“Unfortunate for a lot of renowned battle, off-the-top-of their-heads MC’s, they are not as well known for the records that they make. And it is unfortunate, because the energy they are able to have on stage – the rhyming off the top of their heads, battling – they are not always able to funnel that into the studio. They are so incredible: Why don’t they have massive record sales? For some reason it eludes them.”

Hip-hop renaissance man Bobbito Garcia was sincerely surprised when he uttered these final words in an interview for the documentary “Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme.” Bobbito, famous for the Stretch Armstrong/Bobbito Radio Show among other things, was speaking about a peculiar sidestep on hip-hop’s evolutionary ladder: freestyle MC’s.

Bobbito’s use of the word ‘elude’ might be the perfect way of describing the career of one of America’s biggest freestyle powerhouses in history. Chicago’s own Juice has a battle resume that will turn possible opponents into smoldering puddles of pudding after careful reading. J.U.-ICE, as he calls himself now, was the first MC to ever beat Eminem in a national freestyle competition. He held his own against off-the-dome legend Supernatural on the Freestyle Olympics ’97. Even though he came in second, Juice survived without a scratch. Not many artists out there can brag about that sort of things without turning red in the face.

Outside steamy nightclubs, however, the name Juice will not ring a bell for a lot of heads. The worlds of freestylers and recording artists are miles apart for most. “Is he that kid that came out with that one record last year?” a more dedicated listener would ask. Correct. After winning countless battles, the Chicago MC was through with the clubs, and wanted to leave the shady underground realm. His major label debut “All Bets Off,” that was modeled musically after the success formula mainstream artists use to make a healthy buck, got some good reviews. Soon after it was distributed into stores, however, the record dropped out of sight. It even managed to elude the RapReviews radar.

With “New Money,” the mean-looking giant from Chi-City is out for another chance to prove himself as a recording artist. “I’m gonna keep spitting for these major label execs, until they realize I belong with these major label motherfuckers,” he spits like an antagonized grizzly bear on one of the many bars on this twenty-something song album. But even though he wants to forget about his memorable past, he can’t help himself when he starts off “New Money” with an ode to his ‘former’ career. On “Dear Battles” Juice personifies ‘battles’ as an old flame to whom he speaks harsh but loving words. The first verse starts off with:

“Dear Battles
I know you’re going to miss me
Not many have been able to diss me
Through my history
From just Juice to J.U.I.C.E, shit
Conglom local shit with a G-flow, peep it
Just give me a record deal, and I might just sneak in
A few flows, motherfucker: who knows
And we will be reunited; it will feel so great”

And the last verse is:

“I’m through for now
Through with you for now
We’ll save the ice for later
It’s J.U. for now
It’s fucking up my heart
That I’m cutting you loose
When I blow
I’ll give you the next juice
Dear Battles”

Will battles get their beloved juice back? All the initial signs point in the right direction to make that happen. The former battle berserker sounds hungry and convinced on “New Money”‘s next track “No Love,” that contains a guitar sample straight out of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western. Juice even sounds like Clint in his better days when he drops rhymes in a deadly yet simple manner.

“No Answer For This,” next up in line, also sounds great, but after that quality goes downhill slowly but steadily. A track like, for example, “Hey” shows promise, but when Juice gets into the chameleon mode of a mainstream rapper, he trades in his prowess for average MC’ing skills:

“I paid the price to display my ice
I guess God just blessed me, and made me nice
He could have had me hustling for days and nights
Instead my shit sells because I praise it right
I’ll have your world so dark, you will pray for light
When you hit the E.R. you won’t stay the night”

You would have expected these lines coming from someone like Sheek Louch, and he would have made these rhymes sound more sincere and convincing. It is clear that Juice transgressed to a style of rhyming that boxes in his fabolous talent for improvisation. In this case, the proverbial mouth is mightier than the pen.

Luckily, J.U.-Ice has nothing to complain with the production team backing him on “New Money.” Emmaculate, responsible for multiple songs on Juice’s debut “All Bets Off,” does a decent job in providing his fellow Chicago resident with melodies. He has a predilection for dramatic hardcore beats with a nineties feel that sound fitting for a battle type of MC. The better known Scott Storch and Hi-Tek also come through with one production each, but even Storch’s fire and Tek’s smoothness cannot save Juice from mediocrity

By the sound of things, his big break will elude J.U.-Ice once more, and he will just end up going back to plain old Juice. Let’s hope his loyal supporters and his beloved ‘Battles’ will still be able to forgive him and take him back into the nightclub where he belongs.

JUICE :: New Money
6.5Overall Score