“It’s kind of rough listening to the music,” Lil Bibby tells Complex about playing back Juice WRLD’s music following his passing. The rapper and Grade A Productions founder had worked closely with Juice WRLD since the late rapper joined the label in 2017, and he continues to be involved with the release of posthumous material.
Peter Jideonwo, Juice WRLD’s manager until his death, agrees. “It’s definitely mixed emotions when it comes to this,” he says. “Obviously, he’s not here anymore, so it’s not the same. It’s even awkward telling somebody, ‘Yeah, I’m Juice’s manager.’ But it also gives you motivation, like, ‘You can’t fuck this up.’”
It’s been two years since Juice WRLD, born Jarad Higgins, passed away from an accidental overdose at the age 21. Though the circumstances surrounding his death have been difficult for his family, friends, and fans to process at times, his story brought heightened awareness to substance abuse and mental health. On Dec. 9, the city of Chicago celebrated the first inaugural Juice WRLD Day in honor of the life and legacy of its native rapper.
Now, Lil Bibby, Peter and the rest of the team are hoping to reach an even more broader audience with the release of Juice WRLD’s second posthumous album, Fighting Demons. The project, which was put together within the last year, will deliver an important lesson and Bibby says he wants it “to tell a message.”
“The way he passed, from drugs stuff, I wanted to tell a message where it’s kind of teaching a lesson,” he says. “The kids shouldn’t do this type of stuff. Or, if you are going through any of the stuff that Juice was going through, like anxiety or depression, then you should probably find help.”
Helping others was always a part of Juice WRLD’s mission. Aside from leaving behind a large catalog of music (Bibby says there are 2,000 unreleased songs, including 20 with Young Thug alone), Juice left an important legacy. Jideonwo says he’s “going to be known as the therapist to the youth that never declared himself a therapist.”
Ahead of the official release of Juice WRLD’s Fighting Demons, Lil Bibby and Peter Jideonwo hopped on Zoom to discuss how the album came together, its message, favorite memories, and new potential projects. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.
How long did the album take to put together?
Bibby: This project took maybe eight to 12 months [to complete]. Juice has so many songs, so it takes a long time to just go through all of the songs. And then you’ve got to ride around to the songs, and make sure that you like them after the thousandth listening.
When and where were most of the songs on this project recorded?
Bibby: These songs were created anywhere from a two to three-year span. Sometimes he’ll be in the studio, sometimes he’ll be at home. Sometimes he might be in Chicago or overseas somewhere.
How complete were most of the tracks prior to putting the album together?
Bibby: Juice almost always completed a song. Sometimes he may do one verse, but he almost always completed the songs. So, 95% of it was completed.
What was your main goal or priority going into this album?
Bibby: I just wanted to put together the best songs that he had. But I still wanted to tell a message. The way he passed, from drugs stuff, I wanted to tell a message where it’s kind of teaching a lesson. The kids shouldn’t do this type of stuff. Or if you are going through any of the stuff that Juice was going through, like anxiety or depression, then you should probably find help.
Jideonwo: Yeah, speaking on what Bibby said, it was definitely to touch people and also to deliver that timeless music, that classic album. The first two Juice WRLD albums are still on the charts for countless numbers of years, and continue to stay in the top 100. So we wanted to deliver that absolute meaningful album that lives longer than all of us together.
“We didn’t hear a lot of the music until he passed away. Some of the songs sound like a cry for help. And I always get in my feelings when I listen to it, because I’m like, ‘Damn, if I would’ve heard this before he passed, I would’ve probably did this.’” – Lil Bibby
Was there a blueprint mapped out for how Juice wanted this album or his career?
Bibby: Juice always had a couple songs that he just loved. So I tried to put some of those songs on the project. If it goes with the meaning of the story that we’re trying to tell with the project. I kept that in mind. So, I picked some of the songs that I know he loved and then picked some of the other songs that I had to go on the hard drive and find.
Why did it feel like now was the right time to release Fighting Demons instead of holding onto it a little longer?
