Juelz Santana: Skull Gang Primer, Pt. 1

In dynasties past, soldiers were rewarded for their courage and loyalty. However, the music industry is not the court of King Arthur and, in most cases, when an artist stays in a situation in the name of loyalty, it may mean the end of their career. But Juelz Santana isn’t your average artist. Pressure can […]

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In dynasties past, soldiers were rewarded for their courage and loyalty. However, the music industry is not the court of King Arthur and, in most cases, when an artist stays in a situation in the name of loyalty, it may mean the end of their career. But Juelz Santana isn’t your average artist. Pressure can either bust pipes or make diamonds and if you haven’t seen him lately, your boy is shining. With a revitalized solo career, a new label via a joint venture with Def Jam, and a new movement known as the Skull Gang, it seems the sky is the limit for the Harlem splash master. Right here, Juelz discusses the motivation behind Skull Gang (DJ Tobb Cobain; Richmond Rab; Unkasa; Starr; John Depp & Deniro). As for all that other stuff (DipSet’s status, Cam’Ron being AWOL, that album with Lil Wayne, etc.), it will be in Part 2. But you already knew the bird flies high in all weather, didn’t you? AllHipHop.com: You and Jim are still close and you could’ve easily been a part of what he was doing so what made you want to go out on your own with Skull Gang?Juelz Santana: First of all, everybody can’t be Dipset. There’s a structure to go through. Just like me and Jim. We’re still Dipset, still flying the bird. But Jim has Byrdgang and I have people that I got faith in that been around me. I got my own studio, Jim got his own studio, so just as much as you see us together—and we are still together and still one movement—Jim has people that come from his area. We’re all from different parts of Harlem and different walks of life. We still had people we know in different areas and it so happened that these people are talented. I had people in my area and Jim already had the Byrdgang thing. Even Zeke got the 730. It’s just people really don’t know Zeke for being an artist yet so it’s been a little bit harder for him to build his brand the way he needs to but he also has his own set of dudes. It’s just everybody working with the people they have around them. It wasn’t like I was just, “No, I want to do my own thing.” But at the same time everybody should’ve because we’ve all grown to that point. We were all our own bosses and we all had our own entity but it all still falls under one building. Dipset is the building and we all got our own floors in the building. Ya dig what I’m saying? I had people that were very talented around me so it made no sense for me not to. I felt like that would just be selfish not utilizing the people I had around me. There are some people out there that do just want all that attention. They have people around them but they act like they don’t exist. Just as much as I felt like the game was missing me, the game also needed something new, something fresh. So we both did this but, at the time the thing Jim did with Byrdgang is something totally different from what I’m doing with Skull Gang. Just like me and Jim are two separate entities from Harlem. You get that from our movements. Jim’s movement has more of Jim’s theme. My movement is more my theme, something I put together. I’m not trying to build what a Dipset was or what a Byrdgang is.AllHipHop.com: What’s the most visible difference between your group and Jim’s?Juelz: I got my man Rab he’s from VA. I got my man Nero from Jersey and NC. I got an R&B singer. I got my man Unkasa who’s been around for eons. My man Dep is from Queens. It’s all something I put together that I thought was going to be different and special and something people would love. The whole thing about putting it together was how to put everyone together the right way. But once we all got into the studio it all fell into place. The music sounded good and everybody’s sound complimented each other. AllHipHop.com: Was it a conscious decision to go out and find people in different parts of the country?Juelz: It wasn’t really like finding them. Like one or two people were brought to me but everyone else had been around me from different walks of life. Kasa is from my hood. I knew him coming up before anything was anything. Rab, we go back like 15 years. Me and Nero go back like eight years. Everybody that’s down with us pretty much been around. It took so much for me to be going through what I went through but everything just came together at a certain place and a certain time, around the time I was getting out of my situation. At the time I was stagnated. But while I was stagnated everything was falling into place. By the time I got out my deal it was like boom, Skull Gang mixtape was ready to go, everything was good and now the ball is rolling.

