Milwaukee, Wisconsin is like many post-industrial towns in the Midwest: after big industries closed their doors, the city had to reinvent itself. Factories have since been converted to plush condos along the Milwaukee River; the gorgeous lakefront has been transformed into a hub for music and the arts (with Summerfest holding the record for the largest music festival in the world); and the big brewing industry dominated by Miller and Pabst has been replaced by countless microbreweries that pepper the local neighborhoods. The local music scene has given rise to a fair share of nationally recognized names, from Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads, to the Violent Femmes, the Bodeans (yes, the guys who did the Party of Five theme song), and guitar pioneer Les Paul, though technically he was born in neighboring Waukesha, but that’s close enough. The city’s rap scene, though occasionally poking its head into the mainstream, has mostly been relegated to the underground. Local rapper Juiceboxxx is hoping to change that with the release of his debut LP, I Don’t Wanna Go Into The Darkness. In addition to the album, he has already launched his anything goes record label, Thunder Zone Ent. The label will oversee the release of the record, as well as the release of an energy drink. That’s a lot to handle, but Juiceboxxx does not show any signs of stopping.
Juiceboxxx’s style culminates from years of touring the world, consuming music across all genres, and collaborating with a wide variety of producers, rappers, and rock and punk musicians. His most ambitious works to date are a trilogy of 12” singles produced in collaboration with Dre Skull, head of Brooklyn’s Mixpak. These releases embody the ethos of Juiceboxxx: a rapper’s mentality and vocal delivery, combined with production that’s more house and techno, and mix it all together for a freewheeling set of tracks that run the gamut of sports anthems (“Hype”), deep house (“Center Stage”), and high energy hip house (“Sweat”). His subsequent releases similarly eschew the confines of any one genre, from D.I.Y. hip-hop tracks (“Thunder Jam #5”), to Beastie Boys-esque rock-rap (“Like A Renegade”). As he mentioned via e-mail, Juiceboxxx takes equal inspiration from Cypress Hill and Bruce Springsteen to make a unique blend of American music.
Although based in Milwaukee, JB holed up in Los Angeles for close to a year to work on the LP (that’s the cover art to the left). “This record is a reflection of my years in the Midwest and on the road and most of the songs were written before I got to Cali,” he wrote me recently, and it shows on the record. The lyrics of the album opener, “Thunder Jam #5,” adequately reflect what it’s like to dream big in a Midwestern city. A brief sample from that track, “All the kids and everyone, we’re all searching for a dream,” displays the frustration of being young and trying to follow your dreams despite the responsibilities of adulthood looming on the horizon.
That mission statement has shifted from music to Thunder Zone Ent, his new venture. As he puts it, “I want to do something where energy drinks, rap 7″s, tee shirts and rock and roll all have a place and a catalog number.” The first release was a 7” from Huntsville, Alabama rappers G-Side, with a remix from Brooklyn sample-mavericks Javelin. After a digital-only EP release from Connecticut’s 2 Ton Bug, Thunder Zone will put out their long in the making energy drink. This sounds gimmicky, right? Well, the rapper was serious enough to solicit friends and fans for an online fundraiser to kickstart production of the drink (check out the promo video HERE). Juiceboxxx said it was a positive experience overall, but the main goal may have confused some fans. “I think the fact that I was fundraising to make an energy drink maybe confused some people,” to which he added, “A more surefire bet to raise money would have just been to do something strictly music based but to me that is fucking boring!” He said it has been a dream to market an energy drink, and in the Juiceboxxx tradition he went for it. The drinks are expected to ship soon, with accompanying coozies proclaiming, “I’d rather be drinking Thunder Zone.”
The main problem with Juiceboxxx has been whether or not he is serious. When I first heard his music a few years back, I dismissed it as amateurish and snarky. When I spent a semester abroad, I listened to him a lot more, and eventually I started to understand the appeal of Juiceboxxx. Being away from the Midwest and listening to his music made me appreciate my hometown, and the local music scene, a lot more. His sarcastic tone is just a reflection of his many years’ experience of being labelled a ‘white rapper,’ and the ensuing criticism that comes with that stigma. As he wrote to me recently, “I’m trying to fuse rap and rock and roll in a brand new way that reflects my influences and gets people siked,” which is more a reflection of the philosophies of the Beastie Boys than Eminem. He’s not trying to make any grand statement that will bring the world together, but his music is a reflection of the midwestern upbringing and lifestyle that I and many others can relate to. Maybe his message will not resonate with everyone, but Juiceboxxx is giving it his all and realizing his dreams. I asked him about the origins of the album’s title, I Don’t Wanna Go Into the Darkness, and he replied, “When your back’s against the wall you have no choice but to keep on running, keep on fighting.” For someone who has received his fair share of criticism, his optimism gives his work a special feeling that cannot be denied. Whether or not you hail from the Midwest, Juiceboxxx’s music should appeal to and inspire anyone who want to realize their life goals, regardless of the odds that may be in front of them.