Folks from places other than New Orleans have said that Juvenile raps like he's deaf. Maybe it's the lazy-tongued drawl. Maybe it's how he randomly adds and subtracts syllables. Maybe it's because some of his favorite words have no written equivalent, or precise meaning - words like whoalay or shipe. But it's no speech impediment. It's New Orleans Third Ward Ghetto - a second language. Juvenile's not deaf. He's bilingual.
Folks outside of New Orleans have also said that Juvenile can't rap. Truth be told, he can't. Not in a Rakim, KRS-One sort of way. But to those who live in and around the Magnolia Housing Project of Uptown New Orleans, not only can Juvenile rap, Juvenile and his fellow Hot Boyz - B.G., Lil' Wayne and Turk - are rap.
New Orleanians have an odd habit of adding affirmative or declarative words at the end of sentences. "I can't go tonight, no." "The test was hard, yeah." Or as Juvenile begins "Ha": "That's you with that bad-ass Benz, huh?" (It's written "Ha." He means "Huh?" As in: "Right? Don't you agree? Isn't it so?") "Ha" is the first single - an updated, remodeled and better version of Juvenile's regional hit, "Solja Rag."
Some of "Ha" is funny - "That's you that can't keep a ol' lady 'cause you keep fuckin' her friends, huh?"
Some of "Ha" is cruel - "That ho don't know when to shut her mouth up, huh?/You gon' knock that ho['s] teeth out, huh?"
Some of "Ha" is criminal - "You know how to work a triple beam, huh?/It ain't hard as it seems, huh?"
Some of "Ha" is just life - "Some of your partners [are] dope fiends, huh?/You don't really wanna fuck wit' them niggas, huh?/You come up wit' them niggas, huh?/You stuck wit' them niggas, huh?"
"Ha" may be either a subtly nuanced work of genius or a beautiful accident. Or both.
If you're looking for complex rhyme schemes, complicated flows or advanced subject matter, keep looking. Juvenile raps are strictly rhyme/rhyme, switch. Rhyme/rhyme, switch. His idea of a complex rhyme is status and at/us. (Get it? Both syllables.) His topics are basic and you've heard it all before - wine, women, weapons. The usual. Repeatedly.
Despite these limitations, what keeps 400 Degreez interesting is style. Juvenile chants/sings/raps his lyrics in a deceptively simple way that makes you think maybe you could be a rapper. But you'd best believe that it takes talent. If it didn't, this writer would be a Hot Boy too instead of just writing about them.
In varying combinations, the other three Hot Boyz appear on almost half of the album's 13 songs. They too, sound like average rappers. You'll keep hitting your repeat button though. B.G. has an ominous, dark drawl that makes everything he says sound dangerous even when it's not. Lil' Wayne has the nasal whine of a kid and a funny tendency to say words in pairs - his diamonds don't gleam, they "gleam-gleam." He's not riding on twenties; he's on "twenny-twen-twens." Nothing he says sounds particularly dangerous even when it is. ("All my enemies/See me comin'/All my enemies/Pew! - Be runnin'." From the gunfire, he means. Yeah, right. You'll be laughing. Wayne's laughing too - "I crack myself up," he says.) Turk is the most conventional rapper of the four and he's not half-bad either.
Cash Money has only one producer, Manny Fresh. True to his name, Manny's tracks are fresh - unsampled and uninterpolated that is. They don't call these guys Cash Money for nothing. Forget clearing samples, these guys are collecting 100% of their publishing. Manny's tracks won't change the course of rap production, but they won't bore you either. He likes to place snare drum rolls in unexpected places and he punctuates every song with keyboard stabs that all sound the same except that they're not.
Juvenile and the Cash Money Millionaires are about one thing - entertainment. They're not trying to stimulate, provoke or educate. They're not trying to uplift the race or free the mind. They're just trying to entertain you enough that you'll buy their next record and tell all your friends to buy this one.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10
Originally posted: November 1998