Crate-Digging: Sifting through the crap so you don’t have to.
(Vicious Pop, 2005)
I’ve been doing a bit of spring cleaning in the ol’ music files, and I came across this gem of an EP and decided the time was ripe for me to take a crack at it. I thought it might be a lark – nerdy white boy rap from a Napoleon Dynamite lookalike could sure brighten my day. Everything about it screamed “promise” – the rapper’s name is “Juiceboxxx” for heaven’s sake, quite possibly the coolest dorky rap moniker ever. Naming yourself after a staple of grade-school lunches certainly earns you points in the childlike/ish category, one not necessarily reserved for aspiring hip hop artists. But that triple-X at the end – that’s just a stroke of genius. Gives it a little street cred. Well, street cred that vanishes once you take a step back and take in that name: Juiceboxxx. So awesomely dumb.
Speaking of awesomely dumb, and subtracting any remaining street cred and possibly self-esteem, check out that EP title. Borrowing the conceit from the famous Judy Blume novel about a preteen girl struggling with puberty, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret., Juiceboxxx seemingly aims to take the piss out of hip hop bravado and braggadocio by aligning himself to female tweens, perhaps hoping to one day be featured on a poster adorning their walls. Of course replacing the first two words with their alphabetical homophones R U geekily nods at the rap convention of liberal spelling. But take it all in at once:
Juiceboxxx – R U There God? It’s Me, Juiceboxxx
Perfect. See how fun that is? Don’t you want to listen to it? I do. And I will.
Crap. Soooo… it’s not very good. In fact, it’s pretty disappointing. I guess it turned out kind of like I expected – Juiceboxxx sure sounds lame, kind of like how Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s character Chris D’amico, aka Red Mist, in Kick-Ass would sound if he decided on a rap career instead of one as a supervillain. And unfortunately, the comical response to that bravado and braggadocio actually shows up in the lyrics, and kind of sounds sincere. Despite Juiceboxxx’s calls for “positivity” throughout, he essentially either brags or complains, often peppering his rhymes with ridiculously displaced F-bombs. Sure, he’s not very offensive otherwise, and the old-school production is solid throughout, but the juvenility on display falls completely flat. I guess that’s not completely surprising considering this was his age-15 release. But even I was writing better rhymes at age 15, even though they were much more random and stupid. (Yes, me.)
Most of this release can be tossed off, chalked up to poorly conceived ideas, but there are a couple of instances that made me pay attention more closely than others. Track 2, “Righteous Rage,” offers the first glimpse that there’s more to Juiceboxxx than meets the eye, and I find myself not knowing whether to laugh or hit fast forward on this “slow jam” – you know, the serious song. To begin, there’s a “backup singer” who is obviously an auto-tuned and pitch-shifted him, but he sounds more like a Chippette here than anything else. He clownishly bellows “I like how this FEELS” before beginning with the frankly idiot/savant line “I deliver rhymes by door like Pizza Hut,” all of which made me laugh out loud. It’s spoiled almost right away by the seemingly unnecessary array of foul language, although even that’s funny when between verses, Juice, reacting to the song’s music and singer, exclaims, “This is fuckin BEAUTIFUL!” Somehow he gets pissed off by someone calling the cops on him at one of his shows, even though it’s not clear what he’s done. But he ends the song in an agitated fit, kind of like Bruce McCulloch in that Kids in the Hall sketch where he gets impatient at a restaurant: “I wanted my check fifteen MINUTES ago!”
“Luv Anthem” comes later in the EP, and the Chippette makes her return to offer commentary between lines featuring honest-to-God sincerity about the rapper’s feelings for a girl. It’s Juiceboxxx’s best approximation of something akin to LL Cool J’s “Around the Way Girl,” the benchmark for all ridiculous hip hop slow jams. Its adolescence is humorous, again, but unfortunately Juice actually sings on the choruses, which is an awful idea. I use italics because I can’t stress it enough – these parts of the songs are amazingly off key. And the female commentary is equally bizarre – it’s like Juiceboxxx has no idea how a woman would respond to anything he’s saying. And that’s probably true.
“Beatz and Rhymes – The Final Anthem” ends the EP on a strange note. First, warm synthesizers bathe the beat in a shoegazey glow, and then Juiceboxxx actually gets in one or two good lines. I know. Crazy. Not so crazy as when this couplet popped up: “It’s the illest MC to ever come out of Wisconsin / My beat is happening, but I’m not Calvin Johnson.” *Rub eyes, double take!* I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when a nerdy white dude from Wisconsin drops a Beat Happening reference, especially considering he’s got some obvious emotional weight to unload on listeners. But after a full EP of mostly garbage, it’s kind of refreshing. The song gets even more hazy when a slowly strummed fuzzed-out guitar joins the synths – it’s actually quite beautiful. Not quite “fuckin BEAUTIFUL!”, but you know what I mean
I’m torn between Juiceboxxx’s humor and his awfulness. On one hand, if you take this as a tongue-in-cheek project, you can laugh along with it. But it’s too earnest, too emo-rap, to dismiss Juiceboxxx as simply a joker. You may have to simply dismiss him as a bad rapper. And I’m probably not going to have the patience to sift through the rest of his catalog to find out which is the truth. So it’s kind of sad if the flickers of cleverness are wasted among (literally) adolescent boasting. Oh well, at least R U There God? is short. It makes me laugh. It makes me cringe. It makes me angry.
RIYL: LL Cool J, Har Mar Superstar, Eminem, Abe Lincoln