There’s a time during Juvenile’s latest effort, Beast Mode, when he says “Everything’s back on track,” promising that his career is far from over. The line comes on “Lights, Camera, Action,” the album’s last song. Consisting of only 11 songs, by the time we get to said last cut, it’s clear that everything is not on track. Fans hoped he would take things back. After all, he was one of New Orleans’ most successful rappers, a chart topper who, along with his Hot Boys brethren, ruled the airwaves in the late ’90s and early 2000s. By many accounts, he was the city’s leader, one who attained solo success as well, highlighted by the multi-platinum 400 Degreez, which gave birth to “Back That Azz Up.” But, as Lil Wayne flew by Juvie and most everyone else in popularity, Juvenile stuck to making less successful discs sparingly throughout the 2000s. Like Eminem, he admits some of his mistakes when he says he fell off track, but unlike Em, he doesn’t fully recover just yet.
Beast Mode is plagued by a barrage of clichés, an onslaught of cuts that seem forced and generic. “Drop that Azz” sounds like a horrible attempt to recreate “Back That Azz Up’s” success. Then there’s the obligatory marijuana jam (“La La La La La”) and a misogynist anthems (“Pussy Kat” and “Bitch Instructions”) with many cringe-inducing lines (“They call me ‘Magazine Juvie,’ I’ll read a ho…I’ll make her know I’m the man of the house and she the ho / You better change your voice tone, I’ll beat a ho.”) While he’s never been known as a lyricist, it’s hard to give a pass to such basic rhyme skills and horrid themes. The clichés continue with the chest-beater “I’m Da Man,” which seems to borrow hook ideas from Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em. Later, “Drinks on Me” sounds like a weaker version of Too Short’s “Blow The Whistle,” and it’s clear to see a loss of identity and a pursuit of what others have done. In fact, the cover eerily looks like a reinterpretation of Drake’s Thank Me Later.
It’s not to say that Juvenile loyalists won’t appreciate this effort in some ways. There’s “Nothing Like Me” which features Juvie Jr. who rhymes alongside his father. In the end, the aforementioned “Lights, Camera, Action” also adds something to the short album. “I got a family to support,” he says. “I hear ‘em talkin’ ‘bout it’s over, but they dead wrong.” That type of honesty and confidence is admirable and if he could only delve into some more sincerity, this album wouldn’t sound as dull or forced lyrically.
For an artist who once had incredible success, it’s hard not to try to recreate that. When an artist sees others gaining notoriety, it’s hard not to imitate them. However, the error many artists make when doing both of these things is, they wind up losing their own creative growth. On this album, Juvenile shares almost nothing new, gives fans the old repertoire and offers less than stellar imitations. It’s unfortunate for longtime Juvie supporters, who may be disappointed by the effort, especially with Hot Boys reunion rumors floating around. This can’t be a sign of what’s to come. For now at least, it seems things aren’t all back on track.