22 Nov 2017 - 7:00 PM - 1:00 AM
It’s no easy task for an artist to sum up who they are in one album, much less in one song. And yet, here, at the start of the first verse of the first song of his newest album, Juiceboxxx lays it all out for you:
“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…”
So begins ‘Freaking Out’ on Freaked Out American Loser, the latest album from Juiceboxxx, the Milwaukee-bred punk rap artist who is quite simply the first and last of his kind all at once. (In fact, the same could be said for this album, chronologically speaking: while it’s not technically his debut, and will live among the dozens of JB collections that exist in the internet’s ether and on scratched CD-Rs, vinyl singles and cracked cassettes, for all intents and purposes it is a rebirth, if you will, and thusly the first and last of its kind as well.)
But back to that couplet. Juiceboxxx might be out of his mind, but in all the best ways—he owns it and commits to this unstoppable onslaught of creative ideas and outbursts, and he’s still a positive person, not a lunatic. Yes, he is an optimist when it comes to art, despite the times and the reality we live in (this, as you note, is an old Bad Brains trick). Yes, he’s employed. No, that job does not have a clocking out time. Music is, as Juice himself says, essential, and for life. And no one else on earth is approaching it quite like him.
“My story is a bit counter to how most people in independent music have worked over the past decade,” he says. “It’s really a story of my life. I’ve done this for over half of it now, trying to see something through and connect these dots. It’s been my quest to synthesize all the stuff I love about American music into one singular project. I think that’s why it’s taken so long. The reason I continue to do this is because it excites me.”
For Juiceboxxx, his music is “an attempt to merge a bunch of things I have in my head that I don’t necessarily see being executed by anybody else. The music I make could only come from me, the mix of styles and the way I perform it and present it, it’s an attempt to do something that’s has some totality. It’s also just the story of me growing up and hitting all these brick walls and moving forward… I just have to do it.”
Juiceboxxx grew up in the ‘2000s within the noise, punk rock, and underground rap communities of Wisconsin, and while those banners still fly high independently today, there are very few other artists who not only understand that venn diagram but who are also actively attempting to merge those sounds cohesively. There is something singular about a Juiceboxxx show, wherein he might run through some songs that remind you of Public Enemy—whom Juiceboxxx went on tour with, in Canada—or Beastie Boys. There will be some fast punk songs, and the whole thing might end on an anthemic track like “Never Surrender Forever” that has a Springsteen or Jonathan Richman influence. Yes, there are guitars, but he raps, too; Juice came out of those noise-damaged scenes, and everything he does is coated in a level of intensity. He sticks to his guns. He sleeps with his tension.
“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,” Juice says. “It’s just me trying to make my own singular form of American music based around a certain lived experience. I think a lot of kids have actually had a similar experience, but oftentimes they end up segregating the music they actually output. I’m trying to smash it all together into one thing.”
To echo that notion, in addition to his music and performances, Juiceboxxx runs a record label and brand called Thunder Zone, whose output includes music and merch by other artists—including cult rapper Lil Ugly Mane, internet sensation Molly Soda and members of the legendary Paper Rad art collective–an energy drink, and a sprawling YouTube channel. His fans are rampant to the extent that a book was even written by one of them, called The Next Next Level, published by the esteemed imprint Melville House. And, as you have no doubt realised by now, all of this is just to say that it’s impossible to say everything and wrap it up neatly. And so, we grab hold of the long tail and just keep rolling.
“I would be making music regardless if it was Juiceboxxx or not,” he continued. “Music is something I’m gonna do forever. I continue to believe in this project as a vehicle, as the years go on I think there’s some meaning built into this that maybe separates it a bit. What I’ve learned is that I can cut a lot of shit out of my life but I can’t stop making music and performing. It’s cheesy but I feel like I’m just starting to get good.”
Or, as the man himself said all those words ago: 24/7, not 9 to 5.