Rapper Juice Lee gets geeky at Super-Fly’s Free Comic Book Day

By Josher Lumpkin

Photo: Juice Lee drops nerd-core hip-hop May 6 at Super-Fly Comics; photo: Salim Williams

In Juice Lee’s song “The Dark World,” the rapper spits flowing streams of philosophy over a beat mixed from the music of Nintendo’s “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.” If you’re a nerd, the first thing that probably jumps out at you is how great the beat is, but it doesn’t take more than a second to reach the next natural conclusion: this guy can really rap.

“Nerd-core” hip-hop, a subgenre that’s been around for 20 years now, may be novel or amusing, but most of the time, the strength of the songs don’t come from the talent of the rappers. Performing at Super-Fly Comics Saturday, May 6 as part of the store’s Free Comic Book Day celebration, Juice Lee aims to change that.


How long have you been rapping? Have you always rapped about pop/geek culture stuff?

Juice Lee: I’ve been rapping, all together, since 1995, but actually taking it seriously since 2008. I haven’t always rapped about pop culture and geek stuff. For a long time, I tried to fit in with being a “normal rapper.” I was kind of horrible at that. Never got the girl, never packed the club. I was pretty lame by some corporate suit’s standards. I was usually the guy on the show that other rappers would come up to and say, “Yeah man, you’re incredible! I get you,” but that’s about where the praise stopped because it never translated into consistent fans.

I started really going the geek route after I met Mega Ran on a trip to LA in 2010. I saw what he was doing, and he was such a real dude that it gave me confidence to actually want to talk about the stuff that I’ve loved my entire life.


So, it seems like most of the ‘nerd-core’ rappers out there are white. Do you have any insights as a black nerd-core rapper?

JL: One thing I’ve noticed about nerd-core rap is that a good swath of nerd-core rappers are nerds who decided to be rappers, instead of rappers who decided they could rap about nerd stuff. Which leads me to my next point. OK, this is going to be probably a weird comparison and something that’s going to sound odd, but being a black nerd-core rapper…in a sense, you are like the white rapper. So, if you look at white rappers in regular hip-hop, they have a certain standard that they need to meet most times, and that standard is to really be three or four times better than the competition. Like if you look at Eminem, this is a guy who came up via Cincinnati hip-hop’s greatest achievement: Scribble Jam. Eminem was a guy who was put in a box initially. Before him, the consensus was that white rappers had no skill, which we know is not true, but the stigma was real back then. Em had to be better than everyone, and he had to constantly prove it.

So in effect, as a black nerd-core rapper, you need to prove that you are not a guy who’s playing it easy because you couldn’t make it as a “real” rapper. Therefore, you need to be twice as good as the other guys. You also need to prove that you’re an actual nerd because these are the only fans that will crucify you if you screw up lore.


Why do you think it’s important to have events like Free Comic Book Day?

JL: Free Comic Book Day is important because it always opens up new people to comics. The movies are great, but when you can find a literal wealth of stories from characters yet to be seen on the big screen for free, it is a great day indeed.


Do you have an opinion on the recent quotes from Marvel blaming diversity for the slump in comic sales?

JL: OK, I’m going to sum this up really quick and easy. This is all they need to do to fix this low readership. One: no more “events.” They do these “major events” where the reader is required to buy five or six additional books to get the full story…nearly every month. They should be doing events like once every two years, at the most. Two: develop the characters you already have. If you want to make a diverse character, ease them into the story of an established character to let the readers know them, then break them off into their own books. Three (which is the most important rule): Hire diverse writers and editors! Fresh eyes tell fresh stories. An old white man who’s worked in comics all his life isn’t going to know or fully understand the plight of a young black women in today’s society or a Pakistani teenager. This is where representation and readership matters.


What’s the future hold for Juice Lee? 

JL:  A few things. I hope to do a tour at some point before the year is out. Currently, I’m working on a James Bond-themed music video for my song “Oculus,” which will appear on this upcoming album entitled The Anthology, due out some time this summer. Also, I’ll be releasing a detective noir mixtape, The Beverly Jade Conspiracy, at some point before The Anthology. I’m trying to stay busy and grinding this year. I’d really like to make an incredible statement to the world with everything I’m creating right now.


Juice Lee performs Saturday, May 6 at Super-Fly Comics and Games, 132 Dayton St. in Yellow Springs. Show starts at 8 p.m. For more information, please visit JuiBrand.com or call Super-Fly Comics at 937.767.1445.


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Josher Lumpkin is a nursing student and aspiring historian who enjoys writing about music and geekdom of all kinds. He is especially fond of punk rock, tabletop gaming, sci-fi/fantasy and camping with his wife, Jenner, and their dogs, Katie and Sophie. Reach him at JosherLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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