Juiceboxxx Deserves to Be Taken Seriously
If you’ve even casually followed his eccentric career, it’s a tad disheartening to recall how often Juiceboxxx, arguably one of the most exciting and unique artists to ever come out of this fair city, has been summarily written off, either as being insincere or a novelty or for any number of similarly flimsy reasons. Sure, his shows usually have a certain level of silliness, when they’re not awkwardly confrontational, but to act as if the whole project is nothing but a lark ignores a body of work that speaks (loudly) for itself.
Few artists boast his originality or, for that matter, his eclecticism, but too often he gets nothing but grief for his efforts. Still, if you’ve listened to just about any of his recordings, you know JB himself is never down for long, and his latest, Freaked Out American Loser, amply demonstrates that he still has plenty left to prove—to the press that try to define him, to the city that bore him, and, most importantly, to himself.
While the genre-bending rapper is by now no doubt used to being misunderstood by journalists, having an entire book written about him, Leon Neyfakh’s The Next Next Level, was still a rather confusing experience. “I feel like that book created this narrative for me that I had to transcend in some way,” Juiceboxxx says over the phone from New York City, his new home after years of a semi-nomadic lifestyle. “It’s hard for me to put my thoughts together about this, but I think the positive thing that came out of it was that it sort of set up a challenge for me; it did introduce me to this new group of people, but it wasn’t really on my own terms.” Determined to set the record straight, the whole ordeal only reinforced his commitment to the music. “I want to see if I can move past it and change people’s minds, you know, get my narrative back from other people’s hands,” he says, “It’s very motivational in a twisted way.”
Yet, even as the publicity surrounding the book’s release raised his already high profile immensely, to the point where international news outlets like The Guardian were covering his admittedly unusual story, hometown hero Juiceboxxx still maintains a complicated relationship with the scene from which he originally sprang. “I legitimately feel like I have something to prove, especially to people in Milwaukee, and I’m up for the challenge,” he says. “I just have a crazy history with this town, all these viral videos, and I’ve been running around playing shows here since I was 15; I mean, half my life I’ve been playing shows in Milwaukee.”
Which isn’t to say there isn’t plenty of love, of course, as the list of local personnel on the new album can easily attest. Beyond longtime collaborators like Dogs in Ecstasy’s guitar virtuoso Willy Dintenfass and producer Andy Petr, Freaked Out American Loser also features live drums courtesy of Call Me Lightning’s Shane Hochstetler and Milwaukee’s Kid Cut Up ably handling the necessary turntablism.
On the page, it might seem like Juiceboxxx is holding a grudge or two, but talk to him for a few minutes, and his irrepressible positivity makes it self-evident that his drive actually comes from somewhere inside. His ideas, drawing on a deep well of American music, deserve exploring, and his ability to do so recently got a major leg up when he signed with indie-rock powerhouse Dangerbird Records.
“I don’t know, all this stuff is very important to me; I’m a fucked-up person, and music is one of the few things that keeps me stable and gives me some kind of reason to change my life for the better,” he says, reflecting on this new phase of his shifting career. “It’s been good to just to work, you know? That’s all I can say, that it’s been good to cut a lot of the bullshit out of my life and focus on the things that matter, which is the music and just trying to be a better person.”