Juiceboxxx - Heartland 99 (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Heartland 99 (2015)

Thunder Zone

Juiceboxxx is a divisive figure for us in Milwaukee. For many, he’ll always be “the worst rapper ever,” a stain on the city and a label he received after a video of him suffering an unfortunate performance on a local news station went viral. For many, he’s the weird rapper the crowd has to wait through at a punk show (he’s always associated himself with noise rock and punk basement shows, though his style rarely fits). But for many, he’s the voice of the creative struggle, urging us to push through the bullshit and continue to follow our fucked up dreams. After spending half his life grinding it out on the small show circuit, he’s finally catching over a decade’s worth of building popularity after a book about his musical journey, The Next Next Level, was published this year to much acclaim. His 2015 release, Heartland 99, is a wildly inspiring record for the underdog.

Juice’s sound has rarely followed genre trends over the years, instead creating blends of whatever styles he’s digging at the time. He’s gone through many phases and has had outputs of funky and standard rap, electronic and dance music, and now…rap-rock. Though rap-rock is a dirty word in today’s music lexicon, Juice is nowhere near Limp Bizkit or anything similarly cringe-inducing from the turn of the millennium. His style is closer to classic Beastie Boys, using crunchy guitar riffs to add another layer onto funky, dance-inspiring beats. When he performs live, he enlists the help of a drummer and guitarist to round out his backing tracks, and those extra dimensions come through on Heartland 99. The songs are infectious, rocking, danceable and high-energy. I’m by no means a rap fan, and this shit has me moving me around.

The primary draw for Juiceboxxx, though, is the message. He acts as some sort of demented preacher for the outcasts and dreamers, pushing a positive message of creativity and hard work, and ultimately begs us (and himself) to ignore the naysayers. On “The Losers,” the theme is anchored in him repeatedly saying, “I know that we’re losers, but baby, we’re not done yet.” He takes pride in his divisive persona and beseeches others to not give in to the demands of popularity, instead focusing on personal goals and following the heart. However, the album’s optimism is still rooted in reality; there’s plenty of contemplation on the brutality of being stuck in a bad Midwestern city. The titular track is about “wasting time in a wasted town,” a sentiment all too real for Milwaukeeans, but one that’s relevant across the country. The one-two punch of the album’s head-in-the-clouds confidence and ruthless reality is perhaps best on display in the final track, where Juice demands, “No matter how dark it seems, you’ve gotta follow your fucked up dreams.”

After seeing Juiceboxxx perform last year, I thought it’d be impossible for him to transpose his relentless and energetic stage show into anything worth playing in album form. He’s proved otherwise, and his years of toiling at his sound have created one of the best, most re-playable, and inspiring records of the year. Even if you hate rap or the word “rap-rock” makes you instinctively gag, listen to Heartland 99 with open ears. Soon you’ll be spreading the gospel of Juiceboxxx.