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Milwaukee's Juiceboxxx rises to 'the next next level'

You may know indie rap-rocker Juiceboxxx from the radio and his energetic track “ Walkin’ in Milwaukee.”

Or maybe you came to know him from his performance on the local news. So full of technical issues that it went viral and resulted in the internet coining him the “World’s Worst Rapper.”

Or you discovered him the way Leon Neyfakh did  -- witnessing the artist’s visceral live performance in a DIY venue as a teenager.  A performance so life-changing for Neyfakh that he wrote an entire book, “The Next Next Level,” about the experience and its effect on his life.

I came to know Juiceboxxx by way of a DIY punk show while Juice was a teenager. And I get it.

Energy, emotion, dangerSomething about an artist that puts that level of energy into performance with sincere, raw emotion mixed with a little danger, makes you become an evangelist. Whether it’s in small ways like dragging your friends to his shows, forcing passengers in your car to listen to his albums or the ultimate evangelism – devoting an entire memoir to your obsession.

Neyfakh didn’t intend to write a book. Initially the project was to be a long form article off to the side of his usual writing.

“At the time I was writing about law, political science… so I knew this would be something different,” he said in an interview with 88Nine. “I’d been keeping up with his music for years, following along on Twitter, watching his video diaries that he put up every week, and when he came to New York to try to live here, the first night we hung out I became very captivated, all over again, with his life, his career.

“I thought it would make for an interesting personal writing project, different the what I was doing at work -- about an artist instead of ‘Ideas.’ It kept getting longer and longer, and thinking about Juiceboxxx made me think about all these other things and it ended up becoming a receptacle for everything I cared about in my life. “

Their relationshipPart memoir, essay and narrative story, the genre-dismissing book has a subtitle of “ a story of rap, friendship and almost giving up.” However, Neyfakh doesn’t claim to be close with the artist.

“I don’t presume to know him intimately. As much as he puts himself out there, he’s still kind of an enigma in a lot of ways.”

Regardless of relationship, the impact on the author is clearly strong.  The book is a love letter, idolizing but sincere and endlessly positive. That sincerity seems to be connecting with its audience. Celebrities like Lena Dunham, Chuck Klosterman and media like The New Yorker, Pitchfork, The Washington Post, Details, The Guardian and more have written positive reviews.

Juiceboxxx's takeHow does all of this affect the subject himself?

Juiceboxxx takes great care to control his aesthetic, performance and vision. He has a lifestyle brand – Thunder Zone Entertainment -- his own label and energy drink empire (even profiled by Forbes).

When we asked him about the book, he described the experience as “just a crazy project and something like this may never happen to me again. It’s hard. I’ve had a really tough time articulating my feelings about the book because it is a really complex thing.

“The book isn’t necessarily the way I would tell my own story, it’s coming from someone else’s perspective and it’s also dovetailing with their own narrative. More than anything, it’s a lot of different things happening simultaneously with this book and it’s more about just trying to stay sane and use it to promote the record label and maybe it would help people to put me in context, although the book doesn’t place me in context the way I would… that said, obviously it’s positive.”

The author repliesNeyfakh’s response: “Anyone reading the book would characterize it as a love letter. I don’t think anyone reading the book would come away from it not thinking anything but positive things about Juice and being interested in Juice and being curious about his life’s work.”

The two men have been promoting in tandem, sharing interview sessions, podcasts and articles. The promotion has been fruitful for both. For Juiceboxxx, an opportunity to promote his new album, “Heartland 99.”

Though conflicted, Juice concedes, “there’s a lot of things hard to come to terms with, but maybe that’s just me trying to come to terms with myself.”

“The Next Next Level” is published by Melville House Books and is available HERE.
“Heartland 99” on Thunder Zone Ent. Records is available by “name-your-price” download HERE.