It’s not easy being a rapper from Wisconsin. Just ask 23-year-old hip-hop lifer Juiceboxxx. Music journalists and bloggers have spent years trying to pin down the Milwaukee wordsmith’s ecstatic dance rap with one pigeonholing term after another. Nerdcore. Hipster rap. Back in 2007, the Phoenix’s own blog dubbed Juiceboxxx (who will drop by Good Life for a free show Sunday) a “retard disco-style geek-rap phenomenon.”
These hardly sum up his ultra-positive, dance-inspired brand of hip-hop — not to mention his intense and visceral live performances. It’s Juiceboxxx’s oft-confrontational, sometimes chaotic, and all-around spellbinding stage show that has turned heads since the rapper was 15.
“From the first time I saw him, I thought he was a huge talent,” attests Naeem Juwan, better known in hip-hop circles as MC Spank Rock. “I think he’s way more interesting, and his music is way more important, than a lot of people who are ‘indie’ rappers right now.”
Juwan has put his cred where his mouth is with a guest spot on Juiceboxxx’s first official mixtape. Thunder Zone Volume One came out two months ago, and it’s got Juiceboxxx dropping rhymes left and right with the exuberance and confidence of the most respected rappers in the game. In between remixes by Best Fwends and Teengirl Fantasy and contributions from Ninjasonik and Javelin, Juiceboxxx handles original beats and instrumental versions of Cam’ron and DMX tunes with bombast and grace. And that’s just a small slice of a mixtape from a guy who feels particularly at home in the format.
“My favorite mixtape is, like, first listen, you’re just psyched,” he explains over the phone from the road in Arkansas. “There’s surprises, and it’s fucked up, and it’s fun. It’s kind of what I was trying to do, and it’s such a good format, because there’s kind of like no ceilings. You can do whatever the fuck you want with it.”
His unintentional invocation of Lil Wayne’s No Ceilings is fitting. Both he and Wayne are hip-hop oddities that people can’t quite pin down. Both produce music with a devotion to their craft that seems driven by a need to prove something to themselves. And both are more than happy to explore musical territories other rappers would never enter. “In this day and age, it’s so easy to just stick to one vibe and just ride it out for a small niche audience,” Juiceboxxx points out. “I want to criss-cross through vibes and really push things to a new level of weirdness and fun and intensity.”
And though he’s keeping busy with a host of diverse projects, he won’t be producing anything resembling Lil Wayne’s Rebirth. In the coming year, he’ll be juggling a new mixtape and a proper full-length, a pop-rave side project with dance producer A.C. Slater called 92 Eternal, and a remix project with garage-rockers Jeff the Brotherhood. Oh, and then there’s his Canadian tour with Public Enemy in May.
“That will really confuse a lot of people,” he says of the PE shows. He nabbed the supporting spot after PE’s booking agent was won over by Thunder Zone. It’ll be just one more exercise in pulling the rug out from under people’s assumptions — as he puts it, “I don’t want people to know what I am.” Given that this is a guy who won’t give me his real name and sneaks a Carrot Top cameo onto his mixtape, he shouldn’t have much to worry about in that department anytime soon.
JUICEBOXXX + BIG DIGITS + THEORY ENGINE + DJ GHOSTDAD | Good Life, 28 Kingston St, Boston | April 11 at 9 pm | Free | 21+ | 617.451.5146 or goodlifebar.com