When Drake's hotly anticipated sophomore set Take Care leaked earlier this week, one of the most-talked about tracks was "Practice." The song revisits Cash Money's early heyday by sampling and interpreting Juvenile's "Back That Azz Up," the breakthrough smash that put Juvie, his label and New Orleans hip hop on the national map back in 1999. It's been a quiet few years for Juvenile, but "Practice" has thrust his name back in the limelight in a major way. On top of that, earlier this week he leaked a new single, "Power," featuring Rick Ross, which has met rave reviews so far. With the new buzz, a new determination, a new label home (Rap-A-Lot) and a new album due in early 2012 (Rejuvenation), the Nawlins vet may be poised to recapture some of the shine that's eluded him since his 2004 No. 1 hit "Slow Motion," his biggest success since he parted ways with Cash Money. In an exclusive interview, BET.com caught up with Juvenile to get his take on Drake's tribute, Lil Wayne's superstardom and his own new focus.
How did you feel when you heard Drake’s “Practice”?
I was kinda like, “finally.” Somebody’s finally showing me some props and showing my impact on the game. It’s a blessing. One of the biggest stars in the game remixed my song. How many people can say that? It gives me motivation. It lets me know I had a great career, that I really had influence on people and an impact. I hear my DNA in a lot of these new cats, and I love it. It makes you feel like you did your part.
What do you think about Take Care leaking?
It’s crazy, ’cause the album is stupid. You don’t want the album to get bootlegged, but when the album is this good, I don’t think it will hurt it. If anything it might help it in the end. I’m definitely squeezing him on my album too. Before this album leak happened I was already back and forth with his peoples to get clearance to do a song.
Some people were surprised to hear Drake give you props, since you and Cash Money have had tension in the past.
It’s a closed book. It was always business. Every week, these major corporations, they sit at the table with people they don’t like, they don’t know, they don’t see eye-to-eye with — you have to do business with them. It’s the same way. I’m a businessman before I’m an artist, and I’m a father before that — and I would never do anything to jeopardize putting food on my kids' table. It’s still good with Cash Money. There’s definitely not any beef and it’s never a situation where we can’t be in the same room or even make music together. I talk to Baby all the time.
Have you smoothed things over with Wayne as well? You guys traded words in the past, and many people took the name of his 2002 album 500 Degreez as a shot at your album 400 Degreez.
I don’t think we really had to smooth it over. I haven’t talked to Wayne in a minute, but there’s no beef there at all. I think people took [the album name] the wrong way — I think it was more of a tribute. I got what it really was. I’m street man, so I’m not necessarily the person to talk about on a record. I’ve been known to get around. But I’ve got the utmost respect for Wayne. [The disagreement] was always with the record company, not the Hot Boyz.
In the wake of you leaving Cash Money, Wayne replaced you as their hottest commodity. How do you feel about his success?
It’s like coaching a high school athelete. You have them when they're fresh and learning their ways, and they're learning their offense and defense and other things. And once they graduate they go in their own direction and do their own thing. He was in high school and college and he graduated to the big league; that's how I feel about it. I’m really happy and proud for that cat. I loved [Tha Carter IV]. It’s what the people want. He’s got some songs on there that’s amazing.
Another one of your former Cash Money colleagues, Mannie Fresh, produced your just-released single, “Power.” How did you two reconnect?
Me and Mannie Fresh never really separated, ‘cause we see each other all the time. We kept running into each other. It was just a matter of when we were going to get back in the studio. There was never any beef with him when I left Cash Money. Mannie Fresh actually did 85 percent of the album.
Rick Ross is featured on “Power” as well. How did that come about?
You know, I know everybody. We had crossed trails several times before. He even performed at a club I own [in Houston]. Mannie Fresh had the beat and I knew I wanted to do something with Ross. J. Prince helped make it happen when Ross was in Houston on tour with Wayne. Dude took the beat to Miami and laced me up. Did the verse in one night and sent it right back to me. It’s crazy.
Do you have any other guests on the album?
Well, I’m going to get Drake, like I said. Skip and Wacko will be on there of course, and my man Bun B. I also got that cat from Memphis, Drumma Boy, on a beat, and some what I guess you’d call unknowns, new cats like Sinister and C. Smith. I’m bad with names — I’m getting old [Laughs].
Speaking of aging, how has your sound evolved on the new album?
It’s real professional. I’m older now; I’m not gonna sound the same. I have a different point of view on things. I’m upper 30s so I’m not gonna make music for 15-year-olds. I make music for an older crowd, but I’m still from the streets. The hustlers and the streets are always gonna be the focus. My main thing is have fun doing it.
Why did you call the album ReJuvenation?
That’s where you build yourself back up to that person you used to be. You’re reborn. You cleanse yourself. A new beginning. That’s why I named it that. You should always reinvent yourself, to keep growing and moving, and this album does that.
(Photo: Brad Barket/PictureGroup)