Terius Gray may call himself Juvenile, but he is no young buck when it comes to the music business. The New Orleans native has been consistently putting it down for fifteen years. He has released eight albums which have spawned some of rap’s most popular club hits, started his own UTP label imprint, and unbeknownst to many, laid the foundation for hip-hop’s southern revolution.
While the mainstream continues to ride the crunk music bandwagon, Juvenile is modest about the sub-genre of hip-hop that preceded crunk and gave him his first hit record. “I don’t feel like I’ve done nothing yet,” says a blinged out Juve, in response to whether he should get the credit for fathering “bounce” music. “A lot of musical styles came from New Orleans.” As history would have it though, it was a then-15-year-old Juvenile who recorded the first bounce track, entitled “Bounce For The Juvenile,” back in 1989 for DJ Jimi’s It’s Jimi! album. The call-and-response track quickly blew up and earned Juvenile his own solo deal with Warlock Records, before Cash Money even existed. Says Juvenile, “Crunk piggybacked off of bounce music.”
When his debut album, Being Myself, was released, Juvenile was living in between both of his grandmothers’ housing projects. One lived in the now-famous Magnolia projects, known for its poverty-stricken population. “I was one of those kids who didn’t have the opportunity to go places or travel outside of New Orleans until things started bubbling for me in the music industry,” he explains. But while many teens fall victim to their environment, Juvenile kept his focus off the streets and on his talent, forming the UTP crew, a collective of rappers from New Orleans’ uptown neighborhoods. “I used to look at it like New Orleans is one of the worst places to live. Then you travel to all these ghettos and see how everybody relates to each other.” Apparently, quite a few people related to Juvenile and his music. In 1996, he hooked up with Cash Money records and dropped the CD Solja Rags, which sold close to 200,000 copies.
Juvenile’s already proven track record helped catapult The Hot Boys to stardom. And by the time he released the 400 Degreez album, which sold 4.7 million copies, Juvenile and Cash Money had become a household name. “When the Hot Boys came out, I had years over B.G., Wayne, and Turk, so I was a grown man already. They tried to make me do a lot of other things, and I was like, ‘nah, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,’” says Juvenile of his decision to be the first to defect from the label. Juvenile and Cash Money have since settled their business differences in court, and have no ill will towards one another. “I took Cash Money to court and seen them in the club the next week, like ‘Pop that Cristal, but y’all still gotta pay me’…I don’t ever get mad enough not to do business.”
It’s that business motto that has given Juvenile quite a few advantages over his fellow rap peers. Within the past four years, Juve has released three more albums – Tha G Code, Project English, and Juve The Great – before closing the biggest deal of his career. Atlantic Records, now home to Juvenile the solo artist as well as his UTP label, snatched up Juvenile last year, when two of his biggest hits, “Nolia Clap” and “Slow Motion” ruled the airwaves.
Now, with years of experience under his belt, Juvenile returns with Reality Check, his seventh solo album and Atlantic debut. “This is my best album,” says Juvenile. “I’m doing things I never would have done before. I’m making beats, engineering, storytelling. I’m not just rapping; I’m doing everything.”
With Mannie Fresh handling some of the production, the album has that classic Juvenile sound, and then there’s the likes of producer Scott Storch in the mix. “I tried to follow The Chronic’s formula,” Juvenile explains. “I like the way Dre put everybody together, as a producer. That’s what I’m trying to do. I got Skip and Wacko all over this album. This album isn’t just based on me; it’s also based on everybody around me.”
Featuring guest artists Ludacris, Trey Songz, 8Ball, Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Brian McKnight and others, Reality Check is Juvenile’s most well-rounded album to date. “I’m in the club like crazy on this one. All of the songs can be singles, no fillers.” On “Here I Come Again,” Juvenile tries his skill over a reggae-influenced track that features Rupee, for a whole new feel. But there are still songs like “Drop Down,” featuring Skip and Wacko, that give Juve’s core audience exactly what they want, that signature Juvenile cut.
As for the album title, Juvenile explains, “That’s where I’m at right now in my life. I feel like everybody needs a reality check. I have ‘em all the time. Nobody’s perfect.” Then, smiling wide enough to show all his diamond-encrusted teeth, he finishes: “But I feel like I got the perfect album.”