From an early age, growing up in Harlem, New York, rapper Juelz Santana, (born LaRon James), looked to rhymes as a way to succeed. Juelz got into all the troubles a young teen can in a street-tough place like Harlem. "I was hanging in the streets, hustling, doing everything I wasn't supposed to be doing. But I knew I wanted to change my life and could do it with music," he said in his official Def Jam biography.
Name checking rap greats like Rakim and Big Daddy Kane, Juelz began to write and spit rhymes as a teenager. At 15, as part of the rap duo Draft Pick, Juelz landed a deal with Priority Records. Before much could happen with the duo, one of Juelz's cousins brought him to popular New York rapper Cam'ron so he could show off his skills. Cam'ron asked Juelz to rap on the spot. He was so impressed by what he heard, and the two became quick friends and collaborators. "Cam called me to come down to the studio and ever since then he treated me like a little brother and we been making history ever since," Juelz told Illhill.com.
By 1998, Juelz was a loose member of Cam'ron and Jim Jones' Harlem rap collective The Diplomats (also known as Dipset). Juelz hung around Cam'ron, learning as much as he could. Juelz's first noticeable album appearance was on the track "Double Up" from Cam'ron's 2000 disc S.D.E. In 2002, Juelz was featured on two of Cam'ron's more prominent tracks. Juelz's vocals on Cam'ron's "Oh Boy" and "Hey Ma" earned him his own solo recording contract with Roc-A-Fella records.
In August of 2003, with help from producer Heatmakerz, among others, Juelz released his solo album debut, From Me To You. The singles "Santana's Town" and "Down" were minor hits on hip-hop radio. As Juelz, who dubbed himself "human crack," told Nobodysmiling.com, the album held a lot of personal information. "… I wanted to take you on a long journey through my life, let you know my real personal feelings."
When it became time for Juelz to record a new album, he decided to build his own recording studio so he didn't have to follow anyone else's rules. "When you have your own place to make music, it becomes that much more of a priority," he stated in his bio. "When you can dictate everything about your project that way, you start to really feel the music, feel every beat, every line. It becomes a part of you in a way that just doesn't happen when you're on someone else's dime and someone else's schedule." In somewhat of a heated controversy to his Dipset crew, Juelz moved to Def Jam Recordings for his sophomore album.
In late summer of 2005, Juelz released a video and radio single for "Mic Check." Juelz directed the video for his first single. On the heels of the November Def Jam release of his new CD, What the Game's Been Missing!, a few of Juelz's collaborations became huge hits. By the end of the winter, 16-year-old R&B singer Chris Brown's smash single "Run It," which featured hot rhymes by Juelz, was a number one song. In December, Juelz was also on a remix of "Don't Forget About Us," Mariah Carey's fourth hit single from her massively popular album The Emancipation of Mimi.
With help from producers including Heatmakerz, Neo, and Development; rappers Young Jeezy, Lil' Wayne and part of Juelz's Dipset crew, What the Game's Been Missing! was, as Juelz told Nobodysmiling.com, "more in your face," than his debut album. The title of the album was a sort of tip of the hat to himself, he admitted to Vibe. "The game has been missing that sense of realness. I've titled my album What the Game's Been Missing, because this time around I'm not only letting people know how I get down and bringing that authentic feel to the table, I'm serious about being 'that difference.'"
Jonathan Ringen of Rolling Stone called What the Game's Been Missing!, "an excellent disc of club-bangers and street parables." While he could have had a lot more big names attached to his singles, Juelz is adamant about achieving chart success on his own merit, rather than on hype surrounding big-name collaborators. "I knew what I wanted to get accomplished with this album and I felt I could get it accomplished without having so many people's names generating unnecessary attention like 'this beat produced by him.' I wanted everybody to focus on my album causes it was my second album and I put a lot of work in it and cause I'm the sh∗t! Cause I'm the sh∗t and not cause I have a producer who produced the beat and he's the sh∗t." He did, however, sample some interesting tracks including Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" for his song "Daddy," and the Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman" for "Oh Yes."
What the Game's Been Missing! began to gain serious attention in the winter when Juelz's single "There It Go (The Whistle Song)" began to heat up radio. People's Chuck Arnold described the unusually catchy song in a review. "Set against a spare, booming beat, punctuated with claps, this irresistible come-on does as much for whistling as Lauren Bacall did with Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not," he wrote.
Always a presence in the mixtape world, Juelz worked on mixtape collaborations with both Young Jeezy and Lil' Wayne in 2005. He also recorded tracks for albums by Ice Cube, Ludacris, LL Cool J, and Trick Daddy. In February of 2006, Juelz announced that he was entering the fashion world with his own line of clothing called Mazia.
Most of all, as he told Nobodysmiling.com, he wants to be remembered as, "a person who made a difference. Bottom line, if you are remembered, I feel like that is a good thing. But there are so many people that got lost in this game that it's just so hard to remember what's going on. If I could just leave a remembrance, that's good enough for me."
Free Me to U, Roc-A-Fella, 2003.
What the Game's Been Missing!, Def Jam, 2005.
With the Diplomats
Diplomatic Immunity, Roc-A-Fella, 2003.
Diplomatic Immunity, 2, Roc-A-Fella, 2004.
More Than Music, Vol. 1, Roc-A-Fella, 2005.
For the Record …
Born LaRon Louis James on February 18, 1982, in New York, NY.
Member of rap group Draft Pick, late 1990s; released solo album Free Me to U, 2003; released solo album What the Game's Been Missing!, 2005.
Addresses: Record company—Def Jam Recordings, 2220 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA, 90404. Website—Juelz Santana Official Website: http://juelz.santanastown.com.
People, December 19, 2005, p. 49.
"I Am the Difference," Vibe, http://www.vibe.com/news/online_exclusives/2006/01/i_am_the_difference/ (February 16, 2006).
Illhill.com, http://www.illhill.com/content/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID629 (February 16, 2006).
"Juelz Santana," Def Jam Official Biography, http://www.6.defjam.com/site/artist_bio.php?artist_id=518 (February 16, 2006).
"Juelz Santana: Leader of the New School," Nobodysmiling.com, http://www.nobodysmiling.com/hiphop/interview/85163.php (February 16, 2006).
Rolling Stone, http://www.rollingstone.com (February 16, 2005).
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