Harlemite LaRon James, known throughout the rap world as Juelz Santana, has a lot in common with a similarly-named NBA up-and-comer. While their hustles are different, they share more similarities than differences: both got their starts in their respective industries before hitting age 20, both have extended their initial occupations to eat from profitable outside ventures, and with Juelz’s recent crowning as president of Diplomat Records, both serve as team leaders of their crews.
HipHopSite: First off, what’s been going on with you lately?
Juelz: I’ve been on that “g-rind.” That’s my slang for the grind right now, just grinding through whatever it takes to make things happen. I’ve put a lot of shit into my career, so I’m just focused on what I’m doing. I pretty much know what’s going on and know what’s expected of me, I’m just trying to make it happen.
HipHopSite: And what do you think is expected of you?
Juelz: A lot. At a time like this, a lot of people are putting out appetizers. Now, they’re ready for that full-course meal. And I think they expect that from me, they don’t expect just a half-ass job from me. There’s been a lot more expected from me, be it the grind that I’ve been on, people have been seeing the work I’ve been putting in and the effort I’ve put in on my mixtapes. They expected me to come through this album with a lot of fire, a lot of stuff that makes sense, a lot of stuff that’s going to be different from whatever people are doing, and hopefully I’ll get people on the right page.
HipHopSite: It seems like things are going really fast for you….it seems like just yesterday, you had a few guest spots on Cam’ron’s “Come Home With Me” album. What do you think has contributed to you getting so much of a solo reputation as opposed to your fellow Diplomats?
Juelz: Just that grind, that work I’m putting in. I’m constantly working, because I feel like if I’m not working, someone who wants my spot is working harder than me. I’ve got to always feel like there’s somebody’s spot that I want. I put in a lot of work, so that’s why it’s respectable and my spot is solidified. I have three mixtapes out, that’s like albums. I’m so hot in the street, the way that I am, it seems like I had an album out, and I didn’t. I’m hotter than niggas who have albums out; I can do shows, with no big names, but I (sell tickets) from my mixtape music.
HipHopSite: Even though you’re on Def Jam, you’re still putting out mixtapes on a damn near daily basis. What makes mixtapes so important, even though you have a major label deal?
Juelz: Because that’s where I come from, and that’s what makes me a major issue. Just always being out there, always giving the people something new, always being fresh, and always being hot. Just motiviating people, letting them know that you’ve got to stay on that grind. I’m putting out more shit than anybody out there, I’m smothering them. And it’s quality. So it’s like, “come see the dope man.”
HipHopSite: How different was it recording this album with Def Jam, as opposed to your last one?
Juelz: There’s no “process.” I’m always making my album, it’s not like the label has any control, I pretty much do what I want to do. I think that’s where a lot of artists get lost, they start letting the label tell them what to do as an artist. That’s why the label signed you, because you’re an artist and they recognize your talent, so I feel like you should just do what you do. They believed in me, they seen what I was doing when it came to my mixtapes and paying for my videos, so they gave me a little bit more leeway to just do everything my way, the way we’ve been doing it. As far as the Diplomats, we do things the way we want anyway.
HipHopSite: What’s your relationship like with Jay-Z?
Juelz: I have no relationship like that with Jay-Z. He’s the president of the label, we shake hands and give each other a pound when we see each other, but it’s nothing like that. We’re both men. Everybody in the world is not going to be the best of friends. It’s not like we’re not the best of friends in an enemy-like way, but we never really got to be friends like that, you know?
HipHopSite: What about your relationship with Tru Life?
Juelz: What do you mean? What happened with Tru Life? Who is Tru Life? I’ve never heard of him.
HipHopSite: You were in KING magazine recently with your cars. How long have you had an infatuation with cars?
Juelz: I’m a Harlem nigga, man, so cars are always there. They’re like toys, and as you grow up, you get bigger toys, you get bigger things. I’ve always been into cars growing up. I used to sit on the step and say, “That’s my car.” Now, it is my car.
HipHopSite: What’s your favorite joint right now? Any new additions?
Juelz: I like all my cars for different reasons. I’ve got the Benz, the CLS500, that’s my grown-up joint when I’m just chillin, no rims or nothing, just ride out. Maybe take my girl out, go to dinner, just cruise through the town, music not too loud, I might be playing some old schools in there. My Corvette, that’s what I’m driving today, 2005, 420 fuckin horsepower, 200 on the dash, how much speed is that, bro? It’s crazy. My Z is my baby, that’s like the first coupe I got, so I always wanted the ZT50, my Nissan. And my truck, I’ve got a Yukon Denali, she done got me through everything. From construction, putting everything from rock in it, and she look goodâ€”white, spinners. I like all my cars for different reasons. And I’ve got my old school Caddy, ’95 Deville. Had to do that.
HipHopSite: You also have a store, Santana’s Town. Tell me about that.
Juelz: It’s in uptown Harlem. It’s pretty much like a store I did in the hood for the people to come through and get Diplomat T-Shirts, all the stuff you see on the Internet. My man DukeDaGod has our collection of mixtapes right there on hand, then we have a lot of other stuff. My man Al Jeerz, he does shirts that’s crazy, exclusive-type stuff.
The reason why we say that is like our following is different. People don’t just like us for the music, they like us for everything we represent, everything that comes with the music. That’s what makes it a movement. It’s not just the music, it’s not just, “I like his song, he’s hot.” It’s everything. “I like him. I like what comes with the music. I like his swag, I like the way they do their own thing. Them niggas is cool, them niggas is hot niggas. I want to be like them niggas, I fuck with them niggas.”
HipHopSite: Let’s talk about the new album a bit. How did the joint with Young Jeezy and Lil Wayne happen?
Juelz: Those are two artists, you can find me listening to their music on my own time. Those are people I like working with, people I fuck with on the music level. I knew both of them. They’re niggas that I feel that are coming from the heart, representing what they represent, coming with their own thing and not really letting anybody taint what they do. There’s a lot of tainted music out there.
HipHopSite: You also have the song “Daddy.” How would you say your son has changed your music and your life overall?
Juelz: In every way. He makes me look at life just different, on a higher level. I understand that this is bigger than me, I can’t slack for nothing now. I’ve got to do my thing, because I’ve got to make it happen for me, and I’ve got to make it happen for him. I don’t ever want him to struggle.
HipHopSite: Another standout is “Lil Boy Fresh.” What made you make that song?
Juelz: That song was just….I feel like every hood has one, man. With that beat, it’s not a club banger, but I knew that it would be a song that when they heard it, a lot of people would say that that’s their favorite song on the album. It means so much, because people can relate to it: everybody feels like they know that little boy. And it’s a true story too, it’s a movie called “Fresh.”
HipHopSite: You also paid for your video, “Mic Check.” What made you come out of pocket for that?
Juelz: I just felt that at the time, I didn’t have the label’s attention. I had the streets, and I had all my songs together, and I knew I could do it, but I needed them realize that. It takes a little bit more to let a label know that, especially if you didn’t go platinum or double-platinum your first time around. I had to show them a little bit more. So I showed them I was willing to work harder than any artist they’ve ever had, and just be that hot nigga I am.
HipHopSite: How was that different than doing a video that the label funded?
Juelz: I was hands on, but I’m hand-on with all the videos that I shoot, even if they pay for it, so it doesn’t really matter. It wasn’t no different. From here on out, I’m going to be hands-on with everything, whether I pay for it or don’t pay for it. I know what I want, so I know what I’m going to get, from my videos to everything I do.
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