If any rapper has seen truly hard times in the last few years, it has been New Orleans native Juvenile. From his on-again off-again relationship with father label Cash Money to the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, Juve's life has been a roller-coaster ride since his 400 Degreez first hit national airwaves almost 10 years ago. With the impending release of Reality Check, it seemed that Juve was primed to make his most thoughtful and introspective release to date. At least, that's what it seemed like…
Within the very first track, “Get Ya Hustle On”, the only track in which Juve muses on the tragedy of Katrina, he quickly dispels any thought of a more deep and sensitive Juve with the line “Everybody need they check from FEMA/ So he can go and score him some co-cai-ina”. And in this reviewer's opinion, it's for the better. Juve's attitude seems to be that “if it ain't broke, don't fix it”, and after the brief but cynically hopeful mention of one of the greatest tragedies of our time, Juve proceeds to give us another album of classic down-home New Orleans' bounce.
Most of the tracks are pretty solid; however they do seem to run together at points, with a few exceptions. “Rodeo”, one of the first singles off this album hearkens back to the smooth vibe of Juve the Great's Slow Motion, giving us the more laid-back Juve as opposed to the energetic one we get for most of this album. In “What's Happenin'”, Juve seems to be doing something that southern rappers are often criticized for not doing - paying dues to classic hip-hop. Juve's delivery on this song sounds like the Beastie Boys on “Paul Revere”. Indeed, even the beat has the long stab sound in the background that was a signature in the 1986 classic. In the Jay-Z sampling “Way I Be Leanin'”, Juve pays homage to the newest trend in rap as well as home of his newest label, Rap-A-Lot by having a screwed-up chorus and bringing in Houston natives Paul Wall and Mike Jones. The bouncy and energetic beat does not stay within the bounds of the Screwed genre, instead giving us a Houston-New Orleans hybrid, albeit a good one. One of the biggest disappointments on the album is “Animal”, the highly anticipated reunion between Juve and mentor Mannie Fresh. This track will only disappoint true Cash Money fans where Juve's flow is unimpressive and Mannie delivers one of his worst and most recycled-sounding beats to date. (Fans looking for a nice Cash Money vibe should download Mannie's remix of the aforementioned “What's Happenin'” featuring himself and former labelmate B.G.) When listening to the hypnotic repetition in “Why Not”, one cannot help but think the simple call-and-response style that Juve pioneered with “Ha” almost 10 years ago. Last but not least is the Lil' Wayne diss “Say It To Me Now” where Juvy delivers a harsh declamation of Wayne's behavior over a music-box beat.
All things considered, this is a very nice solid album that stays true to Juve's roots. Anyone expecting him to have transformed into Common through his tragedies will be sorely disappointed. Juve is who he is, and though he may still drop some clichés here and there, he still delivers them with 180 degrees of difference than anyone else in the game. His unmistakable drawl and sing-songy rhythmic chant make him stand out from more traditional hip-hop artists, and none should fault him for it. Anyone who appreciates the “reality” of Juve and of New Orleans Bounce needs to “check” their stores for this one.