It’s always a great feeling when you stumble upon a gem while searching for new music to listen to. That’s exactly what happened when I peeped Juicebox and Hazy Year’s collaborative Midnight Butter album, which is arguably my favorite project of 2020 so far! Self-proclaimed “Ellen DeGenreless,” Juicebox is a born and raised New York native currently residing in Los Angeles. Beyond being an extremely dope emcee, Juicebox also has a passion for photography, film, and skateboarding. Juicebox’s style is super mellow, frequently meshing well with silky boom-bap, smooth jazz, and chilled lo-fi beats. I immediately likened Juice’s sound to the legendary rap duo A Tribe Called Quest’s; specifically Q-Tip’s as both emcees float over the instrumentals they touch. Don’t be fooled by Juicebox’s nonchalant approach; like Q-Tip, Juice is a highly skilled lyricist capable of igniting the tempo with aggression at any point in time. For example, on the flute-filled record “Soprano,” Juicebox cleverly remarks: “It’s simple, the only thing you’re pimpin’ is a pimple, while a thug would put a hole in your face not talkin’ dimple.” As for the producer, Hazy Year is an established producer out of Norway, incorporating primarily a mixture of lo-fi hip-hop with occasionally sprinkled elements of jazz and soul. Hazy Year’s instrumentals are multi-purposeful for enjoyment; whether you are studying for an exam, struggling to fall asleep, or in need of refreshing vibes while sipping your morning coffee/tea, the soothing effect remains all the same. Some producers, such as Nujabes, J. Dilla, etc.. are so top-tier that their music requires no vocals. Any vocalist/artist that goes over their production is treated as the feature, rather than vice-versa. Hazy Year fits this description. It’s fitting then, that their collaborative album is called Midnight Butter; combining Juicebox’s slippery slick rhymes with Hazy Year’s elegantly soft production. Technically, the album can be considered two projects in one, (a blended eighteen track album and beat tape) as Hazy Year’s instrumentals play in order following the final Juicebox track. The album required a minimum five listens for me to definitively select personal favorites, which are “Whatchu Want,” “Soprano,” “See Now,” and “Vulnerable.”
In my opinion, there are zero skippable tracks, making it an instant classic of sorts. I would even go as far to say that the album is a classic, considering my belief that the project will withstand its stature in the passing of time. Conceptually, the album may be calming, but Juicebox offers societal, political, spiritual and philosophical insight, as well as shared introspection of his own life experiences. For instance, on the first track “It’ll Be Okay,” Juicebox vents: “I’m tired of the social climate and the climate change, I’m tired even though it’s wild that I’m wide awake. I’m tired of all the fake cheesing, I’m tired cause I’m tired I don’t need a fu***** reason.” Essentially, Juice has impressively mentioned societal, environmental, and mental health criteria in no more than a span of sixty seconds, followed by a reassuring “it’ll be okay” chorus. Bringing back the A Tribe Called Quest influence, the track “Whatchu Want” showcases Juice’s ridiculous lyrical display, in which he effortlessly spits: “I write a rap from my black knapsack, rather magnificent, the pen hits the pad like that, sailing a penmanship, I wrap to do do that that, I’m reminiscent with a blast from the past like that, man on a mission back to back with the classic track, man are you listening!?” Whether intentional or not, this line mirrors Q-Tip’s verse on A Tribe Called Quest’s famous song “Award Tour,” in which Tip raps: “Who can drop it on the angle acute at that, do that, do that, do that, that, that (x3). However, on the record “See Now,” Juicebox’s flow reminds me of Eminem’s, in which he eerily recollects both the mistakes and painful lessons of his past. The song open opens up with Juicebox revealing: “In ’09 I thought I was in my prime, rapping all the time while I was hitting on some dimes, eighteen years on the planet yeah granted, I thought that I had everything figured and understanded.”
Unlike the other songs, this particular one makes the listener feel as if Juicebox is speaking directly to them. One could also interpret the song as Juicebox speaking to his former self, as he acquires wisdom from his old actions, beliefs, and poor habits. Juice’s maturity is clearly demonstrated when he continues: “Straight up living in a bubble, confined to a world of getting in my own trouble. Sure I was depressed, and yes I had my stress, but I had no responsibilities a sense of all the rest.” Juicebox follows by admitting that he suffered from depression at the time, but acknowledged that this does not excuse his self-destructive behavior. Later on in the song, Juicebox credits psychedelics and meditation as the beginning of his spiritual awakening and temperance; a story comparable to AK and Issa Gold of the Underachievers. Once more delivering a beautiful hook, Juicebox marvels: “It’s so crazy when you think that you know it but you don’t know a thing at all / I reminisce to the days where I thought that I was running when I barely could crawl / all you need is a moment where you fall up on your ass and the curtain is pulled, when you see that you never really see til you see that you never really see it at all.”
The final highlighted track of mine is titled “Vulnerable,” which Juicebox opens himself up by sharing his own vulnerability, listing private experiences that once troubled his psyche, among having a therapist and taking anti-depressants to cope. The beauty of this track, however, lies not only in Juice’s expressed vulnerabilities, but his realization that he has plenty to be grateful for despite them: “my girlfriend is beautiful, (yes she is) my home is beautiful (yes it is) my studio is beautiful, (oh yes it is) music is so beautiful (the best it is).” Moreover, Juice wants everyone to understand with him that being vulnerable is universal, and that all of humanity should not shy away from their susceptibility. This is made clear (yet again) through a brilliant chorus: “be vulnerable baby boy that’s okay, be vulnerable baby girl that’s okay, be vulnerable old folks that’s okay, be vulnerable every day and all/oh your days.” It’s no secret that expressed vulnerability is often viewed as weak and even cowardice; particularly with males, hence Juice starting the hook off with ‘baby boy.’ It is worth restating that every track on the album has quotable lines; these selections are merely lyrics that resonated with me the most, indicative of the project’s impeccability. When the album ends, the instrumental-only version soaks the listener into a meditative session, allowing them to picture how Hazy Year envisioned Juicebox on his own body of work. 2020 is far from over, but I believe it will be extremely difficult for any artist to top this release as an annual standout favorite, regardless of their hype or popularity. Have a say for yourself by streaming the album below. Midnight Butter is available on all streaming platforms, including Bandcamp to purchase the full album or individual tracks of choice.
Words by Brandon Washington