Juvenile on 'Just Another Gangsta' Album, Calling Birdman 'Family,' and Staying Relevant: 'We Above Fodder'

Juvenile & Birdman
Courtesy of Cash Money/Young Money Records

Juvenile & Birdman

In February, when Birdman announced a collaborative album with Juvenile called Just Another Gangsta, it was a beginning of a new chapter.

Cash Money Records, where dreams come true, owes a lot of its early successes to Juvenile, who was at one point their breakout star, selling millions of copies of solo albums like 400 Degreez and Tha G-Code. As a member of the Hot Boys with Lil Wayne, B.G., and Turk, the group helped put New Orleans in a national spotlight at the turn of the millennium, coming up not far behind Master P and his No Limit soldiers.

After monetary disputes and leaving the label on two occasions (2001 and 2005), Juvenile officially returned to Cash Money in 2014. Five years in, Juvie the Great is drawing attention again with Just Another Gangsta, released on March 29. As an artist who has as many classic records as he does, Juvie shouldn’t have a problem connecting to a newer generation. He sounds revitalized over production by DRoc, rapping with a chip on his shoulder on cuts like “Broke” and “Back Then.”

With years of history as business partners and friends, it’s surprising to learn that Just Another Gangsta is Birdman’s first time working with Juvenile on an album together. “We’ve always had a chemistry,” Birdman tells Billboard. “I brought him in the game, so I’ve been there, right there with him, raising him in this game. This is the first time me really working with him, and he really wanted to make sure I was 100 percent apart of it in the studio and everything. Me and his vibe, ya heard me? Even if I worked with Fresh, Wayne, B.G., that vibe be there. Ya heard me? It’s just something about us.”

While Birdman says all of the songs on J.A.G. are his favorites, he highlights “Newly Exposed,” “Back Then,” “Just Another Gangsta,” “Broke,” and “Tonight.” Birdman’s ear for new talent is also on display, as the mogul gives Memphis rapper NLE Choppa his stamp of approval by featuring him on “Dreams.” 

Just before the album’s release -- and just after his March 25th birthday -- Juvenile stopped by the Billboard offices to talk about working with Birdman, B.G., the 20th anniversary of Guerrilla Warfare, his “Ha” flow, and more.

How was your birthday?

It was great man. They threw me a surprise birthday party.

What did you do?

The name of the restaurant was STK. A little steakhouse and shit. I had a little banquet. It was nice.

What’s the wildest birthday you can remember?

Way back in the day in my 20s. Stuff I wish to to not discuss. Nah, I’m fucking with you. Probably my illest was when I made 25. Birdman bought me a special kind of car, a Ferrari, and I wrecked it.

You wrecked it?

I ain’t wrecked it, somebody backed into it. Not a Ferrari, a Viper. I’m saying the whole story wrong. I ain’t wreck it. Mannie Fresh spun the car at the video shoot and he slammed it into the curb and wrecked it. I’m getting my cards mixed up. See, that’s a problem when you have a lot of whips. I don’t have them like that now -- I’m just saying back then I had a lot of whips.

What goes through your mind when you get older?

I’m grateful for the fact that I’ve been in the music industry for 20-plus years and I’m still here. I can’t say I am relevant ‘cause my new music is coming out, but I think I will be relevant. I don’t think I’ll be going anywhere, especially when it comes down to doing shows.

I got classics. I had trendsetting classics and I was part of a movement. Not just one album. I was part of a movement with multiple albums and multiple hits. I could still get on stage and perform. I’m not a big ‘ol big dude out of shape. I still could do it.

The last project you put out was Mardi Gras 2, the mixtape, in 2014. That’s a pretty large gap -- like five years. What motivated you to get back into music?

The main reason is always money. You see an opportunity to make some big money, but the other reason is, I feel like I could open some more doors. Not just for me, but for my son and a lot of other cats that I feel like are up from my city [and] deserve a shot.

Is UTP still a thing?

Very relevant. We are working out a new deal right now with Cash Money/Republic.

As an artist and as a businessman, how are you balancing both those worlds?

Being married for 15 years teach you something. You learn to listen a little bit more. It ain’t all about you, you’re not the smartest cat in the room, you don’t know everything. I learned to do that and that helps me when it comes down to keeping UTP relevant, or dealing with an artist or anything else. That helps me, and it is working.

