On Monday night, Juelz Santana released God Will’n, his first solo mixtape since wrapping up his Back Like Cooked Crack series in 2006. Since then, Santana’s career has been associated most with empty promises (I Can’t Feel My Face), disappointing group compilations (Skull Gang’s The Takeover) and enough album delays to dishearten even the most diehard fan. The release of God Will’n is a crucial moment for Juelz; depending on it’s reception, it will mark a return to form for the Harlem Diplomat, or further an argument that perhaps Santana’s ship has sailed. But when I sat down with Cam’ron’s former protégé at the Def Jam offices last week, failure didn’t appear to be an option he’d considered. Here’s what Juelz had to say about God Will’n, his hiatus, and plans to have Lil Wayne executive-produce his next album – (as told to Neil Martinez-Belkin @Neil_MB)
XXL: The Diplomats were pioneers of the mixtape game, but since then the way music is distributed has changed drastically. How did that affect your return to the mixtape circuit?
Juelz: You gotta treat it like an album now. That’s what mixtapes have progressed to. You see, we didn’t have the internet. We didn’t have all these great ways to get the music out there. We pressed tens of thousands of CDs. Paid for them. Got on the road and put them into people’s hands. But now it’s bigger and better. It helps artists get on a platform where some of these dudes don’t even need labels. The mixtape game is definitely a blessing right now for a lot of people. For God Will’n, it couldn’t just be a bunch of freestyles on other people’s beats. I wanted something that could stick a little harder.
It’s been a long time since you released an album, or mixtape for that matter. What has your relationship with Def Jam been like?
Well at times, I had issues with the label, but I’m not gonna blame it on the Def Jam stamp. It’s people that work at Def Jam and they come and go. People that were there five years ago, most of them aren’t here anymore. As far as with “Back to the Crib”, I felt L.A. Reid dropped the ball. Nothing against him. He was always wanting a Juelz project. But as far as when I did the Chris Brown record and I wanted to go with that, well you know the situation. Rihanna was on Def Jam and a very big artist for them. Chris and her had just gotten into that situation. I was one of the first to reach out to Chris and when I did, I told them I was going to; everybody said OK. Then when I brought the record back it was “Nah. This is not gonna happen, Juelz.” So I had a sour taste about some things that happened but never with Def Jam as a whole, it was just with that situation. And LA’s not here no more, but it was never a big problem with him. Maybe it was just bad timing with that record.
You recently announced that Lil Wayne is going to executive produce your album. How did that happen?
I asked him.
A couple weeks ago. A lot of people didn’t know my situation at Def Jam and wanted to see me working, including Wayne. He wanted to know what the hold-up there was, and I told him it was just me. But I just wanted to find a way to do something with him. The I Can’t Feel My Face stuff was just so crazy. Not like Wayne’s going to be on my album like that, but I just respect him and I know when it comes to my album, he knows what I do. He is creative and when he gets with me, we always have a certain type of chemistry. He knows what works. I do too. And with us collaborating, it will make something that counts and matters and will be successful.
Did it affect your guys’ relationship when I Can’t Feel My Face never materialized?
That’s one thing. We always maintained the friendship. Even when our album fell through we never had any bickering or anything like that. We’ve always been cool; I fuck with Wayne for a lot of reasons. When Carter II came out and he sold a million records he was sending me songs that night for I Can’t Feel My Face. At that time that we were making music, I kind of just stopped what I was doing, and Wayne went even harder. That’s all that really happened. If I called Wayne right now, he’d pick up. I respect how he’s always been with me.
March marks the 10-year-anniversary of Diplomatic Immunity. What does that album mean to you?
That’s the baby right there. As far as me, Cam’s album Come Home With Me was a project that I was fortunate enough to perform my ass off on. But Diplomatic Immunity…I’ve never said this before, but it was kind of like my album. A lot of those records were things I recorded for my album, but at the time we agreed it would help me in my solo career to put it on Diplomatic Immunity. But yeah, that album was everything. It was a double CD and for people to call it a classic—it’s hard enough to have one good CD. So for us to put out a double CD and people say it was a classic 10 years later, it’s a big deal right? I think it’s a big deal.
Definitely. How has–
I don’t even have my Diplomatic Immunity plaque. I’m kind of pissed off. I ain’t got no plaques. Don’t get it twisted, I got plaques, nigga. I just don’t have the actual physical plaques. That’s what we’re gonna do while we’re here today. We’re gonna order all my plaques. We need to get this plaque situation going on today. You’ve really started some shit with the plaques.
Sorry. What I wanted to ask is how the relationships between you, Cam, Jim and Zeke have changed in those 10 years since Diplomatic Immunity. You’ve all had big careers individually. Has that changed the dynamic of the crew?
I ain’t gonna say it’s different. It’s not different, but it’s different. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s what it is. It’s not different…but it’s different. Everything changes. That’s life. So when we’re together we still laugh, we still joke, we still kick it. I would say we’re just not together as much anymore, but that’s not ’cause we don’t like each other. At the time, that’s just what we were doing. We were the Diplomats, so we had no choice but to be together.