The Underrated: Juvenile

By @TrueGodImmortal

Throughout the years, the South has given us some of the best rappers we've ever seen. For many, Outkast, Scarface, UGK, Lil Wayne and T.I. are some of the best we've ever seen. However, for me, I think the most underrated southern rapper ever and one of the greatest to ever do it from the South is Juvenile. The New Orleans native came into the game young, and before signing with Cash Money Records, he was a young upstart in his teens just trying to make a name for himself. At the time, the New Orleans culture was immersed in bounce music, and a young Juve would end up making a hit on the 1991 DJ Jimi release with "Bounce For The Juvenile". What was interesting is that at the time of the release, Juve was just 14, but you could clearly tell he was wise beyond his years. After the moderate local hit with DJ Jimi, Juvenile set out to garner solo success as an artist, and that led him to Warlock Records.

After signing a deal with Warlock Records, Juve would release his very first album in 1995 to little fanfare. The album, Being Myself, was a mix of reality gangsta rap and bounce music, and while it's not quite as solid as I would like to hear from Juve, for an 18 year old rapper ingrained into the Bounce Music scene, it was a decent introduction. At the time, Juve was just honing his craft, learning the ropes of music, and finding his voice. Still, the album wasn't without promise, as tracks such as "Conversations With The Man Above", "U Can't C Me", and "Powder Bag" hinted at the possible greatness Juve could be headed for. The album did manage to receive some local success, and that would put Juvenile on the New Orleans radar even more.

Still, he hadn't reached the level he needed to. That would come shortly after the release of Being Myself, when the growing label Cash Money Records reached out to Juvenile to help capitalize on his local popularity and take him to the next level. This would turn out to be the biggest move for both parties in a way, as Juvenile gave the label a different voice from the artists they already had on the label and he came in with his own popularity in tact locally.
Shortly after signing with Cash Money, Juvenile would end up making two major moves that would change his career forever: he would work on his sophomore album and Cash Money debut and join forces with fellow Cash Money rappers Lil Wayne, B.G., and Turk (a rapper named Bulletproof was rumored to be in the group as well, but he instead made an appearance on the group's first album as opposed to joining the group). After these career altering moves, it would then become time for Juve to show and prove as an artist on his solo grind. His 2nd album, aptly titled Solja Rags, arrived in 1997 with the production being handled by the in house producer for Cash Money, Mannie Fresh. There are a lot of great producer and rapper duos but I've always felt that Juve and Fresh were one of the best, as the marriage between the booming Fresh production and the abstract yet realistic lyricism was perfection. This album brought about the golden era of Juvenile and Cash Money. It showcased the wit that Juvenile possessed and his ability to catchy records as well.

Some of my favorite songs on the album are "Roll With Em", the Hot Boys featured classic "Hide Out or Ride Out", the anthem "Who's Tha M.F.", but the apex of the album arrives near the end with the legendary track "Money On The Couch". The track features three verses, with two extended verses (the first and the third) helping to paint the picture Juve wanted. My favorite verse on the entire Solja Rags album? Look no further than the opening verse of "Money On The Couch" below:

