Let’s take it back to 1998. It’s another brick winter day in the concrete jungles of the East Coast, and an adolescent LaRon Louis James is busy traveling back and forth from his block in Harlem to the outreaches of upstate New York. Jumping in his Acura 2.3 CL, the newly signed Dip Set MC—presenting himself to the world as “Juelz Santana”—is busy transitioning his lifestyle into etched out stories and wordplay for an ever-growing following.
“The 2.3 [CL], that’s my hustler’s car,” explains 22-year-old Juelz. “That’s when I was still in the streets, still on the grind. It was all white—I still got it, too. All my cars are basically white because I’m human crack in the flesh, kinda like my music! White is just pure, and it still looks hot in the daytime or night.”
Though his hustling-out-of-necessity days are over, Juelz’ drive and will have remained at full throttle. Keeping the New York hip-hop scene alive, the Harlemite recently dropped another LP, What The Game’s Been Missing, which hit the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Rap/Hip-Hop category, and unleashed the infectious singles “There It Go (The Whistle Song)” and “Oh Yes.”
The Dip Set/Def Jam lyricist owns his own clothing and music store in his old stomping grounds of 150th and Amsterdam rightfully called Santana’s Town, as well as real estate in New Jersey. After paying for videos like “Mic Check” out of his own pocket (which he also directed) and constructing a state-of-the-art studio, the young mogul in the making clearly holds steadfast to the notion of self-achievement.
He breaks it down for DUB: “Everything I do just enables me to make more money. My whole album, I recorded in my studio. So let’s say my budget to record is $500,000 (from the label); I just send that $500,000 back to myself. It’s like, the more you believe in yourself, the more it works for you. It’s all about getting what you put in, and God blesses the hard-working. Building my studio, making music, making videos, making the label pay more attention to me, to where I’m a priority now at Def Jam because before I wasn’t.”
From his charming bravado to his interesting mix of confidence minus arrogance but coupled with a touch of playfulness, Juelz “Ju Ju” Santana is, in a sense, resurrecting Harlem along with his counterparts Cam’ron and Jim Jones, all the while staying fly in his fleet of white rides.