All photos courtesy of Darien Bruze
“The hip-hop business is funny,” Juvenile says. “They’ll love you today and kill you tomorrow.”
The legendary New Orleans rapper is calling me after wrapping up a photo shoot in the neighborhood that used to house the Magnolia Projects. All the old buildings that once made up one of the most notorious and dangerous housing projects in the country are gone, destroyed by Hurricane Katrina or redevelopment. The only part of the original Magnolia Projects that’s left, in fact, is the building Juvenile grew up in. You can see it in his iconic “Ha” video, and you can see it in some of the photos accompanying this article.
Juvenile, too, is still standing. In the early 90s, he helped popularize N.O. Bounce music with his and DJ Jimi’s “Bounce for the Juvenile.” By the middle of the decade, he was a star in the city, and was an integral cog in the fledgling Cash Money machine, both as a solo artist and a member of the Hot Boyz along with B.G., Turk, and Lil Wayne. His album 400 Degreez is to this day an astonishing record, full of angular flows and dank beats courtesy of the magical mind of Mannie Fresh. When the video for Juvie’s hit single “Ha,” which artfully depicted a day in the life of the Magnolia Projects, spread like wildfire, Juvenile took the nation back to New Orleans. But by the early 2000s, Juvenile grew tired of Cash Money impresario Birdman’s notoriously stingy ways and left the label. He struggled to release another album that duplicated the successes of his work on Cash Money, and ended up re-signing with them in 2014.
But just because Juvenile hasn’t had a hit in a few years doesn’t mean he’s lost a step on the mic. His new specialty is absolutely destroying whoever dares share a track with him, whether it’s Future on “Ainchu,” Iamsu! on “100 Grand,” or Wayne himself on Mike Will’s “Picture Perfect.” Last May, he dropped a mixtape titled Mardi Gras II, and I guarantee it was better than whatever you listened to instead of Mardi Gras II last May. A few months ago he and Lil Wayne reunited with Mannie Fresh for a track called “Hate”; hearing Juvie and Weezy trade bars over a Mannie beat like it was the Guerilla Warfare days felt like listening in on a jubilant shit-talk session between old friends.
As groundbreaking as Juvenile was as a rapper, there’s always been a strong visual component to his work. The images that accompanied his music—whether in the form of the “Ha” video or the covers for 400 Degreez and Guerilla Warfare—were often as striking and iconic as the songs they helped brand. And though it’s nearly impossible to replicate Juvenile’s voice and flow, his iconography has become cultural shorthand for an extremely specific time and place in hip-hop.
These days, Juvenile’s taking full advantage of his stature as both a hip-hop elder statesman and a staple of 90s hip-hop imagery. He’s currently gearing up for two different tours—one with DMX and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and one with Mystikal, Trick Daddy, Bun B, Pastor Troy, and 8Ball & MJG. He’s also preparing to drop a line of vintage-inspired shirts with Darien Bruze, who recently created merch for Future, and whose work combines an exhaustive knowledge of hip-hop history with a omnivorous, postmodern playfulness. The shirts will be available on his two tours as well as on Bruze’s website, starting soon.
Over the phone, Juvenile and I discussed the Cash Money days, gentrification in New Orleans, and his new T-shirts. Twenty minutes into our conversation Juvenile had to jet because it was his wife’s birthday, and I ended up on the phone with Juvenile’s adult son, Young Juve, who I then also interviewed.
Noisey: What inspired you to put out a line of vintage-inspired T-shirts out now?
Juvenile: At first I wanted to do a bunch of different shirts for my tour, but now I’m seeing the bigger picture. I see a lot of shirts out there already with my name or face on ‘em, and I feel like when it’s coming from the person themselves, it’s more authentic.
Where’d you get the designs from?
A couple of pics are from back in the days, vintage Cash Money stuff. We actually just got done shooting photos for the shirts in my old projects. They tore my old projects down but they kept the building I actually lived in up, so we shot in front of there. It’s kind of crazy.
How do you feel when something like that happens? Gentrification is such a divisive issue in New Orleans.
I look at it as a good thing. It diversifies the neighborhood. I just want everybody who lived Uptown to know it’s OK to live there now. A lot of people who grew up Uptown are scared to go back there because they got bad memories of it. It had such a bad reputation that people moving there at all is a good thing to me. It generates money for people I knew growing up, because all these local businesses are looking like they’re gonna have a little longevity in ‘em.
Is there a story behind the cover for 400 Degreez?
There is a story behind that. We went to Pen & Pixel in Houston for the cover—they’d already done the Solja Rags cover for me before—and I told them I wanted it lookin’ like everything that had something to do with Juvie. My album was a mixture of a lot of different things—from the first song to the end, everything is kinda totally different. I just wanted an album cover to give off that same feeling as the album. I went in there like, “I want this on it, I want that on it, I want this on it too!” They were lookin’ at me like, “He crazy! He young, he excited, he want all this stuff on his album cover! Well, we can’t fit it all on there but we’ll put a lot of stuff on it.” I put everything but my mama’s picture on it [laughs].
What about the process behind the album itself?
I’d be a liar if I said there was a process. The way Cash Money worked was everybody went to the studio every day like it was a job. We just recorded, and whoever’s album was up next, that’s whose album the songs went on. I just so happened to be next up, but the songs on my album coulda gone to any one of us.