"I went through with the plan/ Now the man sending me grams/
My coke organization still infesting the land/
No joke, built my mama/
An estate in the Bahamas/
Crops of marijuana/
Protected by Big Tymers/
Hand, full of ice/
It's gangsta's paradise/
Expensive merchandise/
I had to sacrifice for the glamourous life/
Don P. for breakfast/
Benz, stretches, and Lexus/
Distribution of coke from Louisiana to Texas/
Some fabricated/
But fascinated by the way that I made it/
Now my name is implicated with the greatest/
Wearin' the latest/
Leather fatigues and B.B.H./
Brand new Mercedes, parked in front of my new estate/
Twelve o' clock we gave him, caviar, is what we ate/
Party with killas, paraphrenalia full of projects/
Dope snorters or prospects/
The rob your shop necks/
But I gets pissed and send hits/ Don't fuck with my shit/
Wig split, the heel, whoever he roll with/
Admit it, you did it, tongue too tied? Well say somethin'/
Nine's bustin', bringin' your platoon to destruction/
Continue to hustlin', givin' up nothin', where the dope at?/
Crackers can get the bozack/ Because I'm pro Black/
Banged up a foreigner/
He wasn't holdin' up his side of his deal, alien gotta be killed, sent to the coroner/
I'm sure he would have gone before the judge/
With somethin' concrete, to send me, cuz/
He was holdin' a grudge, fuckin' over a thug/
Told my bitch I want him dead/
Bring me his head, fill him with lead/
Heard what I said? Don't betray me, I'll put you on the streets/
And make you weak/
With carrots and stones up on fingers and your teeth/
And built you a home next to the beach/
And luxury cars we creep/
Here's the nine, I don't have time, make it discreet/"

At the time, that verse was like southern hip hop lyrical royalty to me, and years later... it still is. After the release of Solja Rags, Juve would contribute to the first Hot Boys album, Get It How U Live, which seemed poised to breakthrough for the group and label after nearly selling 400,000 copies locally. Solja Rags was the catalyst for it all, as that album moved 300,000 copies locally as well. Cash Money was selling what some rappers on mainstream labels were selling independently and the labels came calling for sure. After the big contract came their way courtesy of Universal Records, Cash Money needed a record that could really take them to the next level. The Big Tymers album wasn't the one, despite solid sales. It fell on Juve to carry the torch as the most promising solo artist in the crew and sure enough, he was up to the challenge and then some. As 1998 began winding to a close, we would be graced with one of the greatest hip hop albums of the 90s, 400 Degreez.

Arriving officially in November 1998, Juvenile had picked up some steam with the first single, the very catchy "Ha". The track was backed by a sinister Mannie Fresh production, alongside verses that ended in the titular term, but formed as a question, for example:

"That's you in that Bad ass Benz, ha?/
That's you that can't keep yo' old lady, cause you keep fuckin her friends, ha?/"

The way the song was structured was quite genius and the hook on the song was just as catchy as the verses, something we rarely saw in music at the time. Juve had a slightly sing songy delivery with his voice and flow, and it was entertaining, especially on a song like "Ha". However, despite having a sizable hit with the single, 400 Degreez didn't take off right away as an album. It didn't hit the top 10 right away on the Billboard 200, but it was still doing decent enough that it was considered a solid album. However, as many of us know, Cash Money had set out to take over for the 99 and the 2000, and Juve was the biggest part of this plan. 

When the second single "Back That Azz Up" was released, it would start to garner some attention. In my neighborhood, "Back That Azz Up" was already an anthem since we all had the album, but it would soon become a crossover hit thanks to the edited radio version of the song "Back That Thang Up". The song took off, becoming a top 20 hit in the United States and pushing 400 Degreez into the top 10 of the Billboard 200. The world couldn't get enough of the track that started off with the declaration (which is only on the radio version) of "Cash Money Records taking over for the 99 and the 2000", and of course ended with Lil Wayne telling the women to "drop it like it's hot", which would become a huge phenomenon in middle America shortly after. This was the crossover moment for Juve and Cash Money, as 400 Degreez would end up selling over 5 million copies and remaining on the charts for the duration of 1999 off the strength of that song.

