Juelz Santana: The Understanding
Lets be honest. Chances are, if you frequent HipHopDX, the only large, bearded man you expected to see during the fourth quarter was Rick Ross. And his idea of snow and trees is decidedly different from the one jolly old Santa Claus is familiar with. Breaking the tradition of Kurtis Blows Christmas Rappin and Run DMCs Christmas in Hollis, Juelz Santana carries the torch for all who prefer Friday After Next and Bad Santa over Its a Wonderful Life. Besides, even if you dont bother with Christmas, Juelz offers an uncensored take on everything from the multiple rifts within the Dipset to the delays of his I Cant Feel My Face collabo with Lil Wayne.
HipHopDX: Whose idea was the Tribute to Bad Santa mixtape?
Juelz Santana: Jim actually put that together. Last year, Jim put the Christmas album out through Koch, so I guess he had another deal he was gonna do with them. You know I put out the Skull Gang Takover mixtape a while ago, and the movement has been kind of crazy. He asked me if I wanted to have the team put a couple records on this album, and I was like, Hell yeah. Why not?
This is a chance to get them some money and let them do something they never did. I mean, Ive never done a Christmas album. We only put three records on the album, so its not [entirely] Skull Gang.
DX: Christmas Eve talks about robbing people during the holidays, so it definitely sounds inspired by Bad Santa.
Juelz Santana: Thats one of my favorite songs on the Christmas album though. I didnt even know it was especially for this project, because that just sounds like something that goes on in the hood. Thats how a lot of niggas feel, man.
DX: Have you ever seen the movie?
Juelz Santana: Nah, they were already in the process of doing the joint when Jim [Jones] asked me. I got the team together, and we just rocked out. I got my own studio in Jersey, and Jim has his studio downtown. Were always together, but hes got Byrdgang and Ive got Skull Gang.
DX: Christmas is coming, but were also officially in a recession. Are we gonna see the Dips in Harlem handing out turkeys or something?
Juelz Santana: [laughs] Yeah, we definitely gone have to do that, man. Ive been getting up with my niggas to figure out how we can give back. Im mad I didnt get a chance to give away turkeys. I aint even get no turkey though, because I was doing a show during my Thanksgiving. But, for Christmas I definitely plan on doing a toy drive type of thing. Well have all the artists donate drive around the cityhit the hospitals, schools and give to some of the less fortunate kids.
I did something like that last year, and we gave away a couple Playstations. I stay in my hood, and Im a hood active nigga. I always do shit in my parks and stuff like that, but around Christmas time it just gets a little too cold, but were gonna make it happen.
DX: When you grow up in the hood, youre likely to get socks or some other wack gift instead of what you really want. Whats the worst Christmas gift youve ever received?
Juelz Santana: I dont know, man. Coming from where I came from, I was always just grateful for whatever I got. But, at the same time, you know how you expect one thing and you get something else? There were a lot of times where I was expecting a bike or something and Id end up getting some clothes or some bullshit. When youre a kid, you dont want to see no fucking long johns. Other than that, there wasnt anything where I was just like, Damn, this is the worst gift.
DX: True. Now that youre in a different tax bracket, what has been the best gift?
Juelz Santana: To be honest, the best gift is just being with family. Thats how I really feel. As far as the material stuff goes, I wont front. My nigga [Lil] Wayne [click to read] gave me a chain one time. He gave me a crazy chainone of them shits Pharrell [click to read] be wearin. You know, the Gucci link?
DX: Oh yeah. Thats a hell of a lot better than some long johns.
Juelz Santana: Yeah, but the crazy part was that I had already bought one of those about a month before. I spent about 40 to $50,000 on that joint. So that was definitely one of the nicer gifts I got outside of somebody being family. I was like, Damn, thats love. Me and Weezy are cool like that. I actually gave him a piece like that for his birthday too. It was an M.O.B. piece with the blood diamonds in it and all that.
DX: Now, you also have a little man, right?
Juelz Santana: Yeah, my son is five. All the Christmases have been good for him, but this should be a real memorable one for him. Hes in tune a lot more. He knows what he wants, and he knows a lot more about Santa. The first couple years were just introducing him to Christmas and letting him know about those types of things. Now hes ready, and he wants to know why the toys arent here already.
DX: So hes putting the bug in your ear about particular gifts?
Juelz Santana: Yeah, hes heavy into the superhero stuff. Hes on whatever is hot with the superheroes, so I just tell him to keep his mother posted. Ill see if hes been bad or good and let Santa know.
DX: Well, speaking of young dudes, it wasnt too long ago that you were coming into the game as a teenager, right?
Juelz Santana: Yeah, I came into the game real young and not knowledgeable about a lot of things. I was just real excited and eager to do something better with my life other than being on that motherfuckin corner with the risk of that three hour bus ride upstate. I dont wanna talk about the places I was going to, but I was just doing a lot of the wrong things.
I was all about getting out of trouble, and being able to utilize my talents. I had a guy like [Cam'ron], who I looked up to so muchI still look up to Cam in certain ways, ya dig? He just does a lot of things that I dont like. But, back to what I was saying. The vibe was just different. Coming out of the street, I wanted to do something better.
