Snacking on a "Craisin" muffin for breakfast, he expresses up front that he's from the 'burbs and doesn't try to write rhymes through a ghetto gaze. Growing up in Colerain, a village where he says people still leave their doors unlocked, Juice knows that faking the funk would forever tag him as a sucker MC. He adamantly expresses disinterest in slinging ghetto propaganda or hyping drugs and violence because that's not him either. But in an era of Hip Hop where even radio stations promote violence and drugs, he suspects he'll be tuned out.
"The music is a lot of emotion with a lot of sincerity," he says of his forthcoming EP, Metanoia, due in July. "I would say the music is exposing everything that's in my head in the sense that most of the songs, I wrote them with the belief that nobody would ever hear them because it's not what the world wants."
As self-deprecating as that sounds, the 24-year-old doesn't need a head doctor.
His treatment is writing down the thoughts that wander his mind and laying them across tracks meant for electric relaxation. Still, an air of self-deprecation is what makes Juice so fresh because he second-guesses himself the way most people do. His single, "Maybe If I," finds him pondering, "Maybe if I/Paid more attention in class/I wouldn't/Work as a temp/Getting paid petty cash."
Like other boys who dissected the two-sided thought processes of superheroes and secretly wished they were the 10th member of Wu Tang Clan, his self-awareness was heavy. When he was about 12, Juice figured he'd be sharp at something that required sharing his observations and was attracted to stand-up comedy (until some friends let him know that he wasn't that funny). He changed his mind and looked toward MC'ing, mostly writing Christian Rap, but once again, friends hit him with tepid feedback.
"In the beginning, a lot of people were like, 'Man, he has skills ... but he needs to lay off the religion stuff,' " he says. "Christian rappers and gangsta rappers, even though they're polar opposites, they have a lot in common. One, is because they both have to maintain the lifestyles they talk about in their music at all times. And two, someone will always test you and be looking over your shoulder.
"If that's really who you are, then, hey, that's cool. For me, it became a chore and it wasn't real. I had to step away from that, sit down and wonder, 'What do I really want to write and say to people?' I wanted to tell a story, but not always have to relate it back to God."
Juice is always willing to change, so much to the point that he uses an oft-used theological idiom and Greek word, "metanoia," to explain the artistically repentant mindset that he developed since his first CD, Ascension.
"Artistically, I'd begun to evolve from doing the Ascension album and it was like something snapped in me," he says. "I felt like I was just born again. It was a complete rebirth and revamping of everything I'd done."
The Web helped him find Nonsense, a producer he equates with some of Hip Hop's royalty ("It's like the RZA from '95, from that golden era of Wu Tang").
Though he sees himself as an underdog, his introspective lyricism earns him nods of respect from peers who would actually call out a cornball MC and announce his name over a loudspeaker. For example, MC Skandal Da Ruckus Man, who competed in HBO's Blaze Battle and hosts Thursday nights at Baba Budan's, endorses him as "having the tools to leave a lasting impression in the Hip Hop world."
At the end of the day Juice doesn't regret his conscious decision to be himself, because it serves as wellness. "The song, 'My Anthem' or the song, 'Maybe If I,' those songs are still therapy to me," he says. "If no one relates to it, I would, even as a blind listener."
JUICE LEE (myspace.com/juicelee) performs at Clique in Covington on June 30.