In 2014, Milwaukee’s Juiceboxxx achieved meme notoriety as the “world’s worst rapper” after his disastrous appearance on a local morning news program.
But wading through the mire of that debacle reveals someone who is far from being the world’s worst rapper. He may, in fact, be the world’s most interesting rapper.
“My life in music has been pretty singular,” JB told me over the phone earlier this week. “It’s a constant struggle between having self-awareness but also knowing that it’s the thing that’s giving your life meaning.”
His artistic mindset is encapsulated succinctly in “Like a Renegade,” which -- perhaps not coincidentally -- he performed on that fateful Milwaukee morning: “I got a hole in my life that I can’t escape / And now I’m living on the run like a renegade.”
When JB was in college, he witnessed a murder on his front porch. Being so close to potential death made him realize that “life is too short to be doing stuff I don’t want to do.”
To deal with -- or run from -- the trauma of the tragedy, JB hopped on a Greyhound bus, just him an iPod, and started playing basement shows across the country. From there, he toured Japan, shared bills with Public Enemy and even had a well-received book written about him.
Nonetheless, he’s still somewhat of an outsider, and a lot of that is self-inflicted. JB has a fascination with what he calls “freak-out culture,” and he’s tried to make Thunder Zone, his self-run record label, a platform for that culture.
Buy Juiceboxxx's new album, "Freaked Out American Loser," here.
“In a lot of ways, it’s like Juiceboxxx. It’s a record label that also puts out energy drinks and art objects. It’s kind of adding to this kind of freak-out culture, but Thunder Zone isn’t trying to adhere to one genre or one community,” JB said. “All of that feeds back to this ecstatic American energy, and I’m trying to kind of build this world, you know.”
Falling somewhere between, as he suggests himself, Bruce Springsteen and Public Enemy, Juiceboxxx finds a more direct aural lineage in the Beastie Boys -- i.e., actually good rap-rock.
But a large part of his appeal comes through the confessional, performative aspects of his life. JB’s YouTube channel, Enter the Thunder Zone, is a fascinating and sometimes hilariously cringe-worthy personal video diary put on public display.
While it would be an overreach to suggest that both Enter the Thunder Zone and also his 2014 Milwaukee morning news fiasco were brilliantly planned exhibitions of comedic irony, it’s clear that he’s very conscious of the persona he puts forth.
“I wouldn’t exactly call it performance art,” JB said, “but I like to find the weird little pocket that feels like fertile unclaimed space. I like to find this space where it’s everything and nothing, then I leave it up to the viewer.”
Juiceboxxx headlines a thrillingly energetic show at Soda Bar on Monday, Sept. 25. Get tickets here.
Rutger Rosenborg was almost a Stanford poet-neuroscientist before he formed Ed Ghost Tucker. Whoops. He now fronts the Lulls, plays lead guitar in Velvet and makes music on his own when he's not writing. Follow his updates on Facebook or contact him directly.