As of this writing, Juice WRLD, the 19-year-old SoundCloud phenom, is perhaps best known for his mind-boggling signing bonus. After a brief and feverish explosion of buzz based on the teenager’s output on the streaming platform—especially his eventual debut single “All Girls Are The Same”—Interscope dropped $3 million to add him to its roster. The sum was high, and one of the clearest signs yet that the music industry, especially for young rappers, is booming.

Listening to Juice WRLD’s debut album Goodbye & Good Riddance, it’s easy to see why Interscope felt like betting big on him. While the term “SoundCloud rap” has, at this point, become divorced from any real stylistic signifiers, Juice WRLD feels like the pop-leaning logical endpoint of the young genre. His melodic rapping is assured, he spins off choruses without any difficulty, and the subject matter—nearly entirely heartbreak and drugs—is earnest. After listening to the project, with his arsenal of skills and sharply honed sound that lands somewhere between Lil Uzi Vert and Post Malone, it’s only a matter of time before he has a hit on his hands.

Complex caught up with Juice WRLD to talk his recent success, what it’s like to get label attention without a plan, and getting Lil Uzi Vert in the studio for a remix of “Lucid Dreams.”

 

Back to the same place that I swore I’d never return to😞🖤

A post shared by Juice WRLD 9 9 9 (@juicewrld999) on May 20, 2018 at 7:07pm PDT

 

You’re from Calumet Park [Illinois]? What was is like growing up there?
I kinda grew up in different places, I was just from everywhere. It’s all been the same to me, nothing really extraordinary or spectacular.

When did you start making music?
That’s such a hard question to answer. I remember my cousins let me listen to old Gucci, old Wayne, old Birdman, and I couldn’t—my mom was real conservative, on some old hardcore Christian-ass shit. She didn’t want me to grow up like the other motherfuckers around me. She listened to old school gospel music. I’d be trying to listen to Gucci and Jeezy and shit and I couldn’t remember the lyrics, so I would just finish them myself, and that’s how it would start. That was at a young-ass age. I’ve always been involved in music. Whether it be taking piano lessons or something, I always have.

How does your mom feel about your career now?
She’s more open to it. She sees that it’s going somewhere and I’m not just fucking around.

When you started picking your own music, what were you listening to?
Anything from old Gucci tapes, them old Waka joints, to like Escape the Fate and post hardcore stuff. From Drake to Megadeth. [Laughs]

Everything you’ve been making has a specific sound. How did you land on that?
I think I just focused in on myself. That’s one of the hardest parts of making a career in music as an artist: coming out with your own print. I don’t think that’s something you can explain. That’s just something that happens, honestly. I think that’s what makes an artist who they are, and it’s always unexplained. It’s part of their personality.

Juice WRLD
Photo by ASAP Nast

Were you releasing music before the two songs that everyone heard?
Yeah, on my SoundCloud.

Are they still around?
I believe they’re still up.

Was there a release strategy?
I would text my producer, “Should I drop this?” And he would say yes, and I would drop it. Nothing, like, preplanned. There was no, “I’m going to drop a project here.” I just went off gut instinct.

How quickly did you start getting attention?
I want to say, August? It happened within six to eight months.

Was it a surprise?
Yeah. It was. I don’t want to say that I was starting to doubt myself, but I was starting to take things less seriously. After a while, I noticed that I was developing a SoundCloud presence, what I thought was a lot—like 10K in four days—and it wasn’t even 10,000 people staying in my neighborhood. It was a lot, and it told me to keep going. Eventually it just led to where I am today.

It doesn’t sound like you expected to get label attention that quickly.
No. That was crazy. I don’t know. To this day, it hasn’t settled in yet. That’s how I want it to be, though. I don’t want to get lost in everything. I just want to keep the same work ethic. There’s still things to be done and points to be proven. Money to be made, you know? I want to keep that same mentality because when artists stop and think about everything and realize, like, “I just got a multi-million dollar contract,” I think that’s when I think they get, quote unquote, lost in the sauce.

How do you keep you keep your head down when Vert’s waiting on you in the studio, Cardo’s sending you beats?
I just keep in my mind that, at the end of the day, this is making music and that’s what I’m here for. I make a living off of this shit but it’s a passion. I’m not doing it just to do it. It’s not just to pass time. I keep in my mind that it’s a passion of mine.

 

@djmustard ⚰️⚰️They not ready 999💔🌎

A post shared by Juice WRLD 9 9 9 (@juicewrld999) on Feb 28, 2018 at 5:45pm PST

 

From your end, can you tell me how the Interscope deal came together?
Interscope felt like home, you know? I just went with what I was feeling.

Was the money surprising?
I mean, off the simple fact that this shit happened on short notice, off the fact that people were offering me money, period? Of course! Of course.

A lot of people are getting money off of SoundCloud hits really fast right now. What do you think separates you from the pack?
I think that they make music that’s not as relatable as my music is. Even in high school, I went through a lot of relationship issues and that’s at the center of my music. And even if I’m not going through relationship issues, I can still make music for people that are to kind of guide them, cause I didn’t have anybody to guide me through shit. I play that role as a guide, some people look at me as like a therapist. Some people listen to music and want to relate to it. You listen to a Drake song about throwing hundreds in the club and of course you’re going to want to relate to it. Versus actually, like, “Damn, he just took the words out of my head.” That’s what separates me from other people on the platform.

A lot of the album is about heartbreak. Who do you listen to when you’re going through a breakup? What were you listening to in high school when you were having relationship troubles?
Man, anything from Drake to Bullet For My Valentine. This is so funny, actually. I was listening to Back From The Dead 2, by Sosa.

How did you link up with Lil Uzi Vert?
It kind of just happened. I figured it would happen sooner or later, and it just came together. It’s cool, I fuck with him heavy. I like his music.

This project is an album, not a mixtape. A lot of people hedge that distinction.
I just wanted to come out strong, I guess. Come proper. People like to label everything too much. Like, “This is an EP.” I don’t think people know what an EP is. If you walk up to someone and tell them this is an “extended play,” they’re going to be like, “What the fuck?” I think some people just say that it’s an EP to be cool, rather than just saying, “I’m going to drop four songs.” It sounds more put together than four songs in playlist, but that’s what it is: four songs in a playlist.

What are you excited about for the album?
For people to be happy. I want people to be happy. I like making people happy with my music. I like giving people a good time with my music.