For Just Another Gangsta, you teamed up with Birdman. The foundation of this album is friendship. You worked some things out, and you guys are friends again and making music together. How did you get to that point?

I think time. You knew this. You had friends in the past that you didn’t like, and you wanted to knock they head off. But you go on, and thinking about the good outweighing the bad. I’m trying to set an example for not only my family, but for the ones after them and all the people that is watching us. You can’t hold a grudge the rest of your life, especially if it is somebody you did business with and you were real successful with. I think you should be able to go back to the table and talk it out. And see where he went wrong and see where y’all fell off at. And let that shit go, let it go.

When you did that, how did your son take it?

He liked it. Right now, he’s in the studio recording his own songs. He actually did a verse on the album that is actually coming out right now. My son is with me 100 percent. My son, he don’t judge me for my judgments that I make. He knows that I can make a mistake just like anybody else. Nobody is perfect. We teach them to have morals and respect. That’s the whole thing in life.

When did you and Birdman started talking to each other again? Was it around the time you signed to Cash Money in 2014?

It was probably before that we were talking. What makes things even better is when you put some time into it. When I first did the deal back then, I wasn’t around too much. Not saying I didn’t like people around -- I was just so busy doing them shows, and people kept booking me for this tour and that tour. I got caught up a little bit. I stayed away. Like I said, the minute I got back around, the first objective was to make a five-song EP, and it turned into something else. Now we got a whole album.

It started as an EP?

It was supposed to be a five-song EP, something to just put the word out. But it just turned into something else.

Would you say Birdman is your family now?

We family. I mean, you can watch the interviews. You can tell. You can look at it and see. I always tell somebody, just watch and how we react to each other. You judge it for yourself.

The chemistry was in the video, “Just Another Gangsta.” It looked like you guys had a lot of fun.

A lot of fun. [Laughs] It was crazy. His whole thing that he was preaching was, "Juv, I’m trying to get you back in the light." So we gotta do things this kind of way. Everything gotta be tasteful. You can’t be doing no block videos, standing on the porch with 20 dudes behind you pulling out guns and holding them in the air. And whole a stack of money up. It’s not tasteful. I kinda was like, "That’s what I wanted." Ya heard me? I been away for a minute.

That’s your style though.

Yeah. But he was like, "Nah, you sold too many records. We gotta drop that bag on you." So we dropping a bag on ‘em.

So this is a refined Juvenile?

Yeah, it definitely is. You gotta think of one thing. The songs I did back in the days, which was 20 years ago on that particular 400 Degreez album, I was young. That’s not where I am at right now in life. I am somewhere else, so I’ma talk about where I am in life. Nah, I’ma give you some stories and a few lies, but that’s for the fans. You gotta feed their ego. Some of the fans, they really want this kind of music, so I gotta feed it to them.

You’ve been working with this producer DRoc. Why did you want to work him?

You gotta remember DRoc came from doing reggae music and stuff like that. So he got a large range of making music. Now anybody, they learn how to put beats together on FruityLoops, this is a real producer. And the fact that he really looked up to Mannie Fresh and he got a helluva of a sound, I think it was a perfect match for me. I need somebody new that’s bringing me up a little bit. I don’t want to do what I did back in the day. I want to do something different.

You want a fresh sound. So what do you say to fans who want Mannie Fresh and Juvenile back together?

I tell ‘em, "You gonna see 'em." When did you see Juvenile and Mannie not together? When didn’t you see me on tour with him? When didn’t you see me do songs with him? I go stay by his house, he’s my friend. You gotta always keep that in mind. "OK, is Mannie involved in it?" Because Mannie don’t have to be doing tracks with me to be involved in something I am doing. He’s my friend.

Is that part of you trying to be relevant in hip-hop now -- trying new producers?

Nah, it was just different then. We had one producer. People are so used to what they had back in the day not knowing that the music industry really changed. Like doing a whole album with one producer is not real. It’s not a reality. So why not use one producer that really follow the producer, loved the producer that you used back in the days and start a whole new trend? That’s what we are doing.

You got some old school samples on the album, right?

I love it. Too $hort, The Isley Brothers, Frankie Beverly and Maze. The list goes on. Betty Wright. That still is not all of them. The list is long.

How would you describe this album, and what did Birdman bring to it?