However, the world who purchased the album and actually listened to more than one song would soon learn that Juve had improved more and more as his music went on and he reached what I feel is his prime with 400 Degreez. Songs like the classic "Rich Niggaz", "Run For It", "Gone Ride With Me", and the title track all helped round out this legendary album, but my favorite song has to be "Juvenile On Fire", which has a knocking Mannie Fresh beat and one of the more straightforward yet hilarious Juve verses ever. Take a look:

"Let's say I'm in a room with a bitch, and the hoe don't wanna fuck/
Like a man, I'ma beat my meat
And get my fuckin nut/
Fa'sho, she gonna be drove then/
And I'm a cut the TV off, and got to sleep on that hoe then/
Now tell that to your girlfriend, you tell her everything else/
She going to be with her boyfriend, you going to be by your damn self/
While I'm in my benz with your friend, and she bout to get nervous/
Baby I don't want nothing, but some mouth and lip service/
Don't act bad/
Don't get mad/
That's all I can do with you, cause I don't want your ass/
Look, you kinda fine/
With a nigga name on your spine/
Now respect my fuckin mind/
How I'ma hit that from behind/
Got a hoe across the court and my lil boo stay next door/
I'm getting tired of you rappers,
It's time for me to restore/
I done fixed these bitches house up, and have them living swell/
But yet and still a nigga like me was eating a taco bell/
But after that shit, all that trick shit I stopped it/
And locked my fuckin pockets/
You can't pick it or pop it/
Now I get what I can get out of these hoes and I'm up/
And if she wanna flex up,
I'ma back the hoe up/"

That's pure poetry if I've ever heard it. That verse is a prime example of what made Juve such a polarizing artist to me. He had personality. He had lyrics. He had flow. He had humor. He had the delivery. He could make hits. He had the catchy hooks. He had everything a hip hop artist needs and it was only right 400 Degreez is one of the highest selling albums to come out of the South and I believe it's the top selling album still to come out of Cash Money. Cash Money was focused on striking while the iron was hot, so after hitting hard in the summer of 1999 with the 2nd Hot Boys album, the classic Guerrilla Warfare, they would then release the next Juve album at the end of the year. This album, titled Tha G-Code wasn't as popular as 400 Degreez, but if you ask me, it's a better album. It's more complete, more concise, with no filler, and no subpar Jay-Z remix verse to bring it down (yes, I said it). The fact of the matter is, Juve was comfortable in his throne as the top Southern rapper at the moment and Tha G-Code was a direct reflection of his focus and success IMO. The singles from the album "U Understand" (which I thought was better than "Ha") and "I Got That Fire" weren't as successful as the singles on 400 Degreez, but they still pushed Tha G-Code to double platinum sales and a top 10 spot on the Billboard 200.

Tha G-Code would feature the usual Cash Money appearances from Lil Wayne, B.G., Turk, and Big Tymers, but there was an even more gritty feel to this album that 400 Degreez didn't even capture. It was raw music from Juvenile, who was able to present life in New Orleans, partying, the pursuit of women, and more alongside his lyrical and something humorous reality raps. Tracks like the profound "A Million And One Things" (which features the Hot Boys) take a look at those in the neighborhoods who fall victim to hustling and drugs, and try to provide them with a bit of encouragement to go and get it. There are songs like the honest "Take Them 5", which discusses taking a 5 year plea deal in court versus riding out the trial and getting 10 to 20 years, and this song hit home for many at the time. The title track features Lil Wayne and has a great production alongside great verses from both Juve and Wayne (Wayne steals the show here), and one of my favorite tracks features B.G. and is the closing song on the album, "Guerrilla". It's one of my favorite Juve songs ever and one of my favorite Mannie Fresh productions as well.

All of those songs help to round out the album, but for me, Juve shines the brightest on the Turk featured track "Tha Man". The song doesn't really have a hook on it, but it features both of the MCs rapping back and forth, spitting some of their hardest lines, but it's Juve who commands the attention on this track with his lengthy verse. Take a look at how Juve steals the show:

