Juelz Santana's What the Game's Been Missing hit stores Tuesday (November 22), and the album is likely to be welcomed with open arms by Dip Set junkies who can't get enough of the crew's uncompromising, ghetto-inspired gangsta music.
Records like "Shottas," "Clockwork" and "Violence" are right in the pocket with the Dips' brand of street anthems, and the album will help New York hip-hop to end its lackluster 2005 on a high note.
" 'Violence' — the beat was real crazy so I had to come with that energy," Juelz explained Tuesday in New York. "It was a dangerous beat so I wanted to get crazy.
"On the record I say, 'Y'all' — the critics — 'say I'm promoting violence.' Then I said, 'Y'all promoting violence by promoting cigarettes and nicotine.' But you can't stop the violence — it's gonna continue."
Other tracks have elaborate story lines. "Gone" involves a materialistic girl who gets kidnapped and held for a million dollars' ransom by her drug-dealing man's rivals, and another revolves around an OG who battles for turf with some young killers.
"I feel like the art of storytelling is getting lost in hip-hop," the Harlem native said.
Pleased as Santana may be with the album, no one is cheering louder for him than the head of Dip Set, Cam'ron.
"Juelz has really been out there working hard," Cam said recently in New York. "I've had Juelz [under my wing] since he was 14 years old. Before he had a deal or anything, he was my man. He's 22 years old now. Just to see him grow from a kid who didn't even want to go to high school to [owning] two houses, 10 cars, all types of jewelry — he bought his moms a house — that really makes me happy. I don't like anybody around me that's not learning."
Cam says he's especially pleased that his gamble of making Santana the vice president of Diplomat Records at such a young age has paid off (see "Dip Set Poised To Conquer: New LPs From Cam'ron, Jim Jones, Juelz Santana On Tap").
"The best way to learn the music business is to be in the music business," Cam said. "I got people coming up to me all the time saying, 'I graduated from Harvard Business School. I know this and that.' You don't know nothing! I went to college for a year and a semester. I failed every music class and acting class I took. [After I left school], I done won acting awards and music awards and been nominated for Grammys. I want to go back to my college teacher, like, 'What are you teaching?'
"Juelz, being young and up-and-coming — that's what the music is about," he continued. "I'd rather hire him and he learn as I'm learning it."
One of the most important jewels that Juelz has picked up is to stay on your grind — or as he calls it, 'G-rind.' He didn't wait for Def Jam or the Dips to fund videos for the singles that set up the album, like "Mic Check" and "Shottas" — he funded the clips himself. And despite spending less than $40,000 on each one, he still delivered quality material.
He also cast a wide net: Instead of going to Dip strongholds on the East Coast for his promo tour, he jumped on a plane and hit places like California, Texas and Mississippi to get new fans.
"I did an in-store in L.A. and like 500 kids were outside," Santana said of his recent trip. "Then I had a big party in L.A. and it was packed. R. Kelly and everybody was in there."
Last week, Juelz shot the video for his next single, "Oh Yes," with models like Buffy the Body and Esther Baxter.
"The video takes place at a drive-in movie theater," he said. "I did the 'Happy Days' feel. There are hot cars in it. The best part is that we're watching my movie on the screen." Santana actually started shooting scenes for a mock movie just to be used in the video, but the footage was coming out so well that he's decided to make it into a 30-minute movie.
Initial copies of What the Game's Been Missing come with a limited-edition DVD containing videos, including one for "Make It Work for You" that features Young Jeezy and Lil Wayne. Due to the video's content, rest assured you'll never see on MTV or BET.
"It you listen to that song, the lyrics are like 'Boy, let me show you how to make that crack/ How to spend that money/ How to make that back/ Girl, let me show you how to hit that strip,' " Juelz quoted. "In the video, we wanted to make it like the music is crack. We in the crack house: We're pulling the CDs out the pot, Jeezy is recording in the bedroom, Wayne is burning CDs. I'm in the kitchen."