Tell me about the “Ha” video.
It was an experience. It was Marc Klasfeld’s first big video. It was my first real big video. And it was the first video shot in the Magnolia Projects. They was really a part of it. Marc and them set up camp in the projects for three days. The neighborhood stood by me a hundred percent—all the drug dealers shut down. That ain’t easy to do, gettin’ people to put aside gettin’ their money so they could do something for me.
Because it was such a huge hit, that video really shined a light on the conditions in your city.
If it wasn’t for the “Ha” video and then Katrina, a lot of people wouldn’t have known what we was going through.
I’ve heard you’re making an album with Mannie Fresh and Lil Wayne.
There’s no rush on anything—we don’t have a deadline. We’re just enjoying ourselves through the music.
You’ve got two tours coming up. Both of their lineups suggest that hip-hop’s coming into its “classic rock” phase.
There’s a fanbase out there that’s older, and they miss us. You got die-hard fans who really wanna relive those Cash Money/Ruff Ryders tour and… Hey man, I hate to cut the interview short, but today’s my wife’s birthday and I’ve got to go.
* * *
And like that, Juvenile was gone. He handed the phone to D Bruze, and we started chatting about the T-shirt line and how amped he was to be working with Juvenile. As he and I nerded out over New Orleans hip-hop history, I asked him if he could remember if Juvie had put out a record on Rap-A-Lot. “I’m not sure,” Bruze said. “His son’s here, ask him.”
Turns out Juvenile’s son also raps. His name is Young Juve, and his mixtape WuzzCrackin is honestly pretty sick, like good enough that I would want to listen to it even if his dad were some regular dude and not Juvenile. He’s also in a Juvenile-curated group called Ghetto Children, consisting of young New Orleans all-stars Daniel Heartless, Neno Calvin, T.Y. (whose dad is B.G.), and Lil Soulja Slim (whose dad is Soulja Slim).
One of the coolest things about Young Juve is that he recognizes his father’s legacy is not his own. Given that his dad is Juvenile, Young Juve could cash in on hip-hop’s emerging nostalgia economy by copying his father’s flows and rapping over 90s-sounding bounce beats (that I assume would be produced by Mannie Fresh’s son). Instead, he respects the history his father helped make, and uses it as a jumping-off point for his own work. Take “Do Yo Thang,” Young Juve’s languid and liquid sex anthem off WuzzCrackin. Young Juve’s constantly shifting flows combine with the warped beat and droning sub-bass for sound that’s thoroughly modern, but Juve sources his chorus from Mannie Fresh’s verse off Big Tymers’ “Get Your Roll On.” (Fresh himself shows up on the track’s remix, along with his fellow Cash Money alumnus Lil Wayne.)
I took the liberty of embedding some of the best Young Juve songs below. My favorite is “Hoe,” which features E-40, Ghetto Children, and also his dad (who, again, is Juvenile).
Now that you have listened to two of his songs, please read my interview with Young Juve.
Noisey: What inspired you to start rapping?
Young Juve: My father! That whole Hot Boy era, that Nelly, that Country Grammar era, you feel me? I grew up on a whole bunch of shit—I was born in St. Louis, but I was raised in New Orleans.
When you were growing up, were you like, “Holy shit! My dad made 400 Degreez! He made “Slow Motion!” Or were you like, “C’mon, dad, don’t make me take out the trash!”
I was normal, you feel me? I was gettin’ trouble in school; gettin’ whooped. A lot of people used to walk up to me and ask me [if I knew how big my dad was], but I’d look at ‘em like “Nah, you crazy.” [laughs] But now, I really understand. People grew up on my pops.
What did you learn from your dad about rap?
I learned pretty much everything from him. I used to rap growing up, and he’d always keep it 100 with me—I’d show him something and he’d say, “I don’t like it.” So when I was 16, instead of buying me a car he bought me Pro Tools and a mic. I was mad. I was mad! I was like, “You got me a computer? Man, I wanted a car!” [laughs] But he was like, “You wanna rap? You gotta learn how to do it by yourself.”
At what point did your dad say he liked your music?
I used to drop a song every six months, and he’d be like “Keep going!” Then I made a song called “Do Yo Thang,” and my pops was like, “I like what you doin’. You got it.” He gave me my props.
Were you happy because you were hearing that from Juvenile, or because you were hearing that from your dad?
I was just happy that my pops liked it. I don’t know about other people, but my father telling me that something’s tight, that’s like God telling me it’s tight. I always looked up to my pops—I always listened to his music. People ask me why I don’t rap like him, and it’s because everything that he did was so perfect that it can’t be redone. I have to find my own lane; I gotta do it my way.
If you had to describe your music only in color, what would it be?
Blue camouflage. ‘Cos I’m a solja and blue’s my favorite color, y’urrd me?
Where do you live now?
I live in New Orleans. It’s hot. It’s hot. It’s hot as shit. You gotta say it three times.
When you feel that heat, you truly understand the music of somebody like Juvenile.
He wasn’t playin’ around when he called it 400 Degreez. [laughs]
Drew Millard is a hot boy. Follow him on Twitter.