I heard somebody say something today and it was a review: They said, "This album is a breath of fresh air." I think it is a breath of fresh air because we broke all the new rules. It’s new rules now. Everybody doing certain kind of music. I am not trying to criticize them, ‘cause I really listen to the music. I love it. But its this kind of music where you don’t understand the words they say. It’s the mumble thing, you know what I am saying?

I can’t say I don’t listen to it and I don’t bump it and I don’t support them ‘cause I do. But we can’t do that. Not us, not me and Bird. We gotta stay in our age lane. We above fodder. We don’t play basketball with a bunch of youngsters. Look, when y’all play, I’ma let y’all play. I ain’t getting in ya way. One thing I’m not gonna do that a lot of cats have done to these new cats coming in the game is criticize. They feeding they family. They found an avenue out. Don’t say nothing bad about them. That’s how I roll.

Who are you listening to?

I listen to everybody. Migos. [sings Yella Beezy] “That’s on me, baby!” I don’t even be knowing the names. You know what I am saying? If it is playing on radio and it is hot, I am bumping it. I listen to everybody, 'cause all the new artists walk up to me and say, "Man, I grew up to your music. I like your music. My momma like ‘Back That Azz Up.'" I get this all day. So why would I go out there and hate on little man trying to get some money? Knowing if he didn’t do this and take care of his family, either he’ll be messed up stuck in the street or one of his family members is stuck in the streets. So why hate on him? And that goes out to all you old cats, leave them youngsters alone. Let them get money.

Did you hear Quavo? He used your “Ha” flow on one of your songs.

I congratulated him. I don’t hate, I congratulate. I mean, Drake used some. Use it! I can’t get paid if you don’t use it. [Laughs.]

I want to talk about “Dreams.” You talk about when you were 16…

Yeah, and the fact we got a 16-year-old cat on there [NLE Choppa]. Doing his thing. Really, the hottest 16-year-old in the world. Can I say that? He the hottest 16-year-old in the world. Do you know any other 16-year-old poppin’ like that?

Did you see “Shotta Flow?”

That’s what I’m saying! I’m thinking, ‘Do you know any other 16-year-old that’s hotter than him?’ I think he the top dog. I think it was a great move to have him on that song. And to shoot the video in L.A. where we shot it at was kind of crazy. By one of the weed gurus. He had the Maybach symbol with weed on it. It was a great look.

I want to go back to 2014. You put out this song called “Sho Me Love.” It went around the blogs that it featured Drake. Was it really him?

It was never Drake. I never said that was Drake.

Why did people say it was Drake?

‘Cause people thought it was Drake. So that’s how they put it out there. Everybody thought it was Drake. But there’s really my manager’s little brother, Mike Maven.

The second verse you shout out “Free B.G.” He’s supposed to be out this September.

Yeah, we are trying to put the Hot Boys thing back together. We have three pieces of the puzzle, we are just missing one. Basically, that’s what it is. I’m telling you anything is possible if B.G. get out. You know, before B.G. went to jail, we did a mixtape together. So you know, anything is possible.

When’s the last time you talked to him?

Well, I pretty much see his son all the time. His son is around me all the time. Little T.Y. I ain’t see B.G. ‘cause B.G. is in the feds. They move him around. So, sometimes, you don’t even know where B.G. at. And visiting is not easy like when you do visiting at the regular state penitentiary. And on top of that, I don’t have no personal information. Free B.G. I’ma keep screaming it, though.

The Hot Boys' Guerrilla Warfare is turning 20 in July. How did that album impact your career?

I think as far as career impact, and I think when that “[I Need a] Hot Girl” came out, it was groundbreaking. What made it groundbreaking was the fact that “Back That Azz Up” came out before it. We already had a fanbase for that type of music so it wasn’t hard for this song to go No. 1. “Back That Azz Up” had to fight to get to No. 1, but “I Need a Hot Girl,” it was the song that everybody wanted. They wanted to hear everybody in the group.

And this particular song -- when we went to the studio to do it, I got sick. That’s why I am not on the song. I’m not on “I Need a Hot Girl,” I’m just the dude in the video in all shots, like I did say something. That song, to me, is one of the best songs from Cash Money of all-time. That’s why I still sing it in concert.

Lastly, why should people listen to Just Another Gangsta?

We didn’t chase. We didn’t chase a demographic or an age or a race or any color cred. We did our music. We did great music, music that’s going to appeal to every age and every genre. I truly believe what the lady said earlier today, “your album is a breath of fresh air.” ‘Cause it’s so much different than what they got going on right now.


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