DX: What would you say is the biggest difference between you now and then?
Juelz Santana: Growth, learning and my knowledge of everything thats going on. Ive always been a real observant person. I picked up on a lot of extra shit that other niggas wouldnt have. Being 25 and in the position that Im in, I dont feel theres any better situation I could be in.
Things look real bright, and niggas is checkin for me. Niggas know how I give it up, and they know my career wasnt built on one record. It wasnt built on no bullshit. Niggas know me for going hard and putting work in. I put a lot of that Dipset shit on my back for a while, and niggas know whats up. Ive never been the one to get on the cameras and pop a whole bunch of shit. I just deliver.
DX: And we can assume the same applies with Skull Gang?
Juelz Santana: Niggas see what it is. We out right now, movin and killin the Internet. I feel our buzz is crazy to be coming out with a new movement so fast. That Skull Gang Takeover mixtape is in the streets, and were doing videos for every song. We just shot a video for Body Like a Maserati. Thats a crazy record, and its probably going on the Skull Gang album. I paid for that out of my pocket. I didnt wait for no label to give us a deal or nothing. Even though weve got labels hollering, I know what works from being in the Diplomats. Thats what the games been missing. Niggas arent down to sacrifice what youve got for what you believe in. Thats what Im doing right now.
DX: So what do you have on deck?
Juelz Santana: The Skull Gang Takeover mixtape is in the streets, and be on the lookout for that Takeover DVD. Im about to put out my solo mixtape, which is The Reagan Era. Right after that, were dropping another Skull Gang mixtape called The Takeover Continues. Its actually done already, but were just waiting to give em my mixtape first. I got my Skull Gang artists involved with my mixtape a little bit more. A little while after that, Im gonna drop my solo album, which is called Born to Lose Built to Win.
Right now, Im just gearing up and prepping everybody. I feel like Ive been away for a while. To just come back and drop a 12-song album after being away for so long is not what I do. I do mixtapes, and I give people more than that. So Ive put my groundwork in and plant these seeds, so I can watch em bloom and blossom. Thats what Im doing right now.
I Cant Feel My Face with me and Wayne is still happening. Im about to call him back and chop it up with him in a minute. The good thing I tell everybody about me and him is that the music is already done. If you were to come to my studio right now, I could play you 35 records from me and Wayne.
DX: So at this point youre just waiting for one of these labels to write the check for that?
Juelz Santana: Exactly, and that aint hard. I got my business squared away to where I can deal with it, and he has his business squared away. His album came out already. Neither his label or my label wanted us to put that out without either of our solo albums dropping first. Were at a good point right now, and its all gearing up for my solo album.
DX: You started out in Draftpick, then Dipset and now Skull Gang. How important is it to you to be part of a team?
Juelz Santana: Its so important, because Im one of them dudes who likes to see people around me shining. I dont want niggas to have to wait til I eat to go eateven though Ill take them with me to go eat, because they my niggas like that. But I want you to be able to do that on your own. I want niggas to move the same way we got to move. It was where we could all walk in the club and stand on our own. When me, Cam, Jim and Zeke got in there together, it was just extra crazy. Thats when it really feels good like, Oh, guess who just walked in the house? Jim Jones just came. Theres Juelzoh theyre all together.
I didnt try to put together the same thing as them. Ive got people from different places. I got my man Rabb, hes from Richmond, Virginia. I got my man John Depp from Queens. I bring that Diplomat swagg from Harlem, and thats gonna always be there for me. I wanted to bring another sound when it came to Skull Gang. Ive got my R&B artist, and her name is Starrshes crazy. And, of course, we got the one and only UnKasa [click to read]. Thats my nigga, my brother since day one. He goes so hard and hes so talented. Hes gonna be a shocker to a lot of people, and hell do a lot of things that people wont expect. We gonna kill these niggas.
DX: Does your establishment of Skull Gang and Jimmys thing with Byrdgang mean the end of the Diplomats as we know it?
Juelz Santana: I tell people, theres no hard feelings with Cam. The business wasnt right so I couldnt continue, but its still Diplomats for life. I always tell fans it was the business that wasnt right. As some of the fans get older, I hope theyll understand that. When you get put in that situation, you realize this is life and you cant be stupid. We werent getting treated right after we helped build this shit brick by brick. Now youre at the top of the building and a nigga just wants to give you a piece of a sandwich. He dont even wanna let you sit down and eat the whole hero with him after you built the whole buildingnot even with him, but for him.
So, it got to the point where I couldnt be stupid no more. I played the loyal position for a minute, and I tried to get it right. We just couldnt make it work. But, its still Dipset for life. When you see me, its Dipset. When you see Jim, its Dipset. Its one person missing, and its not because we want him missing, its because thats what he chose to do. What are we supposed to do, stop? Nah, we cant stop. How would the people look at us?
I want fans to really look at the situation and be like, Who looks like the one thats out the loop? And thats for real. Im not trying to say nothing funny. Im not with trying to badmouth a nigga or nothing. I hope everything does come to a place where we can get back together in a room and do what we gotta do. But as of now, it is what it is.
