In January, members of Vinyl Me, Please Rap & Hip Hop will receive the first-ever official vinyl release of Juvenile’s masterpiece, 400 Degreez. The album comes on transparent yellow vinyl, with an embossed jacket and other Easter eggs. You can sign up to receive it here.
Below, our staff writer writes about what it was like to encounter 400 Degreez as turn-up music at various points in his life.
An ode to the function as a trial by fire, soundtracked by a king from the ’Nolia:
You’re mid-2000s young: young enough to remember music even if you’d yet to fall in love with anything in particular. Some records call you home from a single refrain, a 16-bar loop summoning bodies to sway, an unnamed raunchiness seizing the air of a cafeteria dancefloor. There’s the scent of sweat and the lingering hormonal, the watchful eyes of chaperones past and an accent you can’t pinpoint to anywhere in particular. The bounce feels southern, though, even if you couldn’t place the N.O. on a map before FEMA never came and The Old Kanye hit the telethon. Either way, when Juvenile tells you to back that azz up — that thang up, because we’re in middle school — you do that shit. Even if the record dropped in 1998 when you kept the Pull-Ups on your behind, and you weren’t catchin’ or throwin’ any awkward behind in the cypher of that cafeteria dancefloor, you had to shake sum’n. The chaperones might laugh, the coach will likely break all y’all up and Lil Wayne’s voice somehow cut through it all, a precursor for greatness.
It’s undergrad: We only back that azz up now. If thang come on, we’re probably on school grounds or you clicked the clean version video cuz YouTube can deceive you. Alas, the “big fine woman” graduates to “a fine muthafucka.” You’re in someone’s basement or living room or overpriced loft funded by debt someone doesn’t understand yet. The first notes come on and the party scatters, waists clamoring to fill any open space. By now, Lil Wayne’s already proved he’s the Best Rapper Alive. And Aubrey Graham could tell who was “prac-ti...ciiiiiinnnn’,” but if the aux cord commander has any damn sense, it ain’t time for all that soft shit yet. No, the fellowship comes when the cheeks clap. The wop may spill, the camera phones light the carpet and you (I) still can’t catch nun. No matter who’s workin’ with what ass (yeah) how bad (yeah) you have absolutely no cash to spend. The sweat stains the winter windows, heat dripping in the sanctuary.
400 Degreez went over 5x Platinum. It’s the first record Cash Money distributed in tandem with Universal’s resources. Cash Money was an Army (and Navy) and Juvenile became the first breakout star, finally separating the imprint from a longstanding debt owed to the successes of Master P and No Limit Records, and finally giving the South another voice against hip-hop’s dominant bicoastal narrative. They stood not in opposition to the East or the West; it was time for the South to speak yet again. Though Juvenile was in his 20s, he walked in the weathered swagger of an old soul, long-aged by survival on his block. 400 Degreez invites us to walk down Magnolia, and Juvie’s mind is preoccupied by everything the hood can do to one’s mind. He’s mastered his domain, even as it threatens to master him in the process. Such duality is what kept Juvie so intriguing; he’s learned everything the hard way, so the flossin’ comes with consequences. He glides over the beat like a slick run-on sentence, punctuating himself mid-bar and mad-dashing to the end of the loop. It’s like listening to a hurried professor rattling off every detail before changing the slide. Mannie Fresh built a world around Juvie’s singsong inflections; it’s bright and epic, borderline pompous with how big and full Mannie chose to match the stakes. The strings build high drama for the twerkfest, the keys twinkle and glisten, the grooves clash against the blues. At the drop of a fitted, Juvie pivots from gritty observationist to active participant, interfacing with all the characters of his neighborhood as a figure the listener could trust even as he does his dirt right in front of you. Ain’t no shame ’bout it, neither; he never trembles. He’ll laugh in the face of the very foolishness that may kill him, and you still trust him as if you had a choice otherwise.
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.