Juvenile Breaks Down His Classic Album '400 Degreez' On Its 20th Anniversary
Out-the-box hits wrought Cash Money’s highest-selling album ever.
At the ripe age of 23, Terius Gray p.k.a. Juvenile was leading southern hip-hop into a dominance that would peak over the following decade, but never bottom out. The success of his second studio album also crowned him leader of hip-hop’s most successful and influential southern roster, Cash Money. Recorded while he lived in the Magnolia Projects (where he grew up) apartment of his best friend’s mother, 400 Degreez birthed historic singles like twerk anthem “Back Dat Azz Up” and the unorthodoxly infectious “Ha”––even Jay-Z took notice, pitching himself for a third remix. A timely alliance as Juvenile’s focus remained on graduating his local stardom. “As far as blowing up, I wasn’t even having that in my mind,” he says today. “I was focused on people hearing me on a national scale, because I already had success on a regional scale. I was more thinking about how people in New York and L.A. would take to the album.”
Released on November 3rd, 1998, the album quickly scorched the Earth to the Mannie Fresh-produced tune of over five million copies sold. By the top of 1999, everyone wanted to be a Hot Boy like Juvie and co.––Missy Elliott, included. Today, the 15-song player is enshrined as one of the all-time greatest southern rap compositions. Two decades later and Juvie is still performing it, touring throughout the year with legacy acts like Nelly and Bun B. “Still making this kind of money off the same music?,” he asks rhetorically. “It’s a blessing. I feel like Luther Vandross and Frankie Beverly. Every night I tell all the fans I can’t thank y’all enough. What a beautiful ride.”
For the 20th anniversary of 400 Degreez, we caught up with its author for some reflection on he and Cash Money’s highest-selling album. He’s even recording with Mannie Fresh and Baby again (“I was just mad about my money, but once we cleared that up, we were good.”) All in all, he’s grateful for the past glory and sustained love from fans both unknown and colossal––most notably Drake, who has kept the N.O. bounce sound alive from 2011’s “Practice” to “Nice For What.” Drizzy even sent Juvie “a big bag” for the former. But that’s a convo for another time.
"When I did 'Ha' I thought I was the greatest motherfucker in the world. It was so left field, and then you listen to what I’m saying––I’m killing it. It was basically a spin off of a song I already did. That was my idea. It was off the album Solja Rag that helped us get that big record deal off Universal. It was a song on there where I just asked a bunch of questions throughout the whole song. By that song being so successful on a regional scale, I said I need to do another song where I’m playing third person. I was basically looking for a word that could ask a question and answer it at the same time. That was the perfect word."
"Last week, me and my brother was [listening to this] ‘cause we bout to kick off my 'Legends of the South' tour. Man, I was high as shit when I did that song. It was a lot of shit going on around me in the projects. I was losing homies left and right. It wasn’t stopping ‘cause we was making music. I had to protect myself so that was my mindframe."
"I think Wayne wrote that hook. We used to take lines out of each other’s songs and use them as our hook and make them the subject of our songs. But if you heard anybody say anything, basically they wrote it because that was the rule: Say your own shit. If you don’t write it, you ain’t on it."
"Magnolia Slim––Souljah Slim––had a lot to do with the hood wearing them soldier Reeboks (God bless the dead). That was really his thing: Girbauds and Reeboks. That ended up being the G-Code in the hood. That was not a Cash Money thing. I can’t take credit or that."
"That was a late addition to the album. We was getting so much love on the West Coast, Mannie and em' wanted to go ahead and put that on there. I was kind of against it because I didn't want them to change up what I was doing. The beat is bouncy for the West Coast, but I'm still rapping like me. Mannie just made the music go with what I was saying. I wasn't really for it, but that's what they wanted."
"Turk from the same neighborhood so it was easy for us to have chemistry. We would get in the studio and make six-seven songs a day. We was all grinding, but Turk was the freak of the clique. So all of his songs were nasty. We was just looking for him to say the nastiest shit." [Laughs]
"The whole Hot Boyz thing was a trendsetter. We changed the way people dressed; people started tattooing chille peppers on they self calling themselves Hot this and Hot that. We really fucked the city up. I couldn’t even walk around…thats why I went to the projects so much because them people ain’t fan out. They knew me all my life. They ain’t even call me Juvie. They called me Terius. But if I went anywhere in my city I would get trampled by fans. My fan base came before we got the Universal record deal so [after] it was bananas. When they started seeing us on TV, to them it was like, 'They been big.' They already thought we was superstars."
"We been preaching Wayne is the future. When we used to do interviews, we always said, 'Y’all don’t understand what he went through.' Him being so young when he got shot in the chest, his mom ain’t want him around no rap. She ain’t want him around nothing that talked about guns. It was a thing where she didn’t want him cursing, so we had to turn him down. He was saying a lot of shit back then and we would be like, 'Can’t say that. Can’t curse.' So by him not being able to curse, he learned how to use other words and got real good at it. He stopped freestyling and started writing. I always tell him I thought he was the most talented."
"[Three] remixes was Mannie Fresh’s idea. You got to remember there was two versions of the album. When the first album came out they didn’t have the remixes. When they put Jay-Z on there, that’s when they put all those remixes on with 'Follow Me Now.'"
"[Despite what people thought] 'Rich N****z' wasn’t the first song that 'Bling Bling' was said on. Wayne said that on the song, 'I got 10 around my neck / Baguettes on my wrist…I got diamonds that will bling blind ya.' That was on 'Neighborhood Superstar.' And Paparue was just cool with Baby. I guess he met him at a club or something. Niggas had him on a couple songs, but he wasn’t with the clique like that."
"I swore I was just making that for New Orleans. I never thought the music would be perceived like that. The reason why I did 'Back Dat Azz Up' over again was because Mannie Fresh kept changing the beat. I was like, 'Please let me rap that over.' The whole thing was me and Mannie used to compete against each other. I came to Cash Money thinking Precise was the best producer in the world––he was doing Mystical tracks in the beginning. So Mannie was trying to beat me with the beats and I’m trying to beat him with the rhymes. We came together when we did the Solja Rags album. We liked that we were competing against each other. So we said we got to just keep this going."
"I love that beat. The first time I rapped on it, the hook wasn’t on there. I don’t think I wrote that song. Think I was just freestyling, piecing that together. That song right now is one of my biggest songs that I perform. That’s how I start the show."
"I like this song, but I don’t remember it. It’s not a song I perform. It wasn’t a song that I was real interested in doing. I said, I wanted to do a song like this. I rapped to a whole different beat and then Mannie Fresh changed it up. People jumped on the record, but wasn’t my type. Mannie will let you rap to the beat and then later it be something different. He always wanted to make the beat go with what you’re saying."
"I didn’t record nothing with Jay. Jay jumped on the song on his own and sent it to us. The song started blowing up in New York and Jay liked it so jumped on it. That started our little relationship. When I heard it, I just put another verse on it. But that wasn’t even planned out."