Juvenile - Biography
By Eric Brightwell
Although frequently dismissed by ignorant haters and reactionary Hip Hop purists, Juvenile is one of the most talented rappers to come out of New Orleans. With his dynamic style and charm, backed by sterling beats, he was integral to the South’s rise to rap dominance. And whereas most rappers chase the dernier cri, Juvenile is one of the few to remain both venturesome and (usually) efficacious without ever turning his back on his roots.
Terius Gray was born in New Orleans, March 26, 1975. He grew up in the notorious Magnolia Housing Projects alongside fellow rappers Soulja Slim, 6-Shot and Turk. His biological father took off when he was four and left his mother to raise him alone. In “Roll With ‘Em,” Juvenile addresses his early childhood, rapping “My biological father, was a sperm donor, around the corner/Was the man that killed Lil Lanny, who knew we'd understand it /That way that, my mother was heartless to her kids/ So he took us in his home, and he raised like his own.” Raised on Aretha Franklin, Kool & the Gang and the Hip Hop of the day, young Terius began rapping at ten years of age. A few years later he formed the rap collective, The UTP (Uptown Playas). Juvenile developed his signature, melodious-yet-conversational style that owed as much to reggae as then-dominant East Coast rap.
When most of the UTP Players ended up jailed or dead, Juvie teamed up with locally-famous DJ Jimi. Jimi was a club DJ who (along with DJ Irv MC T Tucker & DJ Irv and Everlasting Hitman) was a pioneer of the bounce scene. Jimi employed Juvenile to write for him but did most of the rapping himself on his DJ Precise-produced album, It’s Jimi (1992-Pap). However, it was the winning, Juvenile-rapped track, “Bounce for the Juvenile” that proved most popular. Working within bounce’s narrow confines, Juvenile nonetheless created a bounce classic that went beyond simply calling out wards and ‘jects, additionally outlining his taste for bauds, Reeboks and Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits; details that (while mundane) suggested a design for life in the context of the song. Several of Juvenile’s collaborations with DJ Jimi as well as other early material would be released in 2000 as Playaz of Da Game (D-3). The next logical step for Juvenile was to go solo.
The New York-based Warlock label signed Juvenile hoping to capitalize on his popularity in the Big Easy. Being Myself (1995), with highlights like “Betcha’ 20 Dollars (Bounce II),” “Powder Bag” and “Shake Dat Azz,” was a sold collection of bounce tracks that allowed the beats and Juvenile’s flow to assume importance equal to that of the words themselves. But Juvenile wanted to shine as a lyricist, a near impossibility as long as he was strictly making bounce. His East Coast honchos weren’t interested in artistic growth, however, and demanded he keep doing what was bringing home the bacon. With the astringent first taste of label politics in his maw, Juvenile walked away.
Working a series of odd jobs during the day, Juvenile rapped at doins and clubs, frequently winning contests at the House of Blues in the French Quarter and earning renown. In 1996, Juvenile found himself courted by both Cash Money and Big Boy. At the time, both were primarily thought of as a bounce labels and Juvenile was disinclined. That changed when he heard a track which signaled a pioneering new direction in Hip Hop production. When U.N.L.V. released “Drag ‘Em ‘N’ tha River,” Mannie Fresh, inspired by the themes from Dragnet and Halloween, created a new, danceable-yet-menacing, electronic direction for Hip Hop that would soon help propel southern Hip Hop to musical ascendancy. The song, a Big Boy-diss, was a smash and made Juvenile want to, above all else, rap over Fresh’s beats. U.N.L.V.’s Lil Ya set up a meeting with Baby and Juvie was signed.
Juvenile’s first solo work for CMR was 1997’s Solja Rags (1997-Cash Money). Finally given freedom and paired with the nonpareil Mannie Fresh, the result was a masterpiece. After a typically jocund introduction from Ziggly Wiggly, Juvenile flawlessly executes “Solja Rag” over stuttering beats and whistles. Over the course of the album, Juve gamely raps about worldly affairs with evocative vividness and New Orleans specificity. The record became a local smash, selling 200,000 copies. It also ignited a fashion craze, with New Orleanians dressing from head to toe in camouflage – even getting camo-themed manicures. Clubs responded with “No Solja Rags” dress codes. Toward the end of the year, to further capitalize on Juvenile’s eminence, Cash Money created the group, The Hot Boys. Pairing their star with B.G., Lil Wayne and Turk, Get It How U Live! (1997-Cash Money) sold over a million copies.
Juvenile and the Hot Boys’ success got the attention of Universal who signed a $30 million P&D deal with Cash Money. When 400 Degreez (1998-Cash Money) dropped, it sold over 5 million copies and spread Juvenile’s fame nationwide. Mannie Fresh’s production was even more varied, including salsa, sunny soul and ecstasy-friendly electronica. Once again, Juvenile had made an absolute classic, although it was derided and misunderstood by stiff necks. “Ha,” in particular, with its internal rhymes and subtle shift from mawkishness to mockery, was simply over the heads of clueless detractors who mistakenly thought Juvenile merely rhymed the line-ending “ha” interjection. “Back that Azz Up” opens with dainty, staccato strings and then segues into trunk-rattling, wobble-inducing beats and a time-honored, booty-celebrating lyric that predictably earned scorn from dampeners. 400 Degreez is one of the rarest of things in Hip Hop, an album almost completely devoid of filler; the only bum track is a remix of “Ha” which features an embarrassing, leaden cameo from Jay-Z that effectively signaled the capitulation of the East Coast.
