Recordings

Juvenile's 'Reality': Blowing Up a Storm Over New Orleans

By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 8, 2006

New Orleans rap star Terius "Juvenile" Gray was just about finished recording his new album, "Reality Check," when Hurricane Katrina devastated his home town as well as his new home, a waterfront mansion that was basically swallowed by Lake Pontchartrain.

Infuriated by the aftermath, the gruff-voiced hard-core rapper returned to the studio to record what would become the album's most compelling song, "Get Ya Hustle On."

Over minor-key synth lines and a detonative, midtempo bass-drum beat, Juve compares New Orleans to Haiti as he excoriates the government, from Mayor Ray Nagin on up. But especially Nagin, about whom Juvenile, in that croaky Tone-Loc-like voice of his, seethes: "Your mayor ain't your friend, he's the enemy/Just to get your vote, a saint is what he pretend to be." (At which point, a backing vocalist shouts something exceptionally unsavory about da mayor.)

The apocalyptic video for this song features kids wandering through the rubble of the Lower Ninth Ward while wearing masks of Nagin, President Bush and Vice President Cheney, but "Get Ya Hustle On" isn't simply a political statement. It's also a street-style call to action, as Juvenile urges the Crescent City's underclass to "get money" by any means necessary.

In doing so, he comes up with an unlikely rhyme: "Everybody need a check from FEMA/So he can go and score him some coca-i-na ." (To sell, of course, not to sniff -- which, in Juve's calculus of post-disaster impoverishment, is apparently okay.)

The rapper also has some salty words for Fox News Channel, whose coverage of the disaster he apparently didn't enjoy. To say that he'd like the network to kiss his backside would be putting it mildly.

Before his (presumably temporary) transformation into a social commentator, Juvenile was probably best known for having turned his obsession with full-bodied bottoms into an enormous dance-club smash, 1998's "Back That Azz Up." So it's no shock to discover that the gluteus maximus still serves as one of his main muses, as he repeatedly talks to the hind on this uneven CD.

He offers, for instance, an ode to a woman's posterior with the tenderly titled "Loose Booty," a sort of silly, slowed-down "Back That Azz Up" sequel in which Juve suggests -- no, demands -- that you "pay attention to how it shake." Juvenile also gets down and dirrrrrrrty on "Who's Ya Daddy," an X-rated track that does not address actual questions of paternity. (Not with the rapper noting that, among other things, "I like it when you shake it up and swing it around.")

And on the R&B-infused "Rodeo," over some gentle guitar lines, an R. Kelly sample and a few other elements that give the song a slick pop sheen, the rapper pays tribute to the stripper set via singsongy lyrics such as, "Got everybody watching you so you could show that thong."

But even before Katrina and "Get Ya Hustle On," Juvenile wasn't limited to salacious, junk-in-the-trunky thoughts; on his first album since his bitter split with the New Orleans label Cash Money Records, he also does street-soldier anthems particularly well.

"Sets Go Up," produced by the white-hot hitmaker Scott Storch, is a lurching, stripped-down slice of gangsta glory in which Juve declares, "I'm sick of all you unfortunate supposed-to-be thugs, telling stories about your life when that was not how it was." "What's Happenin' " is a fantastic hard-core homage to Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Posse on Broadway" in which the setting moves from Mix-a-Lot's native Seattle to Juve's beloved Nola, where homeboys and po' boys are equally important.

On "Why Not," Juvenile cranks up the braggadocio while teaming with Atlanta's Lil Jon, who produced the track; it's a sensible summit, since Juve brought a homespun brand of bass-driven rap known as "bounce" to the mainstream and Lil Jon is the undisputed king of crunk, a cousin of bounce. Reaching out to the South's other hotbed of hip-hop, Juvenile and his sidekicks Skip and Wacko team up with the ubiquitous Houston rappers Mike Jones and Paul Wall on "Way I Be Leanin'," a slightly overblown posse cut -- though it still works better than "Pop U," a flat collaboration with Fat Joe and Ludacris.

Still, nothing on "Reality Check" resonates quite like "Get Ya Hustle On," about which we can only say: You're doing a heck of a job, Juve.


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