The man they call Juice has been called the best freestyle emcee of all-time and one of the greatest battle rappers in hip-hop. Juice is ready to take it to another level, he is ready to let the world know who he is as a person and not just an emcee. With “All Bets Off”, you will see another side of Juice and with this interview, you might be looking a future industry mogul, only time will tell.
What’s up Juice, how are things and what have you been doing lately?
Man, just working on promoting the project that we released on my label, other than that, we are trying to take it the world a little bit and trying to put music out, that’s about it.
I want to give the hip-hop readers a little bit of background on you, how long have you been in the game?
I have rhymed forever; I started out doing the battle circuit. It was inadvertent to me that is was a circuit, I felt like we created the circuit because it didn’t really exist and so I was doing that. But, officially just trying to do music, I have been putting a company together for about 2 years now. I have been rapping and freestyling forever. Honestly, I wouldn’t consider that being in the music business; I would consider that being in the hip-hop since day one.
So who got you into rhyming, did you just get in yourself like on the block?
Yeah, I had a homie that used to break-dance a lot, and I always used to rhyme when he would break-dance and then we had another cat that beat boxed. We did that on the daily and we really didn’t know that we were on some elemental hip- hop shit. Obviously I’m rhythmically challenged (laughs), I wasn’t able to dance like him or beat box like my man, but I always seemed to have flair with words. I didn’t really know I could freestyle, I just thought that is what you did when you rapped.
(Laughing) I’m rather challenged myself, I can’t dance for shit.
You’re just saying that I’m dead serious; I really can’t dance (Laughs)
I’m sure you have been asked this a lot in your career but, what are you thoughts on Eminem and what has transpired since the 97 Rap Olympics.
Honestly, I think it is something I saw coming. As soon as I heard him, I thought with the right opportunity he would dominate rap. I’m not talking about dominating on a local or regional perspective; I always thought he could dominate it from a global perspective. I expected his rise to make people think that “maybe battle emcees can write songs”. Apparently it hasn’t really changed the stigma much; I thought he would do more for that aspect of the game. But coming from where we come from most battle cats aren’t considered as prolific writers, I guess he is now. I thought that he would change the game where people would respect that art and respect what it could do, but it’s still not like that, there is still a stigma attached to it. But overall, it is a beautiful thing, he has opened up doors for other non-white rappers and white rappers alike inadvertently just being himself, it has to be a lot of pressure, but I knew he would do it all along.
I want to get a little personal, so I’ll just ask. Some people have said that you are arrogant and extremely cocky, what do you have to say to the naysayers and doubters?
You know, when you come up doing the type of rap that I do, that is a natural moniker that gets attached to you. I don’t really see myself as that; I don’t know anybody who has done more free work outside of my crew than me. There are hundreds of Juice guest verses out there and arrogance would preclude me from doing that kind of stuff. I mean something had to happen for me to want to work with cats that aren’t in my crew. I have worked with dozens and dozens of people and given really hot verses, songs, and guest appearances to people. If I was cocky and arrogant I don’t think those type of things would transpire, also, I don’t think I would be in such high demand because people would feel I was inaccessible. If you look at my entire underground discography, maybe only Eminem has done as much guest stuff and as much stuff outside of their camp as I have. I think that body of work itself and the fact that I have done it free of charge up until now, speaks volumes for who I am.
So we are clearing that up right now, the battle rhymer is not really who Juice is?
I think they are two different people. I mean if you are an emcee, I’m not really friendly with a bunch of emcees…that’s not my steez, I’m not that dude that’s going to be in a circle with you freestyling for an hour, if I don’t really know or like you, it’s just not going to happen. But, if you’re a girl trying to hang out that night (laughs), I’m probably the coolest person you could hang with; they don’t think I’m arrogant. I think this is only coming from guys, I think that’s what’s up right now (laughs)
Your name was not always Juice, it once was MC Juice. Why the name change? And what does the acronym J.U.I.C.E. stand for?
It’s funny man; I have always just been Juice. But the MC, that was a moniker to let everybody know that I was a lyricist first and foremost. But then I started looking at the word MC and it was attached to people like Hammer (Laughs)
So I decided I was the exact opposite of that and so I dropped it from my name. From my inception as Juice the acronym has always been there, I just thought if you had this name and it means respect it should say something so the Just Unique Innovative Creative and Exceptional (J.U.I.C.E) was just something I added. I just thought for present day times no one cares about that if they don’t like your music. I mean the periods got real difficult when you type of bio or doing an interview. I just wasn’t as marketable as having a just a hot name. I think it’s like how Ameritech became SBC and got a hotter logo.
The album, “All Bets Off” is out on Conglomerate Music, how did you get hooked up with Conglomerate?
Conglomerate started out as Conglomerate Associated Labels Inc, Cali. The “C” in Conglomerate stands for a bunch of different things, obviously it stands for Conglomerate, but I’m from Chicago and I grew up in Cali and in Cali when I was growing up in Cali I was christened. That is why the “C” is like the labels logo. I am a principle in the label with Emac (Emaculate) and two other partners. I’m the president and CEO of the label and co-founder of it. It was primarily established to make sure whatever art we did from now on that I saw some monetary compensation. There just wasn’t an entity holding the Juice catalog, and even though my catalog is lengthy, there has never been an entity holding it. There hasn’t ever been the ability to make money off the catalog or have one label that held my catalog or have one central label that held my present, past, and future, so that was the primary purpose of the label. This allows us to cut through the red tape to get to the major label level, so I could introduce people to other emcees. I feel like there are a lot of other Juices out there that we could help, but I’m the sacrificial lamb, I’ll take the brunt of the criticism and maybe when I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing everyone will understand what I was trying to do from the get go, you know?
