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Rapper Juiceboxxx battles the world

Juiceboxxx is a 23-year-old rapper who’s been tearing up the underground music community with his cathartic and oft-chaotic live performances. The Milwaukee native has performed alongside Girl Talk and Dan Deacon, is prominently featured in documentary Todd P. Goes To Austin, and has worked with Chicago house legends Joe Smooth and Craig Loftis. The rapper is set to release Thunder Zone Volume One, a mix-tape that features collaborations with Spank Rock, Ninjasonik, and Javelin, and is in the middle of planning a massive tour of the U.S. Before his Jan. 23 gig at Ronny’s, Juiceboxxx spoke to The A.V. Club about his adoration for Bruce Springsteen, being pegged as a nerdcore rapper, and the power of music. 

The A.V. Club: Many music blogs that have described you as nerdcore. How do you feel about that? 

Juiceboxxx: I feel no companionship with that scene in any way. Let me go on record that I have no respect for the nerdcore scene. That’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to make pop music. I actually listen to rap, you know. 

It was eventually going to happen, that whole world, and it’s really lazy to lump me in with it, to be honest. I’m not rapping about fucking Star Wars. It’s just different, that really is not an interest of mine. I’ll play for those kids, if they like my music, because I play for anyone. But I hope they are aware that what they’re listening to has different intentions. 

AVC: You’re a Bruce Springsteen fan. What’s the appeal? 

J: I got into Springsteen in my late teens. I just thought there was an earnestness to his tone and that really appealed to me. His lyrics are really direct, you know? As I started traveling more and going on tour and growing up, the songs grew up with me in a way. I think a lot of his best records are really coming-of-age records. 

Springsteen is making timeless American music. I feel like we’re in a weird era right now. People talk about Americana, meaning some awful band with handlebar mustaches and, like, a banjo. Well, here’s a fucking newsflash: Rap music has been the predominant American form for 30 years.  

I feel like if Springsteen was my age in 2009, he would be rapping. And that’s just all I’m trying to do is carry on this tradition of American kids, traveling around and writing songs and just growing up. 

AVC: Do you try and express the same level of earnestness that’s in Springsteen’s lyrics through rap? 

J: Yeah, absolutely. It’s important to note that, even when I’m making a dance song, I’m still trying to translate that level of earnestness. It’s about pretty simple, universal emotions, be it like, "My life is fucked up. Tonight I need to go out and lose my mind." Or just about the healing power of music, man. These are all just base emotions, and I feel like I gotta get on the road. I gotta get on the dance floor. It’s not about what you want to do: It’s about what you need to do.  

My music has changed over the years, and I keep changing. But it’s important to know that this isn’t a joke to me in any way, and it’s never been a joke to me. Even when I was 16 and just getting into Biz Markie, it wasn’t a joke. I studied that shit. I know I’ve always been earnest about what I’m doing. Otherwise, why would I fucking do it? Being a white rapper, it’s like a steep mountain to climb. 

AVC: What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced being a white rapper? 

J: I want to make music for everyone, and some people will never be able to get over the fact that I’m a white kid who’s rapping. And that’s fine; that doesn’t say anything about me. That says something about them. I don’t know what it says, but it says something about them.  

To me, I’m a blank slate. I’m a kid, I’m rapping, and I’m trying to fucking do it in a new way. How you appreciate it, it pretty much comes down to where your mind’s at. If you can’t take it at face value, that’s your own problem.  

AVC: You’ve done a lot of touring over the past few years. How do you keep your energy up? 

J: In terms of stamina on the road, it’s not really a choice. I program myself. I’ve done so many of these shows that when it’s time to play, you enter a different zone and a different place. 

It’s 100 percent intensity, guaranteed. Sometimes it’ll just be me against the world, you know. And sometimes it’s positive. I’m trying to reel it in. I feel like it’s been getting dark over the past couple of years, but I really keep trying to fight that darkness with everything I got. 

AVC: Last time I saw you perform, you hit your head so hard it started bleeding. Do you often injure yourself? 

J: Not as much as you would think. I went through a period where I would hit myself over the head a lot with the microphone, and there would be blood or whatever. I don't want to be thought of as some GG Allin-style shock-value shit for 2009. It’s more just being in the zone, a point of no return where you’re not really thinking about what you’re doing.  That’s a big differentiation to make, because I’m not trying to shock anybody. I’m just trying to get into the music 110 percent. Sometimes injuries happen and sometimes blood happens, but that’s not the focal part of the show. 

It’s just like anything when you’re in that moment: You’re not thinking about culture, you’re not thinking about politics, you’re not thinking about the Internet. You’re just thinking about life in its purest form, which is performance or interacting with music.