Enter the Thunder Zone: Interview with Juiceboxxx

 photos by  Josh Sisk

photos by Josh Sisk

by Jerome Spencer

Chuck D of Public Enemy once famously called Juiceboxxx “the Buddy Holly of Rap."  I’m not sure what he meant by that, but it wouldn’t be the first (or last time) that I’m not on Chuck’s level. It’s a pretty well-known fact that Juiceboxxx toured Canada with Public Enemy, so it’s understandable if you assume that he is a rapper. You wouldn’t be wrong, but you wouldn’t be right either. JB is as punk as he is hip hop, but to call him “punk-rap” would be inaccurate and undoubtedly send anyone running the other way. His DIY ethos has remained consistent since he started performing as a teenager.

Aside from touring and making music, JB has a radio show, publishes a newsletter, runs the record label Thunder Zone and I think the dude has an energy drink. Oh, and someone famously wrote a book about him, but it gives a relatively lean idea of what JB really does. I guess, to begin to understand JB, you need to know a little about where his unbridled passion and commitment comes from. 

“Let’s say that there’s like a 1.0 a 2.0 and a 3.0,” Juiceboxxx explains, “It’s quite typical for someone to have a band or project in high school, then maybe when they get to be 19 or 20 they start a new thing and then in their mid to late 20s maybe they have a thing that’s more polished and that takes them to a certain place. Everyone has their own story. But essentially that never happened to me. I’ve just done it all under the same name so that’s created this crazy confusing history for people. Which, personally, I love but I think it’s a bit harder for people to wrap their brain around what I do.”

The way JB tells it, from age 15 to 20 (version 1.0), he was “the weird rap act on a punk show” throughout the Midwest until he started taking touring more seriously. He began to make a name for himself touring the US, Europe and Japan all while putting out music for himself and others and working within the rap, dance and noise music communities.

“My history is so sprawling and weird... Along the way, there's been a lot of insanity."

“My history is so sprawling and weird,” he continues, “Regardless, around 25 or 26, I started playing with a band and everything starting moving in this direction of fusing classic rap music with a punk energy. It’s kind of always been there, you know?  That’s where we’re at now. And maybe we’re at 4.0 now because I’m putting out records with this label Danger Bird. That’s a bigger label than I’ve ever worked with before and I’m trying to take it to a different zone.”

“Along the way, there’s been a lot of insanity,” Juiceboxxx continues, “touring with everyone from Jeff the Brotherhood to Public Enemy. It’s a weird career and I feel like a terrible, sprawling way of explaining it is appropriate.” Regardless of his assorted history (who else can say they finished up a tour with Public Enemy and hopped right on a basement show with White Fang?), Juiceboxxx has alway thrived as a live performer. Bursting with energy, it’s not uncommon to find him flying through the air or rolling on the ground as he sings/raps/screams passionately. 

“Even when I was playing these dance parties in England,” he says, “I performed in this really confrontational way that was different from a lot of my peers.” Juiceboxxx is on a two-week tour and he’s fit Norfolk onto his schedule.  I’m not sure I can prepare you for what to expect. “It’s me with a two-piece backing band, but it’s pretty full,” he tells me, “We do tracks and we’ve got all sorts of tricks. It’s just trying to walk that line between insanity and entertainment. It’s influenced by Bruce Springsteen, Iggy Pop, Public Enemy… I’m just trying to put on a show that’s really intense, but also pretty fun too. And, you know, destroy my body in the process.”