Thomas Hobbs of NME published a review of Juice WRLD’s second studio album, Death Race For Love, awarding the project four stars out of five. The author makes several proclamations about the 20 year-old rapper throughout the review, some of which I agree with (“Juice WRLD makes songs that stick, his vocal dissonance capturing what it feels like to be young and in pain”).
At other points, Hobbs’ arguments suffer from hyperbole.
For example, he holds the belief that Juice’s 22-song album takes the emo-rap sub-genre to “inventive new heights.” Sure, Death Race For Love is the Chicago native’s most versatile record to date however, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes this experience so inventive.
“Hear Me Calling” is the same type of dancehall pop that Swae Lee and Drake created — Lee on Metro Boomin’s “Borrowed Love,” and Drake on “One Dance”. Even when Juice stays on brand with his lovesick aesthetic, the lyrics usually vary from cringe-inducing (like when he says on “Maze,” “I took my demons to the bank of life and made the greatest deposit“) to amusing, but still over-the-top (“Your scars are really gorgeous/A’int that a weird way to give compliments,” which he spits on “Flaws and Sins”).
Incorporating the guitar for emotional enhancement — as Juice does on “Who Shot Cupid?” and “Ring Ring” — isn’t a new phenomenon in rap, either. Heck, XXXtentacion was using it on his albums before he passed —like on the incredibly raw, 17.
Death Race For Love doesn’t re-invent the wheel. The album is merely establishing a post-punk platform for Juice to explore his talents. Artists like Trippie Redd and Lil Peep have done this before in their own way: think A Love Letter To You series from Trippie.
Hobbs also makes the argument that Juice’s “songwriting becomes less weighted on sad-sack anthems.” I disagree completely. In fact, I think the 20 year-old takes the emo aesthetic to outrageous heights.
“Robbery” literally features Juice yelling about how his love for a woman is a “gift and a curse,” and he “cannot reverse it.” The very first track on the record, “Empty,” displays lyrical heartbreak (“I feel so god damn empty…I problem solve with styrofoam“). Heck, the album is aptly titled, Death Race For Love.
Sure, there’s one or two instances where Higgins comes through with a love song that’s not about heartache (“Desire” and “Out My Way”), but even those tracks have a few bars about using drugs to cope with depression. Not to mention, he brings up the depths of hell at least five times, and asks his girl to come with him (specifically on “Empty”).
So yeah, he’s definitely on the emo wave still.
The final controversial statement in Hobbs’ review of Death Race for Love involves the idea that Juice “honors old-school rap.” Yes, he has expressed his love for rappers like Eminem in the past (check the No Jumper podcast), but nowhere on his new album is there even a reference to 90s and early 2000s hip hop, until the very end at least.
He’s singing on most of the choruses, which you wouldn’t hear on an early Nas or Jay-Z project. Also, showing your emotions in rap’s early days wasn’t considered “cool.” If you weren’t a “man,” then you were eaten alive in the genre.
If anything, Juice is following a trend that Drake and Kanye set for him, when they released their own brand of pop-rap (808 & Heartbreak and Take Care come to mind).
Juice may be paying his respects to hip hop contemporaries, but they are mainly most recent ones. The only time he incorporates old-school hip hop in his production is on the final song, “Make Believe,” in which the 20-year-old samples Pharcyde’s “Runnin.” Other than that, most of the guitar riffs are punk-inspired.
Death Race For Love is a good album, but it’s not great. For the most part, I see where Hobbs is coming from with some of his arguments. The hyperbolic statements are where I have to disagree with him. Juice is a talented artist, but nothing he’s doing is original.
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