Slate writer Neyfakh explores his complex relationship with an enigmatic underground rapper from Milwaukee who has spent the last decade in near obscurity, endlessly touring and producing a polarizing brand of hybrid hip-hop.
When he was just 15, the author briefly drifted into the otherworldly orbit of a white rapper with the unlikely name of Juiceboxxx. Continually dismissed by many as an inscrutable anomaly skittering somewhere on the outer edges of hip-hop culture, the high-octane artist known for his live performances nevertheless managed to turn the young Neyfakh into a steadfast, although often self-conscious, cheerleader. Fast-forward to New York City more than 10 years later, where Neyfakh—having shelved his own creative aspirations—had another chance to “link up” with Juiceboxxx in a journalistic attempt to figure out what continues to drive him—while also attempting to shed light on his own choices in life. Although these sporadic encounters before another bare-bones Juiceboxxx tour were brief, the themes that the exchanges engendered are broad: when is it time to abandon a dream? Who are you when that dream dies? Does conformity always kill artistic instinct? Nearing "the big 3-0," Neyfakh earnestly ponders these provocative questions and many more without ever hinting that either he or Juiceboxxx is getting any closer to finding the answers. The author's earlier attempts to advance the gospel of Juiceboxxx may have met with limited success, but here he succeeds, painting an intimate portrait of an intriguing and idiosyncratic artist whose inner angst is as sympathetic as it is compelling. The author does his job so well that the chronicle of his time in Juiceboxxx’s off-kilter “Thunder Zone” feels somewhat incomplete and could have benefited from a more developed back story focusing on the misunderstood rapper's earlier days.
Strangely sad and triumphant—a highly contemplative but all-too-abrupt memoir.