Bibby: We had the documentary coming, and this was the best music to fit the documentary. And while we’ve got all the eyeballs, I wanted to put out the right music that has a message in the music for the kids. I always want to help. I know Juice did a lot of drugs—it’s a lot of drug talk in the music—but in the album, I put different skits and different messages to try to tell kids it’s a bad side to this. We got Eminem on the album, talking about how he had a really bad drug problem, and he almost passed away. But he overcame it, and you can overcome it. I made sure to put stuff like that in it to try to help.
Juice WRLD made a lot of music. Aside from selecting songs that fit the message, how did you go about choosing out of such a big catalog?
Bibby: It’s always difficult, because Juice has got one of the craziest fanbases that I’ve ever seen. So, if I make any mistake, if I put anything that they don’t feel should have gone on it, they will kill me online for months, probably years. So I’m always super careful about what I put on there. What do they want? What he would’ve wanted. It’s always super hard for me to do.
Fanbases can be brutal when it comes to their favorite artists. How do you balance what they want and what was aligned with Juice’s vision?
Bibby: First, I try to think: How could I help? What could I do to make it not feel like we’re just putting out a bunch of music that’s talking about drugs? And then, I think about Juice’s fans. They are like the make or break. They’ll kill us online if anything goes wrong. So I’ve got to keep in mind, what do these kids want? What are their favorite songs that already may have leaked? Then I think about what Juice’s favorites are that he would always play for me. It’s a lot that goes into it.
Jideonwo: I think it’s a mix of everything. Like the die-hardcore fans are always the loudest. Juice fans are the absolute, most… I wouldn’t use the word insane, but maybe the craziest. Like, earlier this year, they leaked my phone number. I think around 2,000 kids called me. They leaked my house address. Somebody ordered pizza to my house. All because, before this album came out, we had advertised another album, which was called The Party Never Ends. And there was a trend going on, where they’ll say, “Oh, when’s The Party Never Ends dropping?” And we would say, “Soon. Soon. Soon.” And so that kind of played out through the summer. Then when we finally said, “Oh, the album’s not coming out,” all hell broke loose.
So, it’s really about trying to manage the expectations for the fanbase. They’re so involved in his career. We have so many leaked songs. They’re going to say, “Oh, put this song out. Put this song out. This creative is not good. Why don’t you make it look this way? Juice wouldn’t want this.” It’s really hard to try to balance it and make them happy. But I think we try our best to listen to them as much as possible, but also understand that what those 20 to 30,000 kids want, might not always be the best decision for the bigger picture. 30,000 kids do not necessarily equate to a song getting a billion streams. And then those kids are still going to say, “Oh, forget about the numbers. Who cares? Take Justin Bieber off the record.” It’s just a balance all the way down from the merch to the music to the videos to whatever. You’re always going to have someone say they knew what Juice wanted.
"Juice has over 2,000 [unreleased] songs, but maybe about 700 of them already leaked." – Lil Bibby
Can you talk about the features on this project? How did you go about recruiting artists like Justin Bieber and Eminem?
Bibby: I always like to go to the guys that I know he was truly friends with. So I had to do Polo G and Trippie Redd because they were his real friends. I always used to pull up to the house, and they were just over there, not even doing music all the time. So I always like to go to them first. And then Bieber, I know he always wanted to work with him. And I know Bieber was going through some of the same things with drugs. So that was special for me to have Bieber talking about his issues to the kids. Then I’m like, who else bigger than Bieber could talk about this that’ll be meaningful? Then Juice did a song with Suga from BTS. Suga is really big on mental health, too, so it just fit the project.
What challenges did you have while putting this together?
Bibby: It’s always tough clearing everything. I had got this footage from this Lil Wayne interview, and it was really meaningful, really powerful. It was Lil Wayne talking about how he had mental health, and he shot himself. The cops saved him. So I felt like that was really meaningful. And up until yesterday, we were even trying to clear it, and we couldn’t clear it.
