You know you are in the presence of true experimentalists, when in your post-gig analysis you tell the performers their songs were ‘impenetrable’ and they wear the term like a badge of honour. The event: Dedbeat Weekender 2002, the group: Gamma.
Juice Aleem, rapper with Gamma, The Infesticons and New Flesh, is a wanderer. You might spy him in Paris or South London. Is that him wandering around the dusty outskirts of hip-hop plotting a coup with bass-heavy bandits and Moorish mystics or growling out maxims from hip-hop’s epicentre? Is that a tusken raider or a shogun assassin?
Birmingham-bred Juice was the very first vocalist on the Big Dada label in 1997, has toured the globe with Coldcut and has appeared on records with various electronic luminaries for the last 15 years. A genuine MC, Juice has the ability to charm a crowd with a quick quip, whip ’em into a frenzy with a call-and-response hook or blindside ‘em with a double-time freestyle [by the way I define freestyle as ACTUAL on-the-spot improvised vocals].
Much of Juice’s material remains underexplored like ‘Understanding’  with New Flesh and ‘Permanament’  with Gamma. NME reviewer Angus Batey called the latter ‘an intense, if bewildering, experience’ and unsurprisingly misspelt the album title.
One reason why listeners are bewildered is the odd mixture of the strange beats, the dead-pan humour, the history lessons, wild flights of fancy, enciphered slang and the landmines of rage hidden throughout the various releases. But this is what happens when sonic art collides with Afrofuturism, something that Juice whole-heartedly embraces and explores.
The afrofuturist, as well as challenging the imagination, tends to bring up all kinds of inconvenient truths. Like Sun Ra and Rammellzee, Juice zig-zags between playfulness and indignation, cosmic visions and profane realities. Unfortunately the afrofuturist rapper is frequently marginalized as an irrelevant space-shit-talker.
But Afrofuturism itself calls into question what is and what isn’t relevant. In essence it transports us back to an ancient time and civilization and from that standpoint boldly shows us an alternative now and an alternative future. To do so requires alternative vocabulary too.
While admitting his own vices and foibles, Juice Aleem attempts to battering ram his way through the zombie-esque consumer culture white noise and punch a hole in our doors of perception. Can there be a future where innovation and justice are prized and Africa is a vibrant, healthy continent?
In 2009 Juice released his debut album ‘Jerusalaam Come’. It’s packed with sci-fi sirens, stern verbal battle drills, nasty thoughts, wit and whimsy, martial arts and humanities. Our family hosted the premiere crew screening of the ‘Rock My Hologram’ video in our lounge:
The vocals for ‘Jerusalaam Come’ were recorded in the house right next door and me and my daughter, who was 3 at the time, visited a recording session and added some shouting to the chorus on this track:
He is just about to unleash a new record via the forward-thinking hip-hop label Spinning Compass. Expect a thorough lambasting of the current world order, unothodox party music and a reinterpretation of the term ‘existential dread’.
Here’s the first single [produced by Roots Manuva] from the forthcoming album ‘Voodu StarChild’: