First Impressions: Juelz Santana – #FREESANTANA

An Intro To Juelz Santana

Juelz Santana is 38 year old New York rapper who is not only well known for his solo career, but also for his work as part of hiphop group Dipset. Juelz started rapping at age 5, but started taking it more seriously when rap duo DraftPick with fellow rapper Malik at age 12. The pair gained quite a bit of recognition in the local scene, leading to them signing to Priority Reecords when Juelz was just 15. The duo only released one single on the label, with Juelz’ next big boost coming in 1998 when his cousin introduced him to rapper Cam’Ron. It was around this time that he took on the ‘Juelz Santana’ moniker and joined the rap collective The Diplomats, which contained Cam’ron as well as Freekey Zekey & Jim Jones. The group first appeared together on Cam’ron solo albums in the early 2000’s, before releasing a string of 4 mixtapes in 2002 and early 2003. The collective released their first album ‘Diplomatic Immunity’ in March of 2003, with the album going gold 2 months after release and having one of its songs charting.

It was around this point that Juelz launched his solo career, building on the momentum attracted by his work with Dipset; so I’ll just be focusing on his solo career from here on. Juelz released his debut mixtape ‘Final Destination’ in mid 2003 and followed it up with his debut album ‘From Me to U’ 2 months later, with the album peaking at 70 on the Billboard 100. In December of 2004 he released the lead single for his sophomore album and had it chart at number 35, following it up with a second single which charted at number 6; his most successful solo single yet. After dropping 2 more charting singles he released his ‘What The Games Been Missing!’ album in November of 2005, with the album going on to be certified gold. Also in 2005, Juelz got his first number 1 hit as a feature on the Chris Brown hit ‘Run It’, which spent a total of 5 weeks at number 1.

After disbanding with Dipset in around 2007 Juelz formed the Skull Gang collective and accompanying label imprint Skull Gang Entertainment. Juelz spent 2008 and 2009 juggling solo work and work with Skull Gang, releasing 2 mixtapes and an album with Skull Gang whilst also dropping a number of singles for his third album. In 2010 Dipset reformed and released a bunch of singles over the following months. In 2013 Juelz released his first solo project in 8 years, the mixtape ‘God Will’n’, and one month later dropped another mixtape titled ‘All We Got Is Us’. Over the next few years Juelz was fairly quiet, with the occasional feature and his most notable work being the release of Dipsets third album ‘Diplomatic Ties’ in November of 2018.

That brings us to now! On 3rd of March 2020 Juelz dropped his first project in 7 years, a mixtape titled ‘#FREESANTANA’. The mixtape has 10 total tracks and features from a wide range of artists including Jeremih, Lil Wayne, & A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. Below I’ve reviewed the album in 2 parts, first will be my track by track observations as I listened through, and following that will be my thoughts on the album as a whole. I’ll include some links to stream the album as well as some discussion questions at the end. Enjoy!

Track By Track Review

1. 23 & 1 – Beat is minimalistic but is crisp, has this real mellow piano and this vocal sample that pops up every now and then. Juelz has some real crisp rhyme schemes and his flows are simple but enjoyable. Bars are solid throughout, real personal for the most part. Love the change of pace about 2 minutes in when the drums come in. Juelz changes up his flow and delivery a decent amount, delivery is always clear and coherent though. Good song, isn’t great but has this awesome old school vibe.

2. Pink Eagle (ft. Jim Jones & Dave East) – The Beat has a real familiar sample, is utilised well though, nice beat overall. Dave East rides the beat really well and has some impressive rhyme schemes and bars, delivery is a bit one dimensional but is a good verse regardless. The little Juelz hook is pretty catchy, nothing special. His verse has some real solid one liners and he has a much more exciting delivery than Dave East, rides the beat just as well too. Love the transition to Jim Jones’ verse, Jim comes in with some solid bars from the get-go and rides the beat just as well as the others. Delivery isn’t too enjoyable but it’s a good enough verse to not wreck the song. Good song overall but nothing special

3. Wish Me Well – Big fan of the Drake sample, love the original song and love the use of it in this song. Sets a good vibe for the song, but the beat during the verse isn’t very exciting, the delivery is mediocre and the flows are all pretty basic, no impressive bars either. Hook is good but that’s cause it’s basically just the sample. Second verse is just as unenjoyable as the first, really simple verse in every way, amateurish even. Not a very good song which is a shame cause I was so excited at the start

4. In My Life – Another really enjoyable hook thanks to a sample being used, not familiar with this one but it’s good regardless. Juelz has more impressive rhymes and bars in this than the last track but the flows are basic again and the delivery is quite boring throughout. Good rhymes and hook but other than that just an average song

5. Boiling Water (ft. 2 Chainz, Lil Wayne & Belly) – What a Line Up! Beat is really intriguing, has this strange like sci-fi synth, is kinda spooky, beat bangs though. Belly hook has a real old school vibe to it and is quite catchy despite the repetition. More enjoyable flows from Juelz on this and his delivery works well over this instrumental too, even has some quality bars in his verse.2 Chainz rides the beat amazingly, has a real enjoyable flow and his usual confident delivery, lots of decent bars too. Lil Wayne easily has the most exciting flows on the track, good range of enjoyable flows and changes up JID delivery a couple times throughout his verse too. Good song, could have been better but still enjoyed the whole thing

6. Do You Believe (ft. Jeremih) – Beat has like sad love song vibes, sounds more like an old school r&b track which is only strengthened by Jeremih’s majestic vocals. Jeremihs melodies are really pleasant and the hook overall has a real catchy vibe to it, great hook. Big fan of the bass in this, is real playful. Juelz’ basic flows and monotone delivery work exceptionally over the mellow instrumental, both verses are full of coherent bars full of personal lyrics and impressive rhymes. Real good song, awesome chill vibes

7. Celebration (ft. Jim Jones) – Jim Jones has a more enjoyable verse on this than on the other track he was featured on, glides over the beat with ease and has an enjoyable delivery throughout. Lots of bars about achieving goals and celebrating it, which combined with the instrumentation gives the song this real triumphant vibe. Juelz has quite an average verse, his flow doesn’t change up much at all and is boring even when he is switching it up. Paired with the monotone delivery it’s quite a mediocre verse. Hook is catchy but is a bit too repetitive. Okay song but nothing stood out

8. Bloody Mary (ft. Lil Wayne) – Heard this many years ago (or a similar version) and always thought it was good but not great. Juelz has some of his fastest rapping and most impressive flows of the album on here, fairly hungry delivery too, good verse overall. Beat is exciting, has lots of interesting elements but is a little too busy at times. The transition from Juelz to Wayne is great, but Wayne’s verse isn’t one of his better ones. His rhyme schemes are insanely impressive but his flows and delivery are pretty 1 dimensional for the duration of the verse despite it being an enjoyable flow. Good song, might grow on me but hasn’t for the last few years so probably won’t

9. EZ Work – Beat is kinda haunting but isn’t too exciting overall. Juelz has a fairly boring delivery once again, and some generic flows as well. The bars themselves are okay but the verse is quite average. Hook is repetitive and isn’t too catchy, sounds okay but isn’t memorable. Second verse is just as mediocre as the first one, lacks delivery flows and standout bars. Song drags on too long too, below average track

10. The Get Back (ft. A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie) – Another really familiar sample that’s been used well, so beat is enjoyable overall. A Boogie’s feature has some nice melodies and decent bars but it sounds phoned in; the quality and the mixing on it just doesn’t sound right. Juelz is at home over this instrumental, flows over it well and has some good bars scattered throughout. His delivery is still a little boring but the first verse is still decent. Definitely not liking the sound of A Boogies hook. Second verse is real similar to the first, so nothing too new or exciting. Decent song but nothing too exciting about it

Album Review

I went into this album with not many expectations, mainly listening to it for the features as I’ve never been much of a Juelz Santana fan. On that note, I think this album exceeded my expectations, with most of the features delivering quality performances and Juelz himself impressing me a number of times throughout the project. Still, I wouldn’t say this is a great album, just one that’s slightly above average in many respects; it has a good variety of featured artists, some great sample usage, and enough passable performances from Juelz that it never really gets boring long enough that listening felt like a chore. It just lacked standout moments, great songs, and had multiple tracks that didn’t reach their full potential.

First I’m going to touch on the features, since that was what I originally listened to the album for. I felt for the most part the features were good, with almost all of them being as good as you would expect but barely any being as good as I had hoped. I though the ‘A Boogie’ feature was good but was dragged down by bad mixing, and similarly Lil Wayne had a feature that was impressive but was brought down by repetitive flows and delivery. I felt like 2 Chainz had a good feature but it was no better than most of his features. Belly delivered a catchy hook but considering I think he is the most impressive lyricist on the stacked lineup I felt like having him on hook duty was a bit of a waste. Both Jim Jones and Dave East were tolerable, but neither really blew me away with their performances. And finally, easily my favourite feature of the mixtape was Jeremih on ‘Do You Believe’, which sees him deliver one of the catchiest hooks on the album to accompany the heartfelt bars spat by Juelz throughout the track.

The production and Juelz Santana himself both had highs and lows. The production set a good vibe for the duration of the album, with a number of the instrumentals being laid back and quite old school. Where the production shone was the amazing use of samples, sampling everything from Drake’s ‘Miss Me’ to Foreigners ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’. Juelz’ performances throughout the album were 50/50 what I was expecting (mediocre raps and boring delivery) and better than I was expecting. Songs such as ‘EZ Work’ & ‘Wish Me Well’ saw Juelz drag the song down with a series of generic flows and monotone delivery, boring me by the time was half way through. Alternatively, his performances on ‘Pink Eagle’ was my favourite of the 3 rappers on the track, and his laid back delivery on ‘Do You Believe’ meshed perfectly with the mood set by the Jeremih hook and the mellow beat. Juelz definitely had his bad moments, but this tape proved to me that he is certainly capable of moments and songs that I enjoy.

So in the end this was a decent mixtape, which was enjoyable to listen through despite not being a super enjoyable project. I think a large part of that is that I was often having my expectations surpassed due to me not thinking Juelz would impress me much, and on that note I think this tape made a good first impression on someone who hasn’t listened to a solo Juelz project before. I’d definitely recommend this to anyone who is a fan of that old school New York sound, artists such as Griselda or Joey Bada$$ even. Even if you need to fill some of your isolation time, throw this on and let me know what you think!

Final Notes

You can stream the album on Spotify here, and on Apple Music here!

Or you can listen for free on YouTube here!

My Favourite Songs were 23&1, Pink Eagle, Boiling Water, Do You Believe, and Bloody Mary.

What were your favourite songs on this project?

What is your favourite Juelz Santana solo project and why?

Thanks for reading!

– Shan –

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