Cash Money Records taking over for the 9-9 and the 2000…
Terius “Juvenile” Gray proudly proclaimed on arguably the biggest ass-shaking anthem in the history of music. Indeed his words proved to be prophetic. Cash Money Records didn’t just take over for the 9-9 and the 2000; they’ve dominated music for the past two decades. If artists like UNLV and B.G. planted the seeds for a 30 million dollar distribution deal, Juvenile’s CMR sophomore effort “400 Degreez” was the tree that bore an abundance of fruit that the label has been enjoying since its initial release on November 3, 1998.
His first release on the then up-and-coming Cash Money Records was 1997’s “Solja Rags” – an unapologetic, raw endeavor that only sporadically showed glimpses of his massive crossover potential. A freshly-inked deal with music powerhouse, Universal, in the spring of 1998, may or may not have (subconsciously) inspired Cash Money to take a slightly more polished approach with Juvenile’s next project. Whatever the reason though, it was clear after one listen that this was a concentrated effort prepared as if the entire CMR brand depended on the success of 400 Degreez.
To understand its impact, one has to travel back to 1998 when southern rap was just beginning to get the respect it had long deserved.
Sure, artists like Scarface, The Dungeon Family and the surging hot No Limit imprint had sold well but it wasn’t until Juvenile released his 3rd album that the south’s cultural impact was truly felt. With ascending in-house producer Mannie Fresh supplying the heat behind the boards and CMR’s teenage group, The Hot Boys, in tow – 400 Degreez ultimately changed hip hop forever.
The album’s “Intro” continues the tradition of maestro Mannie Fresh providing a teasing groove, formally introducing the project while also making a few nonsensical jokes (‘if your hair’s short and nappy, put something in it and make it happy, ya dig?’). Although customary for nearly every modern-era Cash Money project, Fresh’s production here just feels cleaner. It’s a subtle foreshadowing of the sonic journey the listener is about to embark on.
And if the Intro served as an appetizer, 400 Degreez’ first full-length song “Ha” is a four course meal. Promoted as the album’s first single, “Ha” is quite possibly the most New Orleans song of all time. Fans of Solja Rags will immediately recognize Juve’s conversational delivery, half-jokingly finishing each bar with a question (‘that’s you with that bad ass Benz, ha? That’s you that can’t keep your old lady cause you keep fucking her friends, ha?’). The song’s genius is in part due to the effortless flow that finds Juve perfectly in pocket with Fresh’s flawless production but also its ability to grab every piece of Crescent City culture and put it on display for the world to absorb.
“Gone Ride With Me”’s tip-toeing piano keys blend well with Juvenile’s melodic sing-a-long ode to his 9mm while “Flossin” features the whole Cash Money camp welcoming listeners to the Bling era. All artists shine here (pun intended), with lighthearted, almost laughable tales of helicopters, bikes and an endless supply of top-of-the-line cars. “Ghetto Children” all but confirms that this album is different than any other project released by the label in years past. Juve’s delivery is so breezy it almost doesn’t matter what he’s saying, while Fresh’s bass guitar takes front and center stage (side note: this song served as inspiration for inception of The Ghetto Children, a group comprised of Juvenile’s son, Young Juve, Lil Soulja Slim and B.G.’s son, T.Y.).
Never one to rely heavily on sampling, Mannie Fresh steps outside of his comfort zone and flips (of all songs!) Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va” into a bouncing, drum-heavy beat for Juvenile’s “Follow Me Now.” The sheer uniqueness of the production alone has cemented this track as a cult classic. Serving as a humorous interlude, “Cash Money Concert” is a Fresh-featured skit (complete with faux Japanese accent) that sees Mannie charging 20 yen a ticket much to fans’ dismay. “Welcome 2 Tha Nolia” plays as if it were an actual concert, with fellow Magnolia resident, Turk, joining Juve to hold it down for their notorious housing projects.
The Hot Boys, accompanied by Bryan “Baby” Williams, return for “U.P.T.” – an ominous “creep silent” cut reminiscent of Cash Money’s earlier underground work. Despite serviceable spots from Lil Wayne and Turk, B.G. and Juvenile lace this to perfection. The former’s syrupy style is tailor made for Fresh’s laid back groove while Juvenile drops arguably his hardest verse on the album:
‘Cause ain’t no peace treaties, whoadie…
You bet not leave that 45 at ya house, cause you gon’ need it, whoadie…
I told ya boy, I’m a solja, boy…
U-T-P across my stomach from Tha Nolia, boy, I’m slangin’ iron…’
“Run For It“s funk-driven bassline and catchy chorus make for an underrated track that hold the middle of the album down nicely. Only 16 at the time, Lil Wayne is already showing shades of what would later elevate his status from respectable MC to “the best rapper alive.” “Ha” returns as a completely retooled remix featuring Lil Wayne, Turk and B.G. The production isn’t as captivating as the original but hearing each Hot Boy flip Juve’s style is entertaining. The next song, “Rich Niggaz”, sports arguably the most uninspiring chorus on the album but is salvaged by excellent verses from Juvenile and Turk. A guest spot from Paparue closes the track but adds nothing to Mannie Fresh’s in-your-face production.
Through just 12 songs on the album, Juvenile has already displayed the ability to make catchy, club-friendly product but nothing could’ve prepared the radio for his 2nd single and, as mentioned earlier in this review, the most recognized twerk song in the history of hip hop. Go to a club in 2018 and the second you hear Mannie Fresh’s infamous violin strings – it’s a WRAP. “Back That Azz Up” combines every key element of New Orleans music and infuses them into one of the most danceable records ever. What makes the record fun is that it doesn’t try to be more than what it is – from Lil Wayne urging hoes to “drop it like it’s hot” while Mannie Fresh taunts them, this remains a necessity in every DJ’s playlist.
If “Back That Azz Up” took 400 Degreez to new heights, the two subsequent efforts scale it back a bit. “Off The Top” is nothing more than filler while the “After Cash Money Concert” skit is an extension of Kung Fu Mannie’s jabs from earlier in the album. The eponymous “400 Degreez” follows with Fresh taking a minimalist but incredibly effective approach on the boards, while Juvenile offers one of the most memorable lines of his illustrious career:
‘If I Ain’t A Hot Boy, then what do you call that?’
The song wasn’t released as a single but might as well have been. It’s staying power is evident at any of his concerts to this day. “Juvenile On Fire” furthers Fresh’s hot streak (peep those drums at the end) while Juve dedicates 3 stinging verses at the boujee bitches that wouldn’t give him the time of day pre-fame. The album concludes with the third rendition of “Ha” and features the (then) King Of New York, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter. For an obscure southern-based label like Cash Money, having Jigga jump on a remix was a national co-sign. The mogul was on his way to quintuple platinum with his critically-acclaimed “Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life” album and was arguably the hottest MC in the game at the time. Sounds like the perfect marriage, right? Eh, not so much. “Ha” had already been exhausted at this stage of 400 Degreez and Jay’s appearance sounds like a phoned in, cut-and-paste job. The collaboration is a whiff but avoids ending the album on a sour note.
What more can be said? This put Cash Money Records on the map and showed the world New Orleans truly was a gumbo pot of unique and innovative sounds, rich with flavor and versatility. Revisiting this album 20 years later makes you appreciate Juvenile and Mannie Fresh’s contribution to the culture that much more. Classic albums are often put on a pedestal but sound more like a time capsule or reminder of the musical climate of a particular time. That’s where 400 Degreez separates itself from its peers of the late 90’s though – it’s just as vibrant and colorful as the day it dropped.
Overall Vibes: 10/10