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Happy Rapper


Juvenile works hard. So it’s no surprise that he sounds tired when he calls from Louisiana’s Cash Money Record’s office, where he’s been at it all day, being polite with interviewers and promoting his third Cash Money solo album, Tha G-Code. Juvenile’s voice is low and slow, his manner wary. But he’s also glad to be where he is. Having been in hard places before, he appreciates his good fortune, to be performing with his popular labelmates, the Hot Boys — Lil Wayne, Turk, and B.G. — as well as their newest collaborator, Big Tymers — and innovative producer Mannie Fresh. And Juvenile is proud of his success, which has been percolating since he started freestyling on the streets and hitting New Orleans clubs in the early 1990s. It was clear early on that the kid had charisma and a command of his audience.


At the moment, Juve’s coming off another project, Cash Money’s first movie, the straight-to-video Baller Blockin’ in which he and his boys play themselves. This translates to a peculiar kind of realism: the script reportedly takes their life stories as a point of departure, the part of those stories where they were still riding the streets rather than riding in limos. I asked him what it was like to make a movie.



Juvenile:

It was tiring. Showing up in the morning and I’m the only one, everybody late. I learned something though, how to use facial expressions and dialogue out of my mind, and reword it, it’s cool. I played myself, acted as my real name, so it was comfortable for me. I’d do more in-house movies. But I ain’t trying to go out there and be a movie star.



Cynthia Fuchs:

Why did you decide to go the straight-to-video route, rather than a theatrical release?



J:

I don’t know. I don’t make the decisions, the business part of it. I don’t worry about that. I just try to be the best rapper in the world and make sure that my business is taken care of. For the soundtrack, we got other artists too, but I’m just making sure my own is straight.



CF:

I noticed today [16 February 2000] that MTV’s Total Request Live retired “Back That Thang Up,” which means it’s been on the countdown for months. What’s your feeling about your video on TRL, which, at first glance, doesn’t seem the most likely place for your music.



J:

When I first heard about that, I was like, what the hell is TRL? But it’s flattering, and shows you what comes out of hard work.



CF:

How do you think about your audience?



J:

I have it all pretty much in my mind, who I’m entertaining and what type of audience I’m focusing the song on. What I want the audience to get out of the song that I’m writing. It all depends on what song. They all my fans. Everybody like us.



CF:

Do you [the Hot Boys] always perform together?



J:

We always together. I never done a show by myself. We family, that’s how we is. If it say Juvenile, believe me, you gonna see all of us. We pretty much stay on the same page. I don’t really change up too much, I stay on Cash Money format, the way we used to doing things. If something is working for you, you don’t want to change it.



CF:

Part of what’s so remarkable about your work is the detail and excitement of the stories you tell. Do you ever use ideas other than your own experiences?



J:

I hear so much cause I still go in the projects. I peep out what different people do and things they say, a word is a weapon, I try to use my words as weapons and say things that relate to people, and everybody catches on to what I’m saying.



CF:

You and the Hot Boys have been everywhere recently, very visible, appearing on magazine covers like Blaze, XXL, Murder Dog (twice, as a solo and with the Hot Boys), The Source, as well as a feature piece in last week’s Newsweek. It’s a lot of exposure.



J:

Yeah, and we just finished making arrangements for a Vibe cover.



CF:

You’re associated with New Orleans Bounce. Can you say a little bit about what that is?



J:

I am Bounce. It’s just a label that I gave it, because people were actually bouncing at my shows, bouncing the booty, bouncing the breasts. Up and down. When I started going to a club, everybody had they chance to get on the mike, and back then, they didn’t have nobody that was good enough to be in full control of the crowd. And I was one of those that was a real good rapper, trying to feel my people out, because I really wanted to take over New Orleans. So when I had my chance to get on the mike, I started this Bounce thing, you know what I’m saying, Bounce for the Juvenile. I started chanting, and after a while, everybody started doing it. And it feels good to know that I was doing something right and I winded up being a writer for DJ Jimmi. The song [“Bounce for the Juvenile”] that I put on his album made him a star. It’s cool, you know, I didn’t make any money back then though. I just recently started making money, in 1994, I went through my changes.



CF:

I notice that you’ve been collaborating with other MCs recently, like on “Snoopy’s Track,” track on Jay-Z’s new album, which is getting a lot of good press. Do you like collaborating with people like that?



J:

I enjoy doing it, because it’s another star to work with. But me personally, I would rather not. If I’m going to sell a record, I want to get all the credit for it, that’s just how I am. Not being a hog, not being mad at the next man, or having an attitude or thinking I’m better. I like to feel that I did it.



CF:

How about working with the Hot Boys?



J:

We in competition. We all want to win. I might be in the front sometimes. Wayne been winnin’ lately, but I’m about to slow his ass down. He real good. All of them are like my little brothers. I enjoy seeing them out in the open, cause I remember when they used to be shy. We hooked up in house, all of us came to Cash Money as solo artists and Baby [co-CEO Bryan Williams] and Slim [co-CEO Ronald Williams, a.k.a Sugar Slim] put us together. It was different for us than for other groups [like Ruff Ryders or Flipmode Squad], because we were all solo before we were a group.



CF:

You seem like you’re happy with where you are.



J:

I am happy.



CF:

That’s unusual in your business. A lot of people try to look mean.



J:

They knuckleheads. Some rappers wanna be hard. I know I’m a man, I know I’m hard, I ain’t got nothing to prove. I don’t have to be out there with all that bullshit, you feel me? I come from the projects, ain’t no secret. I been through it. I been out there. But I ain’t gonna keep on acting like I’m the baddest motherfucker on the earth. I do go back and do block parties in Magnolia. I’m a hood man, I be in the hood, I be chilling. I feel like I’m more in danger anywhere else besides where I come from. I feel less like that now, or I wouldn’t be parking a brand new Bentley in the projects, or walking around with no bodyguards.



CF:

You feel good about continuing to work with Mannie Fresh?



J:

Mannie’s a clown, it’s easy to work with Mannie, because he’s always cracking jokes. He’s somebody that, if you stand there too long, he’ll get on your nerves, he play too much. Mannie real talented, one of the biggest producers in New Orleans back in the day all the way up until now. We shared the same thing, and he went through it longer than me. He had his record company boobies just like me.


[This would be a reference to Juvenile’s break with Warlock Records, who released his first LP, Being Myself, back in 1995. After the record’s less than stellar sales, Juve moved on to Cash Money; recently, Warlock re-released Being Myself. Juve would rather not talk about it, preferring to leave all that to his lawyers, so that he can stay focused on his present and future work.]



CF:

So when you get together with Mannie, you understand each other.



J:

There it is. I write right there, I don’t even think about it.



CF:

Do you ever hear from Universal [Cash Money’s recently associated label], about language or content?



J:

Not at all. Everything goes through Cash Money first, you have to talk to Slim. The people at Universal, they still have to go through Slim and them, we have a chain of command around here, everybody respect it. We been through it, we know how to market. Cash Money is pretty much run the same way it’s always been run. Nobody ever give me a problem, I can be cool and I can be mean, I’m like the Incredible Hulk. Most of the time, I’m calm.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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