This is the stuff legends are made of.
Back in 1997, long before Slim Shady became a household name, a 24-year-old Chicago MC named Juice battled the up-and-coming Detroit rapper Eminem at ScribbleJam, the annual Midwestern hip-hop festival. Juice was on a hot streak all morning, and the final round pitted the two against each other. Then relatively unknown, Eminem wowed fans and adversaries, but didn't hold up in the final bout. Juice won the battle, but it was Eminem who went on to stardom, and a genuine hip-hop folktale was born.
Some variations of the tale are taller and more thrilling -- and also less authentic. One version goes something like this: rap impresario Dr. Dre was watching the show, looking to discover new talent; he had decided to offer a contract to the festival's winning MC. When Juice triumphed over Eminem, Dre approached him with the offer, but Juice -- a true-school underground rapper -- turned it down, content instead to follow his own righteous indie path. Eminem was Dre's backup plan, one that led to multimillions and platinum records.
It makes for a good yarn, but that whole bit about Dre? Fabricated, sensationalized by underground fans in search of a hero who would champion idealism over bling.
The real story -- printed above, as told by Juice -- is a little more grounded in the practical rationale of a man who's built his career on battle rapping. "I always make this joke that if I had known Dr. Dre in '97, you never would have known Juice could battle," he says.
After nearly a decade of unofficial mix tapes and CD-Rs -- some considered classic among the local community -- Juice, now TK, released his first official studio album All Bets Off in January of this year on his own label, Conglomerate Music Corporation. The album pays tribute to a lyrical legacy that is largely unheralded beyond Chicago's city limits. With its release, Juice has unapologetically declared his plan to galvanize a larger, wider audience, luring national listeners into joining the devoted ranks of Juice fans. --Stacey Dugan