Juvenile Can’t Get The Party Started On ‘The Fundamentals’
Watching a veteran rapper hit a cold streak that he can’t seem to snap out of is not fun. We’ve unhappily watched many former stars fall on hard times, and while some find ways to resurrect their careers, others never bounce back. Juvenile’s The Fundamentals is an unfortunately flawed attempt to break out of a deepening rut by a legendary artist who’s lost his way.
Juvenile has proven himself to be great at a few things over his almost 20-year-long career, the two most significant of which are telling us authentic, clever and visceral street stories and making great songs with massive crossover appeal. Sadly, his new project features neither. No song possesses the infectious smoothness of a track like “Rodeo,” a radio hit so big it helped make Reality Check a No. 1 album. Songs like “Super High,” which try to tap into the pop-rap sound du jour, ultimately fall flat. Similarly, nothing packs the raw, unadulterated realness that characterized the entirety of the epic 400 Degreez.
As successful rappers age, some are criticized for not letting their subject matter evolve with their years. Although that is partially true here (within the first two songs on The Fundamentals Juve reminds us he’s “Uptown in them high blocks/where fiends walk till they feet hurt” and that “If I ain’t in the hood/I’m somewhere close around”), the real issue isn’t so much what he is telling us as it is his failure to make us care.
The problem isn’t that Juve is talking about the same topics he did 15 years ago, it’s that he’s not doing it as well. 400 Degreez bangs because he spits real talk that connected with rap fans. Between his lyrics and the distinct production, every track on that album makes you feel like you are experiencing Nola’s Magnolia Projects. His current boasts about street cred on songs like “Close Around” sound generic. We know that he can be so much more interestingly descriptive about New Orleans that it’s lackluster and disappointing when he isn’t.
Despite the overall middle-of-the-roadness of this album, there are certainly some highlights. The aptly titled “Tales From the Hood” gives us Juvenile at his best, reporting what’s going on in his neighborhood in a way that would make his 1998 self proud. Over the beat’s sci-fi blips and synths, his depiction of a double murder on his block and his two “Ha”-esque rants are examples of him doing exactly what he is so good at and what much of this album is missing. Similarly exciting is his voice, which is as strong an intoxicating Southern drawl as ever.
Ultimately, the album’s title feels ironic. The Fundamentals struggles because Juvenile failed to tap into the skills that made him so exciting back in the day. Here’s hoping that Juve can reconnect with what allowed him be so great in the first place.—Max Goldberg