Mere months after the Hot Boys’ Guerilla Warfare dropped, Juvenile followed with The G-Code (1999-Cash Money). Having scored a major hit, Baby and Slim apparently instructed Juvenile and the over-worked/ under-credited Mannie Fresh to make another 400 Degreez. “U Understand” is formulaically similar to “Ha” and overall the album sounds rushed. Fresh, who bore the responsibility for singlehandedly creating all the music on Cash Money’s prolific releases (around four albums per year) here uses a baroque approach, playing jazzy guitar, twiddling knobs, throwing in bizarre noises and employing an arsenal of percussion effects in a valiant effort to raise the stakes that mostly just raises eyebrows.
In 2000, Juvenile stared in Cash Money’s only foray into cinema as Tanut in Baller Blockin’. The story of a hustler attempting to leave the game only to be sucked back in for one last (and inevitably disastrous) score may be as familiar as the sky itself but Juvenile’s charismatic performance elevated the film to cult classic status. 2000 also marked the first of what would be a long string of high-profile run-ins with the law for the rapper when he was arrested for five counts of aggravated assault and three counts of simple battery after chasing five strippers down the street with an ice pick after someone let a bathtub overflow at a housewarming party. When the cops showed up, Juvenile grabbed one and “battery on a law enforcement officer,” “disorderly conduct” and “resisting arrest” were added to the charges.
On March 28 of 2001, Juvenile was arrested for knocking a man unconscious with a Moët bottle outside Miami’s Improv Comedy Club and, once again, grabbing a cop. As a result, he was hit with a $5 million lawsuit. When Project English (2001-Cash Money) was released the following year, Mannie Fresh’s production dazzled, but Juvenile frequently sounded disinterested and drained. It ended up selling less than any of his other Cash Money releases. It turned out that, in addition to legal woes, he was unhappy with his label that, despite his success, paid him very little.
The following year, Juvie, following B.G.’s lead, left Cash Money. Not long after, Turk and Mannie Fresh walked too, all alleging unfair practices. Juvenile’s first move was to release a UTP Playas album, The Compilation (2002-Orpheus) which went mostly unnoticed. His fortunes went further south when he again found himself in trouble with the law, this time facing charges of simple battery and burglary after beating up his barber and appropriating $200 after accusing him of bootlegging his work. Early in 2003, Juvenile was arrested yet again, this time for possession of marijuana and cocaine after a car he was passenger in was stopped in a supposed insurance check. Next, DJ Jubilee took Juvenile to court claiming “Back That Azz Up” was too similar to Jubilee’s “Back That Thang Up.” Things started to look up when the judge ruled in Juvenile’s favor. Then he negotiated a deal with Cash Money that would officially close his contract after the release of Juve the Great (2003-Cash Money). The first single, “In My Life,” was great, but it was the track, “Slow Motion” (with the recently-murdered Soulja Slim) that gave Juvenile his first number one. The Beginning of the End… (2004-Rap-A-Lot), a collaboration with Skip and Wacko, got Juvenile a deal with Atlantic on the strength of the hit single, “Nolia Clap.”
After Katrina hit, Juvenile and Master P helped raised money for victims but Juvenile’s Slidell home was destroyed. 2006’s Reality Check (UTP) was therefore mostly recorded in a room at a Holiday Inn. The single, “Rodeo,” was another number one hit. After living in Atlanta for a spell, Juvenile moved back to New Orleans. His next appearance was on UTP: The Movement Volume Two (2006 – OarFin), credited to DJ Ideal and Juvenile and featuring exclusive solo tracks, mostly from Skip, Wacko and Juvie.
Though 2007 saw the release of The Sopranos Mixtape" (Prelude To: A Soulja's Story) (2007-bootleg) and a Lil’ Boosie collaboration, Louisiana Purchase (2007-Big Cat), his next solo album (originally titled Diary of a Soulja) didn’t materialize. The next year began as many of Juvenile’s years do, with another arrest. This time Juvenile was pulled over in Mississippi for expired tags and the officer found some weed in his possession. Later in the year, most of The Hot Boys re-united (Turk remains in prison) with Mannie Fresh and released “If I Ain’t a Hot Boy.” Juvenile’s much-delayed album (now tentatively known as Hard Labor) is set to finally be released in 2009.
At this point, Juvenile has been recording for fifteen years, defying the odds, poverty, legal hassles (mostly his own fault), personal tragedy and backbiters along the way. Through ups and downs, he’s proven himself to be extremely resilient and capable of bouncing back time and time again, playing the game his own way. The Juvenile saga rolls on.