Juice Wrld ‘s legacy has evolved since his death, thanks to an extensive music catalog and a foundation created in his honor by his mother, Carmela Wallace. Mrs Wallace, who helps others with their own mental health, is determined to keep her son‘s soul alive.
My mother knows best, it‘s one of the lyrics Juice Wrld uses inside and outside his music. Rhyming on the venerable Chicago rapper‘s platinum track “Fast,” he said, “I‘m not trying to be me.
Knowingly, I promise/My mother taught me better than that, I‘ll be honest. ” Her mother, Carmela Wallace, refers to her son by name, Jarad smiles when he hears the adorable words during a Zoom call last November. It was proof that his son was paying attention to his parenting skills as a child.
Since Juice‘s childhood, Ms. Wallace, 56, has known about her musical talent. At the age of 5, he exceled in piano lessons and wanted to play hand bells, guitar, bass drums and bands in high school. While Ms. Wallace encouraged Juice to attend college after her high school graduation in 2017, she soon realized that her heart was ready to make rap music for her son.
Seeing the passion and energy she had while performing at a friend‘s birthday party was all she needed to support her take a year off to try to fulfil her dreams as a hip-hop artist. And by 2017, Juice was regularly entering the studio and had signed a deal with Grade A Productions, an independent company co-produced by Lil Bibby and his brother George “G-Money” Dickinson. The following year, Juice signed a reported $3 million deal with Interscope Records.
Here, Carmela Wallace – a play in which Juice is “super good” – talks about her son‘s legacy, the mission of Live Free 999, the importance of transparency with his battles, and these pesky song leaks.
First of all, we would like to thank XXL for this interview.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with XXL today. How are you?
Carmela Wallace: I’m good. Thank you for having me.
You’re welcome. Live Free 999 is a foundation you launched to help normalize the conversation about mental health in honor of Juice Wrld, also known as your son, Jarad Higgins. What is the mission?
The mission of Live Free 999 is really to just normalize the conversation around mental health, you know, and just take the stigma away from it and just to contribute to organizations that support that cause, you know, as well as substance dependency. Then we have another part of us that provides opportunities. Like, for example, when we first launched, we had a couple of shirts that came out. We had the Live Free logo shirt and we also have a shirt we released called “Exhale Depression.” Those were college students who did that design and they were able to get recognition for doing the work. We just wanted to provide opportunities that people may not normally have gotten to showcase their talent.
Why was it important for you to even start the foundation?
Well, I was hurting, painful. And then I started receiving messages from people, how [Jarad’s] music helped them with depression and anxiety. And I felt like it was a void. I felt like it was my obligation to continue that message—Jarad’s message of healing—’cause he really touched on mental health in his music. He talked about mental health. So, I felt like as his mom, I needed to carry that forward.
You’ve done some special things so far. What are the ways Live Free 999 has helped others since you’ve launched?
We have a crisis text line, which is really big. That line is free and confidential. It’s 24/7, where if they need help, they have someone to talk to, where they are not being judged. I think people just need to feel comfortable about talking about themselves not being OK and that’s a good avenue. We have seen such great numbers in the African-American male community responding to that text crisis line and so, it’s a big deal.
Other things we have done, we supported programs for substance dependency. We supported programs who deal with mental health. And some of them, I think it’s called A Place Called Home out in L.A., where they actually have a music program and they put together an album or something at the end. So, things that kind of relate to things that Jarad did or path that he’s walked before, but, also, just to open doors for other people to get help.
And we are still growing. We still would like to touch more. We would like to be more hands-on. So, in the future, I hope to see us sponsoring events and just getting more into the legwork, you know, not just making donations, but actually contributing in other ways we find best.
What’s respected on your path as a mother is that you haven’t turned inward to hide the experiences that your son had with mental health and drugs and you channel that into your foundation to help others. Why is that significant for you to be open and share from a mother’s perspective?
Transparency I think is important. And I think it’s important for other people to heal. And I know the world sees him as Juice Wrld, I see him as Jarad, and just normalize our conversation around him and his experience. So, I just think that it’s important to be honest. And I was honest with him. The same way I am is the same way I was with him. I was transparent. We talked about drugs and his use. We talked about him getting help. He knows I would do something like this. He knew that I would be the one with a mission of helping others. It’s not necessarily to, you know, glorify his drug use, for a lack of a better word. It’s for a fact that, hey, this is real. I don’t want to glorify drugs. I just want you to see the outcome of it. The outcome of what can happen if you allow yourself to stay in that state.
So, it was important to me to be honest and say, “Hey, people are hurting,” and how can I help people if I conceal it? It has to come out to give that message that you are not alone because people just suffer alone.
These days, why do you think it’s even more important for artists to do a self-check when it comes to their mental health and making that a priority?
I think it’s not just artists. I think really it applies to all of us. I think with them, they just have a lot on their plate. Their schedule is really busy, and there’s a lot coming at them. Especially like Jarad, because he went from high school to out of the house. So, we didn’t have that separation. That time to adjust. He just had to go. So, he had to adapt to basically a whole other lifestyle. And I would try to encourage him because he did counseling when he was in high school just for impulsiveness, ’cause he would be a bit impulsive. And I recommended that he do that, but he didn’t. I couldn’t make him do it.