DX: Its kind of ugly right now with JR Writer and Max B going back and forth [click to listen].
Juelz Santana: Yeah, yeah thats for attention, nahmean? The other day this cat was like, Yo, whats up with you and Max B? My new thing is, Nigga dont ask me whats up with him, ask him whats up with him. I dont know whats up with these niggas, man. When I see niggas its nothing. So, if niggas want to get on DVDs and pop that fly shit, it doesnt make sense.
I always tell people, niggas dont know what you do until you do it to them. Im a real street nigga, and aint nobody scaring me by talking over no fucking camera. Like I said, when I see niggas, they act like they didnt even wanna see me. Then niggas be on interviews saying shit like hypocrites, because it goes all against what they said in another interview. I cant entertain those types of dudes.
Im the type of dude where, other dudes will get scared when I come back out. They know that bullshit aint gonna work no more. A nigga cant ever say they wrote no records for me. I sit on my own pedestal and do what the fuck I do. I dont wanna hear none of that shit. If it dont apply, let it fly. A nigga didnt mention my name.
DX: On a more positive note, I think Diplomat fans were really happy to see Ludacris bring you guys out at his album release party.
Juelz Santana: Yeah, that was crazy. That was love; shout out to [Ludacris] [click to read]. Ive met him through my travels in this game, and weve always had a good relationship. I always respected him as an artist and acknowledged him as one of the more lyrical people in the game. We always had that kind bond where we would chop it up every time we saw each other. I was actually supposed to be on [Release Therapy], but due to my business difficulties a lot of shit wasnt cleared. I actually did a record with Luda, but it didnt get on the album because of that. He and Chaka [Zulu] always reach out, and if Im in Atlanta I try to do the same thing.
DX: Although it happened a while ago, it was great to see Rakim pop up in your Mic Check video. Did you two get to build during that time?
Juelz Santana: Yeah, Rakim [click to read] came to my studio and schooled me on a few things. He talked about how he felt about certain things that were going on. He told me he had a lot of respect for me. He knew I had a lot of respect for him, and I definitely expressed that. We were actually supposed to do the Mic Check remix together, and I also did a Know the Ledge freestyle for my mixtape, but something happened. I think he had some kind of family issue, and we never linked back up. But, a nigga dont have to tell somebody like Rakim hes a legend. Cmon man, he might as well get Legend tattooed on his forehead.
DX: Its got to feel good seeing OGs like Rakim and Naughty By Nature reach out and show you love, right?
Juelz Santana: Yeah, thats why Im so proud of my career and where Im at right now. These are people that I never thought I would be aroundnever thought I would get to do records with. And they show me love. Even being in the cipher with niggas like [Jadakiss] [click to read], because there was a time when I was buying mixtapes too. And these are the people I was listening too. Its just like how he said he used to buy mixtapes with Biggie on there, and then next thing you know, theyre doing a record with him. Its the same way with me now. When I see niggas like that, they show me just as much love as I show them. Jada, [Fabolous] [click to read], all them niggas show a nigga love when they see me, and its the same way vice versa.
DX: So now that the Def Jam situation has been taken care of, are we gonna see an older, wiser Juelz? We can assume everybody in the building is safe?
Juelz Santana: Oh yeah, that was a while ago. That dude actually got fired a week after the incident, and they knew it wasnt my fault. They knew that when I come in Def Jam, I come to handle business. Im not no rah-rah person, because at the end of the day, thats my place of business. L.A. Reid heard about the situation, and Im sure he was kind of disturbed. But, at the same time, Im sure he was like, Damn. Juelz had to have been provoked to do that, especially in this building. They know I wouldnt just go off the rip like that. Dude kind of insulted me a little bit. I felt like he wasnt respecting my G, with me being who I was in the building. He thought he could talk to me any type of way.
Im like the smaller guy out the camp. I feel like if anybody feels like they can get away with it, its gonna be on me. Its crazy that its like that. Im thinking, Yall dont see the way these young niggas are nowadays? The little niggas are the wildest. You better do some research. Who do the older niggas go get to pop niggas?
Thats why I be fallin back. I dont ever want to get back into that element, because I was a young, wild nigga. I had to train myself to not be that person, because when I go there, I go all the way there. Its no hold on, chill out. We bang, bang boogie on niggas. I try my best to not only save them, but save me. I know how far it could go. Im willing to go all the way there, but I dont want to do that. Ive got too much going right now.
You dont have to be that type of person, because a lot of these niggas is out here frontin anyway. They get with certain niggas, and they try to be a different person. Just be you, man. People will like you for who you are, and if not then they dont really fuck with you like that anyway.
DX: True. So, lets say we have this same conversation five years from now. Where do you and Skull Gang hope to be?
Juelz Santana: Ah, its gonna be big, man. I dont even know. Where ever the world is at, were gonna be involved and active. Hopefully well be really rich and still a family unit. The main objective is to stay grounded, stay focused and keep making this strong music. Its by the grace of God that we get to be anywhere, man.