I make it a point not to speak ill of the recently dead, but now that a decent grace period has passed, I can say that I had mixed feelings about the late Juicewrld’s music. He did have an impressive gift for vocal melody, and I can see why “Lucid Dreams” was his biggest hit…it features a sample of Sting’s atmospheric Soft Rock classic “Shape of My Heart”, and Juicewrld does offer a genuinely interesting variation on the original melody.
Unfortunately, at the time that song was recorded, he was (to put it bluntly) an extremely poor lyricist, which severely hampered his attempts to be taken seriously. Now, I’m aware that Hook-Rap isn’t really a lyric-driven genre, but we’re not talking about standard Rap cliches, or even random stream-of-consciousness non-sequiturs in the Young Thug vein. We’re talking about a melodramatic, self-pitying, and frankly rather mean-spirited rant about the world in general and the gender of women in particular. Even in the Rap field, the misogyny rarely gets this personal, and since Juicewrld isn’t a shock-rapper like Eminem, all this ugly sentiment seems to have been intended straightforwardly.
As far the Hook-Rap subgenre recently dubbed “Emo-Rap” goes, if the late XXXtentacion was the equivalent of My Chemical Romance with their ambitious concepts and take-no-prisoners personal introspection, then Juicewrld at this point was more the equivalent of bands like Simple Plan and Good Charlotte, coming off in his writing like a self-involved, insufferably melodramatic teenager who thinks he invented suffering. I have no real way of knowing if this reflected his personality in any way or if he just wasn’t very good at communicating through lyrics, but either way, the resulting effect makes his early work, for all its melodic inventiveness, kind of unpleasant.
I actually expect the latter is true, however, because after Juicewrld’s untimely death, the Legends Never Die album came out and changed the minds of nearly all of his previous detractors, including me. Tragically, it seems that he died when he was just coming into his own as a Rapper. “Wishing Well”, the lead single and arguable highlight of that posthumous album, shows the same impressive gift for melody as Juicewrld’s earlier material, but jumps light-years ahead in terms of lyrical depth and profundity.
With some of the most perfectly chosen words ever harnessed to express true despair, this song is a magnificent achievement that, like AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”, takes on a particularly intense power and poignancy because it was essentially the final statement of a human being who already seemed to know their self-destructive behavior was about to catch up to them to a fatal degree.
Verdict: For “Lucid Dreams”, not totally without redeeming qualities, but not precisely good, either. For “Wishing Well”…this is one of the finest Hook-Rap songs in the entire genre, and one of the best Rap songs of any kind from the last ten years, and it makes me weep for what might have been if this artist had lived.