But I think it’s just important to take care of your mental health. I think it’s important to just do those checks and say, you know, “Am I OK?” and just really pay attention to things that are bothering you. Pay attention to the anxiety and just try to do something about it and not think that this is normal. It’s not normal to have to live like that even though they have such a busy schedule and so many demands on them in that industry. That they definitely need to just take time out and see if they are OK and just have people around them that support that.
When it comes to that counseling, why was that the way to go to help your son just kind of figure out what was going on with himself?
So, he had a choice. So, first of all, he was diagnosed with ADD. He didn’t like taking the medicine and I understand. He didn’t like the medicine and I couldn’t make him take it ’cause he was at that point, now he’s in high school, he would pitch that pill somewhere and be about his way. We finally found something that was a little better, a little more natural, but he wasn’t a fan. So, I gave him two choices. I said, “You could either do karate or you could do counseling.” And so we went to this place where we live in Homewood [in Illinois] for a free trial and when we pulled up to the building, they said Karate for Kids and that was done. He wasn’t going in there and I wasn’t making him.
And so, I found someone that he could relate to, to speak with that he felt comfortable with. He was an African-American male who worked with a lot of people in sports and he could relate to Jarad. So, Jarad felt comfortable and I was comfortable with him talking with him. So, we did it for at least three years and a little after high school, too, until he left to do Juice Wrld stuff, but he was definitely going to counseling regularly.
That was a significant amount of time. Do you think that also just helped him on a personal level to express himself with his feelings, but also within his own music?
I think so. I think that was a big contributor to that. Jarad was always a talker. He never had a problem with his words, but I think it helped him get more in touch with his feelings. And I think it definitely did help him express himself through his music.
Aside from the foundation, what are some other ways that you are involved in keeping Juice Wrld’s legacy going strong?
I think the foundation is the biggest thing. And then I’m building a brewery [Homewood Brewing Company] in our old neighborhood in his honor. So, that as well because Homewood was special to us. I moved there because he wanted to go to the high school, so I bought a house there. It was coming off a hard time financially that I just kept working and working hard where I could provide for him. A home and a nice community with a nice high school that he loved. So, it was special. Our time there was special. He loved it. And so, I just felt I wanted to just give back to the community and serve and honor him because he loved it so much. So, those things really just keep me really busy.
That’s great. Juice’s fans know him as an artist who had an exceptional talent, but first and foremost, he’s your son, Jarad Higgins. As a child, when did you realize he had a gift with music?
I would say when he was taking piano lessons because he would just memorize the songs. He started at about 5 or 6. He could read music, but he wouldn’t. I mean, he would read it once and then he would just start playing the songs. And then as he grew, you just see him start picking up songs. He picked up the guitar and he was teaching himself actually. And then I’m like, “Well, maybe you should get lessons for that, too.” But when he got to the class, he was so advanced they had to give another class and this was him teaching himself. So, he just naturally just connected to instruments and music.
Yes. So, I let them do it. My involvement is I give the thumbs up, but Bibby does what Bibby does. He picks the songs and puts everything together. He does such an awesome job, so I would never want to change that dynamic and he loved him. He would put stuff out that really represents him [Jarad] well. And he puts the love and labor into producing something really good, so I would never take that away.
Much of Juice’s music gets leaked unfortunately. What are your thoughts on the people releasing his songs?
I understand they loved him. They loved his music, but there’s a proper way to do it. Let us give you our best. Leaked music is not necessarily cleaned up music, it’s just leaked, it’s not finished. So, it’s just a lot of work just going into it. It’s a bit disrespectful to him, honestly, to leak his music like that. But I know that monster is there, been there and it’s not going anywhere. We can just do our part and put out good music. He made a lot of music.
What is your favorite Juice Wrld song?
I have a bunch. Just off that last album, [Death Race for Love], I like “Flaws and Sins.” I like “Fast.” I like “Hear Me Calling.” I think I like that whole album. And, of course, his first one, [Goodbye & Good Riddance]. I love “Lucid Dreams” ’cause I’m a huge Sting fan. So, I re- member when he brought that sample home and he was playing it. And I’m like, “Hey, that’s Sting. Make sure you get permission.” That’s the first thing I said. I’m always a fan of “Lucid Dreams” because it’s special to me ’cause that’s when I realized, Wow, this kid is really talented. It really made me see him as the artist, not just as my son. I think “Flaws and Sins” might be my favorite one.
There was a video going around on social media last year from a fan who filmed the outside of Juice’s mausoleum, which includes photos of him as a child as well as him as an artist. Why did you want to also showcase Juice’s XXL cover there?
I wanted to do something for the fans and then something for the family. We always treated him like Jarad. I like to show the reality of it. Juice Wrld is an icon, but Jarad was a son, a brother, an uncle and all of that. So, I like to make stuff more realistic. He wasn’t just Juice Wrld. He was my son that died from an overdose, so I like to keep it like that. That’s the way I only know how to do stuff. I don’t like to do fluff. I deal in reality. I try to respect stuff that he would love and I know that he loved his fans.