"I'ma stay thuggin, how I came is how I leave/
When I say somethin, best believe that's how it be/
Motherfuck a suit - yeah I said it, nigga, I mean it/
Bitch was dressed in gangsta and switch, whodie, I seen it/
Wannabe Juve- fuckin' hoes gon' get you caught up/
Me, I wear Reeboks and Girbauds, and play it smarter/
If them boys spin tha bend, they go bluckahda on tha block/
I'ma be gettin' somewhere, your ass gonna get shot/
You paid 1500... I paid 59.99/
Got diamonds and Rolexes that shine at the same time/
I ain't scared... but I ain't dumb, and I ain't stupid/
I know how to survive in the projects and how to do shit/
If I hit a hustle I ain't tellin' tha biz/
'Cause the witness will tell them people who the murderer is/
Your main man'll put four or five to your wig/
Take the cocaine and throw you off the side of the bridge/
Gotta be able to think, gotta know when to move out/
Gotta read through the lines, gotta know what these hoes 'bout/
Gotta separate your business from your family and friends/
Gotta bust a nigga head if he plottin to do you in/
I done did dirt, so I know what's tha consequences/
Let my shit burst, tryin' ta knock out a nigga dentures/
Always PQ to see through these fools/
Cause we do the shit that people see on the news/
So, follow me now into a world of stress/
Where whodie tryin' ta get it all 'cause he don't settle for less/
Ain't satisfied 'til all of his beef is put to rest/
Slangin' that iron... with a soldier rag on his neck/
And credit for they people in case they wanna connect/
He ain't hidin'.. he still ridin'.. in the 'jects/
He gotta be willin' to play the game 'til it's debt/
Nigga bang and hit you in your brain, now who next/
I be cool at all times and acknowledge.. when I'm wrong/
Shit I went through when the fans got my game real strong/
I'm not the smartest motherfucker walking/
But I can tell a fake motherfucker when he talking/
My daddy always told me, boy, don't be a follower/
You got a lot of pride, but some you need to swallow up/
You keep that attitude, you won't see tomorrow, bruh/
I soak it up, and got better as a hustler/"

That's another excellent example of what makes Juve so special to hip hop. The personality shining through that verse is amazing and it sums up why I think Tha G-Code is his best. It's the most focused and concise of his albums, and that verse is one of his best. However, soon after the release of Tha G-Code, it seemed as if Juve and Cash Money were at odds. Rumors persisted of him being dissatisfied with how he was being paid by the label and he wasn't always present at the label. During this time period however, Juve contributed two of his best verses on two separate Cash Money projects before releasing what was believed to be his final album on the label. The first legendary verse that Juve released during this time came from the title track to the Cash Money film "Baller Blockin". Juve was the standout artist on the entire soundtrack, but it was that verse that really hit hard as it closed out the song. Revisit the greatness of Juve on the verse below:

"I know I need to stop but I'm solja, so fuck it/
Besides I'm responsible for suppling the public/
My daddy got shot so I'm holding it down/
Outline, out of bounds puttin four in a clown/
Bitch answer when I call, make me know you got my change/
Is it exploding in yo brain/
Do you think I'm playing games/
See that's why lil niggas like u get murder over 'caine/
Put yo self in a spot where u won't be working again/
I ain't gone let yo partners from yo block confuse ya/
You broke 'em off a package and they tryna misuse ya/
Now tell 'em who got assed out, you and me too, ha/
And Bubba want his money so I gotta kill you now/
And all these muthafuckin laws tryna take mines/
I ain't with that bullshit two at the same time/
Fuck, I might at well give the dope game up/
But Beatrice said he got a fresh package that came up/"

Everything about that verse, from the way he begins to the story he tells throughout is amazing. Juve was on a role in 2000 and I sometimes feel the Cash Money debacle deprived us of what might have been his best album coming. However, Juve never slacked on the guest verses and one of his best guest appearances came on the 2nd album from Lil Wayne, Lights Out on the single "Shine". Similar to his show stealing performance on the 1999 Ruff Ryders track with Drag-On titled "Down Bottom", Juve commands your attention from the opening line. Unfortunately, the video version didn't have his verse, which probably stopped the song from being bigger than it could have. Still, the original version is undefeated and Juve delivers with ease. Check it out:

"Yellow Viper, yellow Hummer, Yellow Benz/
Yellow PT Cruiser, yellow 'Lac on rims/
Drop yellow 'Vette and a platinum Rolls Royce/
That's seven different cars, everyday I got a choice/
On my way to pick up Joyce/
She be makin me moist/
Givin me head while she humming, she can play with her voice/
And she got nice thighs, a big plump ass/
She could ride a dick too, make me come fast/
I like them modeling bitches/
I love them swallowing bitches/
Where them hoes headed at, I'm 'bout to follow them bitches/
I know you with your folks/
But that nigga is broke/
You might as well open your legs up and let a nigga poke/
I'ma show you what it is not to be a window shopper/
Mama you can have Fendi, mama you can have Prada/
All you gotta do is break a nigga off proper/
You could be with your man, I ain't tryna stop ya/"

The verse is simple and to the point, but it gets the job done. Juve was on fire at the time, so it was a bit disappointing when it was made public that he would be leaving Cash Money and sure enough, his next album, the August 2001 release Project English would likely be his last project. The album was thrown together and clearly unfinished, as Juve wasn't present on a few tracks, and the intro featured a new Cash Money rapper named Mickey. It was an odd moment, to say the least, and there wasn't much to rave about on the album. While songs like "Set It Off", "Sunshine", and the hit single "Mamma Got Ass" pushed the album to platinum status and over a million copies sold, without proper promotion and proper sequencing, the album just fell short of expectations. Shortly after this, Juvenile officially left Cash Money and began pushing his UTP brand. With rappers Wacko, Skip, and a relatively unknown artist named Young Buck by his side, Juve set out to get notoriety at any cost. He would end up engaging in short lived beef with Cash Money before deciding to return to the label to fulfill a contract obligation after winning a court case that put millions of dollars in his pocket.

After returning to the label, Juve came with an album half finished and half produced by other producers that weren't Mannie Fresh. He went in and worked with Mannie for a few tracks, and with that, his next album Juve The Great was born. Released in late 2003, the album was similar to 400 Degreez as it didn't pop initially on the release, with singles "In My Life" and "Bounce Back" not doing as well as the label would have wanted. The album was pushing towards gold status, and then the final single was released, the final song on the album featuring Soulja Slim titled "Slow Motion". A smooth song made for the ladies so to speak, the song would take off and bring Juve back to his older glory, as the single pushed the album to platinum plus status, and would he the only Juvenile song to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 100 charts. I can only help but wonder how much more the album would have sold if they started off with "Slow Motion" as the first single and THEN went with the Mannie Fresh produced singles after that. Perhaps instead of 1.5 million copies sold, Juve could have seen the album go triple platinum. Still, Juve was on a roll, having released four straight albums that went platinum despite his label troubles. Juve The Great was a solid album for the most part, but it didn't compare to the greatness that 400 Degreez and Tha G-Code brought us.

Following the album's success, Juve decided to get his own deal with Atlantic Records, leaving Cash Money behind. He would release the first album of the deal in 2006 with the solid Reality Check. The album reminded us of why we loved Juve, starting with the first single, the smooth Cool and Dre produced hit "Rodeo". The most important song on the album however comes in the form of the single "Get Ya Hustle On", which was released in response to the horrible FEMA and government presence to Hurricane Katrina, and shows Juve in a reflective and aggressive mode. The first verse tells the story of his anguish and thought process clearly:

"To all my people on them corners I consider as dogs/
I wish I could break a package down and send it to y'all/
I know ya feelin me behind them penitentiary walls/
Put me on the visit list and I'll be in to see y'all/
Talk to 'em - your mayor ain't your friend, he's the enemy_
Just to get your vote, a saint is what he pretend to be/
Fuck him! Listen to me, I got the remedy/
Save your money up and find out who got 'em for 10 a ki'/
Bubble, if you don't hustle don't use your energy/
Cause you gon' be a cellmate or wind up as a memory/
Yeah, and I could give a fuck if you kin to me/
My life is up and down and side to side like a centipede/"

