s mainstream by releasing a flood of new music, including a collaborative mixtape with the star rapper Future. In 2018, “with ‘Lucid Dreams’ exploding how it was, they were running, halfway in L.A. and halfway everywhere else,” recalls Raj Jadeja, vice president of creative and A&R at BMG, a music publisher and record label.
At the time, Juice WRLD already had a record deal in place with Interscope, which had released his debut album Goodbye & Good Riddance. But he did not yet have what the music industry calls a “publishing deal” — an agreement with a company to oversee his songwriting catalog and maximize its reach. Jadeja spent time with Juice WRLD and his management team over several months, gradually building a rapport before signing the rising star for publishing in November 2018.
Following Juice WRLD’s tragic death on Sunday, Jadeja spoke with Rolling Stone about the singer’s talent — and his impact.
HNNBL, a close producer friend of mine, sent me some of Juice’s music on Instagram DM. If anybody knows anything about me, I’m not heavy on social media. He knew I probably wouldn’t end up checking it, so he made sure to text and email it to me: “Bro, you have to check this out.” That’s how I first discovered his music, the 9 9 9 stuff he had on SoundCloud.
I’ve known Aaron “Dash” Sherrod [A&R at Interscope] for a while, and Dash signed Juice on the label side. At some point Dash and I were speaking about Juice, who he was, the music. Dash put me on speaker, and said to Juice and [one of his managers, Lil] Bibby — “this is a guy you should know.” I later met Juice WRLD through the producer Chef Tone at a pop-up merch release thing that Juice was doing with a brand, YeKim, before his first L.A. show.
Later on that night, I told him I was really into what he’s been doing in just a short amount of time. I had been brought on [to BMG] to find some heavy hitters and bring them in. I remember Juice’s show, his energy. He embodied not just the star presence but even a humility. Not knowing he has it. Even when “Lucid Dreams” was on a meteoric rise, Juice didn’t realize he was at a star level.
Growing up, I was listening to what my sister listened to. DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Beastie Boys — I liked hip-hop. My sister was into late 1980s hair metal bands. In the early 1990s, I was a grunge kid. But around 1992, 1993: Biggie was a moment for me. Here I am, listening to something like nothing else I’ve heard. Old sampled music with this incredible flow, you’re moving to it, but he’s really talking about the story of where he came from, and you’re dancing just like it’s a dance record. From then on, I was a child of hip-hop.
What really got me with Juice’s music was what really attracted me to a Biggie. He had samples, that flow and voice that you can’t put your finger on. He’s saying cooler things in a very relatable way — he’s the voice of these high school kids right now. What cuts through with superstar artists is honesty, authenticity, and vulnerability. Those cut through the clutter like no other. Juice had that. Any farce is gonna be sorted out by the fans.
From there, Bibby and George let me in a little bit closer. I went to Atlanta to sit with him when he was working with Future on WRLD on Drugs. There, I saw the genius. As an A&R coordinator at Bad Boy, I helped put together the Biggie duets project years after he had passed. As an intern I was there while Jay-Z was doing The Black Album, I’m doing runs to the studio and back up to the office, seeing a genius at work — he’s not writing anything, just freestyling off the cuff. When I was an A&R at Atlantic, I got to see Drake before Drake was even signed. I’d be in the studio with Bruno Mars, seeing this songwriting at its finest. I’ve dealt with different A-level pop producers, seen how they work.
Juice would sit there, freestyle, go off, tell the engineers to arrange it this way, take it that way. He didn’t know that what he was doing was what so many people spend years — years — trying to do. I’ve seen him do three to five full songs in a night’s session. Or anywhere from five to ten ideas and then he’ll just move on. That’s something I haven’t seen in my life. And I don’t know that I ever will [see it again].
You know how many artists you deal with [that] don’t want to be in the studio? They want to do other things. I’ve been in studios with Juice when people are like, “Let’s go to the club, let’s go do this,” and you know what, it ended up being just him, the engineer, and maybe two or three of the twenty people who were there before. He wanted to stay there and work. Top athletes will sit there, review their tape, figure out how to fix their mistakes, make something better. Juice constantly would refine his music.
From Atlanta I went on tour with him and he was doing dates in New York, Wallingford, Providence. Then we went to Rolling Loud in Oakland, mid-September of last year. I became his personal concierge — whatever he needed, from studios to video games, I made sure he had those. In Rhode Island I sat him down and told him: “You do what pop producers do. You just don’t know you’re doing it. Everything and anything I can do to add to any of this, I absolutely will. Let’s start putting you with the right people.” We didn’t do his deal until two months later.
Bibby, George, Pete [another manager], they keep a very close unit. I became big bro at some point. I would sit them down and explain what publishing is about — making sure you have ownership, making sure the proper channels [of royalty income] are being collected, and then some of the fun stuff, which is getting music into films, TV, video games. There were multiple [publishing deal] offers. Every major label was trying to get in on that deal. A lot of the indie power players were in on that deal. My team at BMG and I helped make sure they had a healthy deal. And I helped make sure they knew what every part of it means. I can’t sit here and say it was me, it was me [who got him to sign]. It was these guys, and them letting me in, and me showing them who I am.
This moment going on with Juice passing is [like when] Biggie or Kurt Cobain [died]. Today I’m sending out some Juice merch to friends’ kids who are holding a vigil at their school today. He was a voice. He was telling you where things for kids his age were at.
Just like people say Lil Wayne had a lot of children, we hear a lot of Juice WRLD’s children right now. I hear not just, “I’m gonna carry the torch from what his style is, mix it with this person’s and make it my own.” I hear, “if that’s how Juice WRLD does his ad-libs, that’s how I do my ad-libs.” I hear a lot of emulation. I hope to hear influence.
He has hundreds of songs [unreleased] and thousands of verses and ideas. The quantifiable number, I don’t even know — the last time I remember checking in I think it was around 1,200. There are going to be a few great bodies of work coming. I’m super grateful to know that.
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