I’m a big supporter of Juiceboxxx; what he represents as an individual, as much as anything. Described in his press release as a “Milwaukee-bred alternative punk/rap artist” the badger state golden boy is a solid decade-and-a-half deep into a career that has found him demonstrating an uwavering level of commitment to his own unique artistic vision, against all odds, while working to expand the very parameters of what that entails from one moment to the next. Exactly what his goal is or what he’s moving toward may only be clear in the mind of the Juiceboi, but chances are that the answer is often as perplexing to him, as anyone, if not more. The only thing that I’m sure of is that there’s a compulsion that forces him to create and that JB is cursed with the knowledge that so many others mistakenly believe that they desire to achieve: he knows exactly who he is, but along with that comes a responsibility to live up to what that means, even if conventional wisdom is constantly reminding him that it would be much easier to operate as if he were someone else… someone who is less ambitious (about pursuing their art), or rather, more ambitious (in pursuing a “normal” life), depending how you look at it.
The first thing that I remember seeing from Boxxx was his 2013 video for “Living Like A Renegade” which consists entirely of him stomping toward the camera down the middle of the street in a residential neighborhood in Los Angeles, tearing his shirt off, and rapping aggressively, yet enthusiastically, while being trailed by a slow moving Volvo wagon. After opening the track by sing/shouting the hook, “I’ve got a hole in my heart that I can’t escape and now I’m living on the run like a renegade,” the music kicks in and, sounding like something that could have been pulled directly from “Fight For Your Right…” era Beastie Boys, he launches into the following verse:
Chinatown Bus to NYC
New Years Eve I was up in Philly
Playing a show and got booed off stage
Then I got wasted and ate a Cheese Steak
Next day, I’m back in the mix
Back on the road with no confidence
Misunderstood from the start (YEAH)
But you know that I got heart (YEAH)
I had to get out of my town for a bit
When it all went down yo, I couldn’t quite face it
I dropped out and went on the road
Nowhere to run I got nowhere to go
But I’m at the show and I’m playing it, I’m slaying it
Tomorrow I just don’t know where I’m fucking staying at
And I know the choices that I have made
Living like a renegade
Later in the track he states that he’s “just a kid with a fucking plan,” but his “plan has a lot of holes,” adding that he “just [doesn’t] fucking know.” Even if you’ve never heard anything else from or about him, “Living Like A Renegade” pretty much sums up the core of what Juiceboxx does and is about, as he very directly goes seppuku style with the mic, opening himself up and dumping his guts all over the beat. There are references to him dropping out of college and touring the country via Greyhound bus, backed by nothing but an iPod, as he used to do (he’s often spoken in the past about how he doesn’t drive), and the song even discusses his post-tour returns to the Midwest where he’s back to doing more basement shows, feeling like he’s slipped backward to square one, and a compulsion to get the fuck out of town again. Letting go of his optimism isn’t an option for a man who has put all of his eggs in one basket (himself), any more than stopping a car would be, after you’ve bashed off the brakes with a dusty brick. A laser focus and positive outlook are necessary tools for survival, and when your skill-set doesn’t include the ability to either drive or stop, you’re just going to need to learn how to keep steering that motherfucker and keep your ass on the road. In the case of Juiceboxxx, it’s always been much more about what’s driving him than the other way around, anyway.
“Living Like A Renegade” comes from, I Don’t Want To Go Into The Darkness, an LP with a title that reflects the artist’s constant struggle to avoid falling into holes of depression, doubt, and negativity. Other songs include “The Darkness And The Dream,” with its DJ scratches laid over a looping heavy guitar riff; a driving cold/dark wave track called “Expressway To The Darkness,” that’s accompanied by a grainy, washed-out video to match; and the cut, “21 On The 101” which includes the lyrics “You’re on a Mission but you don’t know why” and “This is not for fun, this is all you got.” With his noted affinity for Springsteen on full display, the album closes out with a huge dose of positivity in the form of the anthemic, “Never Surrender Forever.”
I Don’t Want To Go Into The Darkness was co-released by Jeff The Brotherhood‘s Infinity Cat Recordings and Juiceboxxx‘s own “no-rules American pop music and culture label,” Thunderzone, through which he also sells his own Thunderzone energy drink; put out music by Huntsville rap duo, G-Side; and, for a long time, was the only outlet to get highly sought after merchandise for underground cult rap legend, Lil Ugly Mane. Aside from Jeff The Brotherhood, Juiceboxxx has toured with such varying acts at Public Enemy, Japanther, Big Freedia, MNDR, Fat Tony, and Narwhalz (Of Sound), performing in over 18 countries. He’s also collaborated with such musicians and producers as Spank Rock, Shawn Kemp (Lil Ugly Mane), Antwon, Kool A.D., Javelin, Dan Deacon, and Dillon Francis. As the ‘about’ section on his website explains, “He connects the dots between Garage Rock and Baltimore Club, Classic Rock and Classic Rap. Def Jam and “Jack And Diane””
I've got a disgusting amount of shit to work on, but have spent the last hour watching @JUICEBOXXXUSA videos instead
— MonsterFresh (@MonsterFresh) December 4, 2014
After discovering his work, I found myself tearing through one video after another and, while each clip did seem to offer up something completely different, there was also some very evident threads connecting them. In the video for his frenetic electro dance number “!00 MPH,” JB shifts from sunken dead-eyed stares at the camera to lurching around in his unwashed clothes, shaking his stringy hair, doing jump kicks, and pumping his fist to the skies, as if he’s gotten a second wind on a meth bender, as the dub-step wub-wub-wubs bubble up around the chant of “100 miles per hour, 1-billion miles away” — a reference to giving it all during every one of his high energy live shows that take place in any number/manner of locations each night. Similarly, “Like A Maniac” shows him sporting an unbuttoned long-sleeve and khakis, while flinging his gangly bare-chested frame around a living room with oddly dated 1980s family-style decor, breaking a vase, punching himself in the side of the head, and haphazardly pouring a can of his energy drink into a large wine glass at/on a dining room table, as he sings about his choices he’s made, his inability to “go back,” using garbage bags to transport his wardrobe, and the never-ending rotation of new couches he’s destined to sleep on, but this time it’s all resting over a rocking guitar beat. There’s footage of him performing surrounded by small children on the puppet-hosted Windy City public access kiddie dance program Chic-A-Go-Go, as so many other notable artists from Sonic Youth to GZA have done before him, and even a fairly awkward clip of him appearing on a morning news show, while experiencing technical issues, which I’ve only just discovered, apparently, mutated into a viral sensation ignorantly labeling him “the worst rapper ever.”
For a full year– beginning in 2013 and ending in January of 2014 — Juiceboxxx even dedicated himself to recording weekly “State Of The Thunderzone” videos like clockwork, and, although by the third week he was already admitting that he’d completely run out of things to talk about, he still followed through by pumping out all 52 of these video logs, updating viewers on the status of his various projects, whether it be through physical sickness, or real-time shifts in his own mental state and motivation. In the very last of these videos he mentioned that a friend –I believe he might have been referring to Dan Deacon — suggested allowing JB to do his final broadcast right in the middle of his concert and making it a huge celebration. It was an offer which he declined, explaining that it wasn’t going to suddenly “get good now” for the final installment, and noting that concept wasn’t in step with the tone or content of what the whole series had always been about, up to that point. He went on to elaborate, “State of the thunder zone is me, fucking, living my life on a fucking floor in some fucking room that isn’t mine that’s a long ways away from home and just trying to fucking survive.” To some extent, that’s what his entire career has been about. He was still singing about the same exact type of shit on last year’s particularly solid, “Follow Your Fucked Up Dreams” with lines like “Putting it all on the line / I’m probably gonna fail this time/ but I’ve got no choice and I can’t go home” and “Out of the heartland and into the black / sometimes it’s so hard, but I can’t look back. / People ask me what’s the reason why, but it’s the same dumb reason ’til the day I die.” Recurring themes have embedded themselves not only into the catalogs of individual artists over the years, but entire genres as well, so it’s not really a surprise that someone so focused on carving out his own path would have his own thematic throughline in his own material. But, while artists working in hip hop music, for example, have often constructed their work on the premise of being the greatest and most on top of their game, Juiceboxxx has built his career on the idea of the climb, consistently yanking himself back up after each fall, and pushing through those who would seek to knock you down. With the remarkable ability to face any and all doubts head on, only to transform them into new content for his music and fuel his motivation, this is one artist that I can’t not want to see succeed.
I can safely say that I don’t recall us ever receiving any official press releases for Juiceboxxx in the past, but a month ago today that changed with the announcement that he had signed with Dangerbird, the Silverlake, CA indie-rock label credited with launching the careers of acts like Silversun Pickups. Speaking of the catalyst for the merger, Dangerbird president, Jenni Sperando discusses a show that she witnessed by JB in his current live formation backed by a guitarist and drummer. “5 minutes into his performance, which I stumbled into accidentally, I would have done anything he asked me to. It was utterly captivating, like Crispin Glover fronting Bad Brains.” She goes on to state, “We are all thrilled to be a part of taking Juiceboxxx to the next, next level.”
Also on the horizon is a brand new album titled Freaked Out American Loser, which is slated for a September 28th release date. The press release describes the upcoming LP as “a punk rap blast that captures the anarchic, aggressive spirit of Juiceboxxx’s live show while also adding a new level of polish, focus, and dare we say, professionalism.” The rapper/musician/producer himself contributes the following insight: “I’m putting together these pieces in a way I find interesting as a contemporary record, and not conforming to any trends of the moment,” and states that he’s “looking at Beastie Boys as the Ramones or something, and trying to build on that language; looking at Public Enemy within the lens of punk rock.”
Today we get our first taste of what’s to come in the form of “Freaking Out,” which begins with the verse, “Out of my mind but I’m a hell of a guy, I got the PMA, that’s just an FYI / I got a J-O-B and that’s to stay alive, 24/7 not 9 to 5.” Here’s what the creator, himself, has to say about the new single.
“”Freaking Out” is about hitting brick walls and fucking everything up but despite it all staying the course and trying to change your life in a positive way. It is also just my attempt to make a high energy rap song with some real nerve. Musically, it is influenced by everyone from The Breeders to Wu-Tang Clan. I’ve been doing music my whole life. The real ones are in this regardless of trends or the internet attention economy or really anything. We do this because we have no choice. Scope a Juiceboxxx show and tell me otherwise.”
Listen to “Freaking Out” below, followed by a handful of upcoming tour dates.
JUICEBOXXX TOUR DATES
04/29 Queens, NY @ Trans Pecos
5/4 New York, NY @ Webster Hall Emo Night LA NYC Takeover
5/24 Brooklyn NY @ The New Secret Project Robot Space
6/17 Huntsville @ TBA
6/18 Chattanooga TN @ JJ’s Bohemia
6/19 Athens GA @ Georgia Theatre Rooftop
6/20 Nashville @ DRKMTTR
6/21 Cincinnati @ House Show
6/22 Chicago @ Empty Bottle
6/23 Madison @ Mickey’s