"He had everything a rapper wants when he came in the game. So he don’t have the drive that a starving artist would have. He’s not as passionate about the music as he is about the money; if it’s money, then you have 100% of Juice’s attention,” is what Gucci Mane said when asked about his former protege, OJ Da Juiceman, in a Breakfast Club interview late last year. Juiceman’s career has been as inconsistent as one could be in a relatively short amount of time. His debut on Gucci’s 2007 street-hit “Vette Pass By” generated national interest and when Gucci had to do time in 2008 for an assault charge, he went into mixtape overload. “Make tha Trap Say Aye” got radio play in New York, he was featured (along with Swizz Beatz) on Jadakiss’ hit “Who’s Real”, and his Culinary Art School mixtape showcased Juice at his best. He seemed poised to claim a spot in trap rap only second to Gucci. His “AYE, OK!” ad libs and love for dark meat shark fin didn’t quite match Gucci’s flamboyance and flare, but OJ’s style was unique enough to build something solid off of, it seemed. In 2010, buzz surrounded his O.R.A.N.G.E. mixtape, but its impact was minimal compared to his work from 2009 and earlier. Somewhere around this time, Juice’s spot in 1017 Brick Squad suddenly became Waka Flocka Flame's, who had previously had been nothing more than that skinny kid with the messenger bag in Gucci and OJ’s homemade freestyle videos.

Gucci Mane made a successful comeback in 2012 with Trap Back, I’m Up and Trap God, all of which had a nostalgic feel of the 2009 endless-motor version of himself. Maybe that return had some rub-off effect, because while no one was paying attention, OJ released two mixtapes on the same day earlier this month. 6 Ringz 2 and Juice World 2 both arrive at least three years after their first editions. The latter's intro “Life On The Edge” starts with a barrage of snares while he says in the first few bars, “Juice you ain't focused. Dawg what you saying?/I’m in the hood daily with my fork in the pan.” Seems like he’s been taking note of what Gucci had been saying. There’s a refreshing quality with the tapes that gives the feeling that skill and energy were never the issue or cause of Juice’s stalling; it’s a lack of motivation. Throughout both tapes he continues to make it clear that his loyalty is to the streets and money, not to the rap game. On 6 Ringz 2’s “I Do This”, produced by Pops on Da Beat, he confesses over a creepy sequence of keys: “Soft and the hard, nigga I do this/ Fell in love with trapping, got struck by Cupid”.

OJ’s formula is pretty much the same as well; he has beats from two of trap’s staples, Zaytoven and Lex Luger, amongst a slew of smaller names. He’s still trappin' at the Texaco (shawty), has 6 cell phones, eating calamari, rockin’ like cut off stockings and interrupting his DJ mid-song every chance he gets. Best of all, the outrageous metaphors are still there: “Basketball money but rarely do I fumble” is how he appropriately mixes sports on Juice World 2’s “Mix”. He shows his ability best on “No Hook”, where signature trap synths and bass accompany lines like “All these waves in my head, yo’ girl done got seasick/Took her for some calamari, bitch done ordered cheese sticks/ Million dollar nigga but I stay up on some street shit/ Hit a nigga line if you lookin for some cheap bricks.” He also pays homage to a fallen great on “Pimp C”, where he samples the late UGK member's “Smokin out, pourin’ up, putting dick up in your slut” line.

The consistent narrative throughout both mixtapes is that OJ’s top priority has been, and will always be money, and because trapping has gotten him cash flow, he’s loyal to that lifestyle. It’s Wrath Of Caine-esque, in that the most vivid memories of his life come from the streets. Pusha admitted that his connection is closer to drug dealers and hood chicks than it’ll ever be to the higher-ups that surround him now. Juice is of the same mold, in that sense. What’s best about both projects is that his return is more of a reintroduction than a reinvention. Atlanta’s new scene with Young Scooter and the re-emergence of Gucci Mane and OJ Da Juiceman gives a voice back to the roots of a sub-genre that's recently been widely popularized with electronic dance music and non-southern artists using its elements. This also gives Gucci’s assessment of Juice’s productivity more validity.—Lawrence Burney (@TrueLaurels)