‘Smile’ is, in some ways at least, a record that Juice WRLD always wanted to make: in 2019, the late artist tweeted about wanting to collaborate with Abel Tesfaye. “Me and The Weeknd would make a diamond record…” he wrote, four months before he died in 2018.
Posthumous releases are tricky things and getting them right is a balancing act. The best results are respectful of an artist’s legacy, and present themselves as creative interpretations rather than lost artefacts. Juice WRLD’s recent collection ‘Legends Never Die‘ was “a sprawling 21-track project that pays necessary homage to the talented rapper,” but was “too bloated and featured-packed to say much about him.” But given the keen nature of his estate to continue his legacy, there’s a chance that some releases simply won’t work, wheras others will thrive.
The foundations of ‘Smile’ are not new – a version of this song leaked under the name ‘Sad’ two years ago, with largely similar lyrics and a more menacing beat from Internet Money’s Nick Mira. Mira was also involved in the latest iteration, credited alongside Internet Money founder Taz Taylor and Florida producer Cxdy. ‘Smile’ trades murk for a more light-footed iteration of trap and as The Weeknd provides a breezy verse.
Given the circumstances, many of Juice WRLD’s words now take on a grimly prophetic tone. ”Devil on my shoulder tellin’ me I’ll die soon,” he raps, “I don’t really want that to impact you”. His verses are bittersweet, willing to leave somebody he loves behind so that they can “prosper and come proper” alone. It’s a sad and selfless sentiment.
Tesfaye, meanwhile, seems to play a kind of foil; on a different journey towards a similar realisation that sometimes it can be kinder to let people go. He’s less forgiving and more caught up in his own shortcomings. “I need drugs to love you,” he sings, “you want so much more from me, but I can only fuck you”.
‘Smile’ represents two sides of the same coin. Though the collaboration fulfils a pipe-dream of the late rapper’s, Juice WRLD’s perspective ultimately steals the spotlight.