The song really set Juve at the forefront of the New Orleans movement once again, and behind those two songs and the Mike Jones and Paul Wall featured "Way I Be Leanin", Reality Check went gold, finishing out at around 800,000 copies, which for that sales climate, had to be considered good. There were other solid songs on this album like the Bun B featured "Rock Like That", the smooth Trey Songz assisted "I Know, You Know", and the Mannie Fresh produced "Animal", but there was also two of the most hilarious songs and song titles ever in "Come Out The Laundry" and "Loose Booty" (the fact that this is a real song is still hilarious). Juve showcased a serious side, a comedic side, and a smooth side on this album, and the project debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard charts (his first to do so), making it a win for Atlantic and UTP.  Unfortunately, Atlantic didn't know the level of star they had in Juve, and they ended up not giving him much of a push for the next few years, until Juve returned with his next album, the 2009 release Cocky and Confident.

However, this album wasn't successful, and flopped, finishing with only 200,000 copies sold, ending the streak of platinum and gold albums under Juve's belt. I couldn't pinpoint why this album wasn't successful, but I will admit that it didn't have the same quality as his other projects. Juve seemed out of place on this album and somehow uncomfortable, and while I did enjoy a few tracks like  "Top Of The Line", "We Be Getting Money", and "Feeling Right", something just didn't work on the project. Perhaps it was the lack of Mannie Fresh production, or maybe the songs just didn't work, but the album sounded uninspired. Still, it's always nice to hear new Juve music. He would release another project that seemed to be misguided with the 2010 release Beast Mode, and it just didn't work yet again. Now independent, Juve had creative freedom, but it still didn't work on Beast Mode.

Feeling the pressure possibly, Juve decided to go back and work with the producer who got him to the mountain top, Mannie Fresh, and would release the 2012 album Rejuvenation through Rap-A-Lot. This is almost a return to form for Juve, as the album is his best project since Reality Check, and Juve didn't disappoint for the most part on this album. Utilizing production from Mannie on 5 tracks and also working with Drumma Boy, Juve shined and he stole the show on the Fresh produced, Rick Ross featured track "Power" with his final verse on the song. Take a look at his lyrical output on the track below:

"Power is respect, you gotta get it in the mud/
Check the DNA, see if it's really in the blood/
Motherfuckers talking about me say I'm a thug/
They figure since I'm balling up packets from the drugs/
Niggas in the kitchen mixing dope like a chemist/
They pray that I'mma lose it - that ain't in my religion/
Boy, I drive birds down south like a pigeon/
You ain't sitting on a hundred million, you ain't living/
Smoking on kush, it's smelling like ass/
I run through a quarter million like grass/
Scarface, bitch - I'm feeling like brad/
I'm a underground king like Chad/
I'm in the mansion with an opal model Marilyn/
She told me I was dope - no heroin/
Power make a nigga show his arrogance/
Let's break it down - bring the barrels in/"

While Juve wasn't exactly the same young and outlandish rapper as the late 90s, he was still lyrically viable and that verse proved it. After Rejuvenation, Juve continue to release music, including multiple mixtapes and a 2014 release on Rap-A-Lot titled The Fundamentals. While none of those projects really captured prime Juve, they were still solid (aside from the two mentioned), and still gave us unfiltered Juvenile music. Make no mistake about it, though Juve isn't the same force he used to be now, he's still a great rapper and I believe he's one of the greatest legends to come from the South. He's one of the top tier storytellers in hip hop, who doesn't do things conventionally and that makes him such an intriguing artist. Juvenile is not only a legend, but he's surprisingly underrated by many, because he isn't just 400 Degreez or the artist who gave us "Back That Azz Up", he's a hitmaker, a lyricist, an original Cash Money Millionaire, a southern legend, and one of the best to ever do it. It's time the world paid even more homage to Juvenile. It's a must.



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