If you’ve witnessed
Juiceboxxx on the mic, chances are your mind is already made up about
him. That’s because the Milwaukee rapper’s in-your-face bravado tends to
garner polarized opinions. Fans laud the energy and unpredictability
that arise from his aggressive live shows while detractors deride his
cockiness and bullish manner as immature. There is no middle ground, no
“meh” reactions. That style definitely got him noticed, but as a more
mature Juiceboxxx begins the second decade of his music career, he seems
ready to command attention through his new dynamic rap-rock songs, not
his cutthroat attitude.
realize there’s a certain kind of energy that only really comes through
if you’re playing a basement or a warehouse or an art gallery,”
Juiceboxxx says. “Once you’re on a bigger stage, you have to step it up.
You have to open up your performance style; otherwise, you’re going to
alienate everybody. Maybe at one point I wanted to alienate people, but
now I just want to play the best show I can.”
It helps that Juiceboxxx is releasing his finest material to date. The new album—astonishingly his first official full-length—I Don’t Wanna Go into the Darkness (out
July 31) dissects the common coming-of-age problems confronting
20-somethings, such as failed expectations and an aimless, uncertain
future. Buoyed by gleaming production, the record juxtaposes a party
atmosphere with bleak landscapes. It’s equal parts Beastie Boys and
wanted the whole record to transmit that feeling of being 22-23 years
old on the road, not really sure what to do with your life,” he says.
“You haven’t made it, but you haven’t given up, either.”
It sounds similar to the story of Juiceboxxx because it is the story of Juiceboxxx. Playing extensively over the past three years and not receiving the acclaim he had
anticipated wore on the rapper to the point where he needed the
aesthetic overhaul that’s apparent on his new record.
the music I was writing when I was on tour playing dance music,”
Juiceboxxx says. “There was a point in 2007-2008 where almost every
weekend I was getting flown somewhere to play some electro party. Those
shows rarely went well. I did it because it paid my rent and those were
the people that were enjoying the dance records I was making.
then the shows were confrontational,” he continues. “I was still this
punk kid who loved dance music, and I wasn’t tailoring my music for
these clubs. There was this huge friction between the music I was making
and how I was performing. I think that put me in this head space to
start writing totally different kinds of songs.”
The album’s standout “Thunder Jam #8” perhaps demonstrates that shift in direction the best.
Lackadaisical, breezy and heartfelt, the track is better suited for a backyard barbecue than a sweaty dance club.
Juiceboxxx says he couldn’t be happier with the transformation, either. And, however cliché it sounds, I Don’t Wanna Go into the Darkness feels
like an album he needed to make. The most apparent example comes from
closing track “Never Surrender Forever,” which plays like a rallying cry
to never give up your aspirations. It’s almost as if Juiceboxxx is
pleading with himself to keep following his dreams instead of fading
away. But despite anyone’s conjectures, the rapper remains adamant about
a saga,” he contends. “This isn’t some overnight shit. I’m not some
buzz band. It’s the opposite of that. It’s a life of music—an
ever-unfolding story. That’s what Juiceboxxx is.”
It certainly feels like the next chapter.