I was told by Emaculate that this album was done in 30-45 days; he said you were writing between 8-9 songs a day. What was your motivation to get this out so quickly?
Well it’s funny; we actually recorded 2 and half complete albums. We had a complete album that we thought was just ridiculous. When we started looking at budgetary constraints, we were like man…if you have a hit record and you don’t’ have the $100,000 for Clear Channel and the $250,000 for a video, there has to be a way that we can entice major distributors and let them know that we function as a legitimate label. Not just as an imprint or a company with your name on the product, but as a legitimate label. This album was actually just a mixtape, but one night E (Emaculate) came over with a beat tape while watching this fight. I just remember the next day I sat down and I started writing, and by the middle of the day I had 9 songs written. With the songs that we already had, we were thinking that this is taking shape and the project took more of an album turn, which was better for us, because it was easier to press and no industry beats, it’s just stuff from us. So we hurried up and got it done because we wanted to have some benchmark project to prepare people for what I was really going to be about, so that is really the purpose of the album.
There has been a mixed reaction to the album, some people love that you stepped out of your comfort zone while others want the old Juice? Why did you decide to put out an album like this?
I have never had resources back in the day. Check it, if I could have gotten a Timbaland beat in ’96, people probably would have never known the Juice that they know now. If I could have got a Pharrell or a Dre beat in ’97, people would have probably never heard “Sincerely”. I’m a cat that is very resourceful, I have a lot of ingenuity but I always work with the resources that were granted to me. At the time, those were the resources, and at that level if you’re going dominate, you dominate. You dominate at the battle level, and then you look for something new. One thing as a battle rapper you don’t get to do is tell people about your personality. Your personality gets formed by the metaphors that people hear, that has nothing to do with my lifestyle or what I do on a day to day basis. I don’t think that most people really knew me as a person, but not as a person. They don’t know what we do on the weekends. This is the beginning chapter in the life and times of Juice, a lot of people really don’t know, so this is my opportunity to let people know exactly who I was. For the traditional Juice fan it was a shock, but they really didn’t know until now. But, honestly most people who have the album now, a lot of people have it through downloads and such, but I have found that those fans are extremely loyal, they are also very intelligent. They can get music whenever they want, and that means they don’t always support your music the way that they need to, so you can keep making music. My point is, 2 million people would have bought “Reasonable Doubt” Jay-Z would have never made “Vol 2″, if 4 million people would have bought “Illmatic”, and Nas would have never made that song with Ginuwine. The fact of the matter is there is not a lot of retail support from our current fan base to justify me doing another album like I have. I mean from the necessary people, this album is getting the reaction we wanted, and it is getting the turbulence that we expected, so it is serving its purpose.
Would you say this album sets you up for a major deal?
It’s for that primarily, but it’s a certain type of deal that we need. Our infrastructure is designed to be a presence here; it’s more than just an imprint, like we have an office. When a distributor looks at us, I don’t want them to look at us as a label that has Juice, I want them to look at us as a label that proactively put out product and actually knows how to push it. We don’t really need the imprint deal; we want the full out label deal where we share marketing and distribution. If they can see that we can dominate the region from a soundscan standpoint, it will be a viable thing for them. We have a bunch of artists that we work with and we feel we are as good as any label. We feel we are a strong as LaFace or So So Def or any label. Our goal is sort of a teaser, so when we sit down they will look at us a music production company as opposed to just signing Juice.
Let’s talk producers, not many Chicago producers other than No ID on the record and with all the talk about Kanye, do you want to work with him at all?
Kanye’s thing is this…Kanye literally got shitted on by a lot of people for a lot of things. I have known Kanye for years, I don’t mean like “what up” I mean like I know him. The answer is, I’m not really interested in getting a beat from Kanye because I’m not going to pay him what he wants, and it’s just not going to happen. I feel like when I’m on a major level, I’m an equal star that he is. I feel like that everything he has, I have except the ability to produce, plus I’m more personable than he is. He is a person that feels like he has been wronged by a lot of people so he doesn’t show a lot of love unless he knows you. So, I would actually like a verse from Kanye, I think a lot of his wordplay is real clever. We have been reaching out to him to do this joint for the second album. As far as getting a track from him, I don’t want anybody to ever think that he made my career, because he didn’t. If I got a beat from Kanye it would have to be a career defining beat.
What is the future for Juice in 2005?
Expect Juice to start writing for a lot of major label people, expect a distribution deal with a major label so we can properly distribute our roster. Expect more delving into the person Juice vs. Terry Parker. Expect to know the difference when you see them, Terry Parker is very similar to Sean Carter and Juice is more like Eminem than Jay-Z. But there will be a definite separation between the two so people know. Expect us to have some hot music to put out on a constant basis. I think we are going to be the dominate label in the Midwest. As arrogant as people might say, I get a lot of artists that endear themselves to us because I’m an artist. It is very easy for me to pick other artists, because they know when they hang out that we have their backs. I think we will be the label that other labels look to, and I think we will be a music producing factory, I think we will be a powerful corp. and I think that there will be more good music to come. For people that really like the album, they will really like the album that we spend months and months on, and for those people who don’t like the album….they’ll get over it.
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