Jideonwo: We got denied—not by Wayne, not the interviewer, but the actual studio that owns the content. And something like that puts a hole in the album. And then with the rollout, we’re hosting Juice WRLD Day tomorrow in Chicago to commemorate the album and Juice in general. We had this planned for a while, but really, we decided to go full force on it nine days ago, which is when we pretty much went on sale. But right before we went on sale, Drake and Kanye West announced their day in Los Angeles, which is also on the ninth. Then you have Rolling Loud and all that stuff. So, trying to get different clearances for all different things and getting people involved, and cleaning up different types of businesses… When working on something grand, you’re going to face multiple, multiple, multiple challenges, and from every angle that you may or may not expect.
How have you learned to deal with challenges? Or is it really just having a positive attitude regardless?
Jideonwo: Yeah. For Juice WRLD Day, for example, we’re looking at almost 12 to 14,000 people in nine days, which is really good. Especially during COVID, when a lot of people don’t have vaccinations, you can’t even get people to come through the door. And then the other things that have been going on with concerts and festivals around the country. Me, Bibby, and the whole team, we work at such a high level. And we have really good people around us that help us accomplish these goals. And because we operate at such a high level, we’re able to come up with great ideas to supplement whatever falls through the cracks. We just come up with better ideas. I’ve seen Bibby come up with ideas upon ideas.
From an emotional standpoint, what feelings did you go through while making this project?
Bibby: It’s kind of rough listening to the music. We didn’t hear a lot of the music until he passed away. Some of the songs sound like a cry for help. And I always get in my feelings when I listen to it, because I’m like, “Damn, if I would’ve heard this before he passed, I would’ve probably did this.” So it always makes me get emotional.
Jideonwo: It’s definitely mixed emotions when it comes to this. Obviously, he’s not here anymore, so it’s not the same. It’s even awkward telling somebody, “Yeah, I’m Juices’ manager.” It also gives you motivation to—and everyone uses the phrase, “Keep the legacy alive.” It gives us the motivation, like, “You can’t fuck this up.” You have to over-deliver every single time, because you’re not even fighting your own battle. You’re fighting a battle for someone that can’t fight for themselves. That’s the extra motivation, extra pressure and an extra eye over your back, just making sure you do what you do to the best.
“He’s going to go down as the greatest artist of all the time in his generation.” – Peter Jideonwo
How many songs does Juice WRLD have in the vault?
Jideonwo: See, that question right there… You’re going to have the fans coming after Bibby. Once he says the numbers, they’re about to go DM us.
Bibby: Over 2,000 songs, but maybe about 700 of them already leaked.
Peter Jideonwo: They’re going to be like, “Why did you not pick from the others 1,300 songs?”
How many projects could you put together in the future?
Bibby: I want to put out a project maybe sometime next year that shows the happier side, or the side where Juice has more energy, because this album is a bunch of songs that get you in your feelings.
Would you ever think about making a collaborative album between Juice and another artist? If so, who would the other artist be?
Bibby: I’m not sure about that. Maybe Young Thug, because I know what they were working on. And they’ve got 20-plus songs already.
What is Juice WRLD’s lasting legacy?
Jideonwo: I think his legacy is going to be that he was more than a musician. I think that he is going to be known as the therapist to the youth that never declared himself a therapist. A person that changed people knowingly and unknowingly, through his music, through things that he was going through. Because people are also going through what he was going through, him putting that out through his music, as raw as it was, helped millions and millions of people. He’s going to go down as the greatest artist of all the time in his generation. If not just off the sales and trajectories and streams alone, he’s going to be the greatest artist of the time, because of the change and the impact to the world that he brought to the people that have listened to him. And also how he changed music.
Bibby: I get DMs every day about how he saved thousands of kids. They DM me like, “Juice saved me.” Then they start cursing me out or whatever, because they said they need the music. I don’t know, he was the nicest kid that I ever met. He was probably the best artist that I ever witnessed. And I’ve been around pretty much every artist. I don’t think it’ll be an artist that’s better than that. I still listen to him every day.