Concert preview: Wisconsin rapper Juiceboxxx thirsty for success — on his own terms

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From the May 15, 2014 edition

Wisconsin rapper Juiceboxxx approaches his music with a level of seriousness that would put even Christian Bale’s Batman to shame.

“I believe in going all the way and putting everything on the line — no half measures,” he said in a recent phone interview, his words echoing Mike Ehrmantraut’s advice to Walter White on “Breaking Bad.” “If you’re going to rap or you’re going to make rock music you need to fully commit yourself to it. There are too many people who use bands as bowling leagues, and I’m not a hobbyist.”

It’s a life he details more fully on “Like a Renegade,” a hard-hitting cut off his 2012 album I Don’t Wanna Go Into the Darkness, filling his verses with references to late-night Greyhound bus rides (his preferred mode of travel on tour), the uncertainty of life on the road (“Tomorrow I just don’t know … where I’m staying at,” he spits on the track) and the onstage payoff that makes the constant struggle bearable.

“Last night I played to three people in an empty bar, and I must be crazy because I still don’t mind that,” said Juiceboxxx, 27, who was born in the northern Milwaukee suburb of Mequon to a mother who taught middle school music and a high school photography teacher father. “Of course I still have big dreams, and of course there are things I want to accomplish, but I’m still excited about playing shows and making records and getting better.”

Growing up, music offered Juiceboxxx respite from the challenges that went hand-in-hand with being a less-than-popular kid in high school.

“It was the thing that was getting me through whatever shit I hated about growing up and being a teenager,” he said. “It’s been my life force since I started. It’s what is keeping me alive.”

Yet it was a brush with death that inspired the MC to throw himself headlong into a career in music. Shortly after celebrating his 20th birthday, a delivery driver was shot directly in front of the youngster as he looked on helplessly.

“He was shot on my porch while I was paying him,” he said. “I dropped out of school shortly after that and began life as a [working] musician. Ever since then I’ve been trying to string together enough hustles to keep this going.”

It hasn’t been an easy road. When he stayed in a motel room the night before our early May interview, he said it was the first time he’d slept in an actual bed in a little over a month (he’s been forced onto a camping mat in recent weeks), and there are definitely times, however brief, he wonders if there will indeed be any payoff for all the hard work.

“It is an uphill battle, for sure, but I feel like I’ve been trying to create my own lane, and that doesn’t come without its challenges,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been forever misunderstood. But with all that said, man, I’m excited about doing something I can call my own.”

Sarah Bradham photo