I’ve slagged on Juiceboxxx before, and I feel pretty bad about it. I reviewed R U There God? It’s Me, Juiceboxxx back in 2011, and I wasn’t feeling it. I wasn’t immersed in the Thunderzone, as it were. (Thunderzone is the energy drink Juice slings. It’s also the moniker under which he releases music.) I think I had some vague notion that Juice was the second coming of Lucas or something (remember “Lucas with the Lid Off”? No? Why not?), and that he’d be off everybody’s radar within a short period of time. I was wrong, in pretty much every way about that. One thing in that review that I will continue to stand by, though, is the assertion that the title is one of the best, most oddly creative and reflective titles any artist could name their album. Well, done, Juiceboxxx. Well done, sir.
Since then, ol’ Juice has garnered quite the following, and deservedly so. He’s the quintessential American artist from the Midwest, trying to carve a niche for himself in a pop culture landscape so cluttered it’s almost not even worth it to try. (Heck, as soon as this “review” posts, it’ll get lost with everything else in cyberspace, and no one would even know the difference.) There’s even a book about him (I know, right?!), called The Next Next Level: A Story of Rap, Friendship, and Almost Giving Up by Slate reporter Leon Neyfakh. It’s gotten a lot of really positive reviews from a lot of high-level critics. I’m almost certainly going to read it.
So yes, this is really a mea culpa toward Juiceboxxx, and an acknowledgment that his hard work is really paying off, at least artistically. (Hopefully financially as well.) Because I’m really into Heartland 99, his newest ten-track opus, a resoundingly excellent and optimistic portrait of his life on the road. This is seriously a record brimming with singles that need to be played across the United States – Heartland 99 has literally something for everybody. Juiceboxxx straddles the line stylistically between old-school hip hop and 1980s new wave and synth pop, and the results are stunning. The songs are rousing – “Open Up Your Life,” “Heartland 99,” and “The Losers” pretty much sum up what “Born in the USA” and “Money for Nothing” would sound like if they had more low end and synthesizers. Meaning they would be #1 on MTV for like months back in the day.
“Walking in Milwaukee” and “Hometown Hero (I Ain’t No)” are the perfect encapsulations of Yo! MTV Raps–era tracks, which means they take me back to my favorite era of hip hop (1989, the number, another summer), where the samples were fresh and the DJs scratched actual records on actual turntables rather than on iPod rigs. This kind of universal music may have you reaching for your nostalgia meter (and it would definitely be in the red), but man, does it really feel good to hear it again. And I’m not even an energy drink enthusiast! (Gross, actually.) I guess it really pays to “Follow your Fucked Up Dreams,” as Juice closes out the album, another anthem on a record full of fist-pumpers, and this one a culmination of artist, lifestyle, and record together. So listen to me, everybody (or nobody): give Juiceboxxx another chance if you’ve written him off at some point. It’s totally worth the effort.
RIYL: Beastie Boys, Dire Straits, The Cars, Bruce Springsteen