“At the end of the day people are not

buying into an album or a song anymore. If they f**k with you, they go

to the store and buy your record. If they just like your song they

listen to it on the radio and when it comes on in the club, but that’s

it.” —Juelz Santana

AllHipHop.com: A lot of artists have said Def Jam hasn’t exactly been living up to it’s legacy when it comes to Hip-Hop. But you were a part of Def Jam since the Roc-A-Fella days so they should be showing you love. Are they supporting the project?Juelz: They love it. Def Jam is behind me 100 percent. They’re with me in everything I do. They’re excited. They feel like there’s something to be excited about and I think they realize my worth right now. I will say one thing, and I’m not just saying this about Def Jam, this is about all labels right now, labels are scared to take chances. There’s a recession going on and a lot of artists haven’t been meeting the standards they should be meeting so the labels have gone back to not really taking any of the chances they used to take. Everybody is just doing things to try and keep their job. Before you had people, who if they believed in something, they’d put their jobs on the line for it. But a lot of these labels right now are real “iffy” about a lot of things. That’s why I took it upon myself to do a lot of that grind work that needed to be done as far as Skull Gang and not just going to a label and just trying to put out an album. At the end of the day people are not buying into an album or a song anymore. They buy into who that person is. If they f**k with you, they go to the store and buy your record. If they just like your song they listen to it on the radio and when it comes on in the club but that’s it. I want more for my team so right now we’re in the process of grinding. And I know what it’s like. In Dipset, they ain’t give us nothing. We grinded for, pretty much, everything. Even though the game has changed we’re still grinding. We’re working on our Internet s**t, beating the Internet up and using different ways of strategizing and promotion. We’re going hard. AllHipHop.com: So who are the members of Skull Gang and what do they all bring to the game?Richmond Rab: Richmond Rab straight out of Richmond, VA. I feel like I bring a totally different style to the game. I feel like I don’t sound like nobody from the south. I feel like I don’t sound like nobody you ever heard before. I spit it from the heart. All the stuff I be talking about is for real. It ain’t no joke. That’s what it is.I started writing and s**t. One of the first songs I wrote he [Santana] really f**ked with the joint and threw it on his mixtape. So that made me say take this music thing serious because the streets ain’t going to be there forever. So I went and bought my own studio and locked in for like a year and a half. I just kept going in, me and a couple different producers. Every time I made a good 10 or 20 tracks I’d bring them down and let him hear them. He was like, “they’re good but keep working.” So I stayed in the studio and just kept working. Then I just came down to the studio with a batch and he was like that’s it.Juelz: You know in Atlanta a lot of people are coming out. You got all these big dudes comig out of Atlanta so a lot of the new dudes coming out sound like the ones before them. From my man’s voice to his look, to his swag to the way he raps, it’s a whole different sound. Virginia is different. Some people say Virginia is “East Coast” and some people say it’s the “South.” Look at the Clipse. They’re from Virginia Beach. They don’t sound like they’re from the South. But if you listen to Rab or other cats from Richmond and up in that area they have the accents and all that.  Dinero: This is Dinero. Hackensack raised, Raleigh is where I reside. What I bring to the table is being real. Everything I write, I been through. I don’t try to be like nobody else or sound like anybody else. I’m just a real humble person. Juelz: My n***a ‘Nero, you know how everybody tries to be tough, be cool? His flow is off the wall and he’s going to bring it back to where it’s cool to just be a cool n***a. You ain’t got to be super tough in your rhymes but, at the same time, he gives you that because that’s what goes on. A lot of these n****s is talking that **t but ain’t doing it anyway.AllHipHop.com: So you speak for the average listener?Dinero: There’s always somebody out there that’s going through what you’re going through. I don’t particularly have to pertain to a certain crowd. I’m a versatile person. I got music for all types of situation because when those situation come up that’s how I deal with it. There’s probably somebody out there that dealt with it the same way as me. And that’s how they’re going to feel me…and the flow is crazy.Juelz: That’s one of the main things I like about Nero. He sounds different on every beat. He know how to ride that beat. He know how to get loopy not looped up.AllHipHop.com: People are kind of familiar with Unkasa from Purple City so how’d he end up in Skull Gang? Juelz: For those that don’t know Kasa, get Diplomatic Immunity, Vol. 1. He set it off. That was our first album in the game. Cam put him in the booth and let him set the album off. If y’all don’t know, he been around for a minute. So go get that Diplomatic Immunity, Vol. 1 he killed it.Unkasa: What I bring is animation and colors to the group. Whatever I say is going to be outlandish. But it’s going to be classic and it’s going to be crazy. We all bring that s**t but for me it’s animation and colors. You’re in the midst of the ’09 Death Row right here. TuKasa Shakur and all that.Tobb Cobain: What I bring isn’t necessarily from the rap angle. I’m the songwriter. I’m just going to bring that. When we step into that realm hopefully we’re going to be winning some Grammy’s. We’re a label for real. We’re just starting right now but hopefully we’ll have that longevity. We got a real plan here.   Juelz: He writes songs, we got an R&B artist, Star. She’s amazing, especially when it comes to writing and just putting a song together. I feel like just as much as she’s going to be a star in her own right she’s going to be writing for a lot of females making them hot. Her pen game is awesome. That’s what it is with this whole Skull Gang thing.

“We’re the ’09 Death Row. Suge Santana, TuKasa Shakur, we got the ’09 Kurupt, Depp is the ’09 Nate Dogg.” -Unkasa

AllHipHop.com: What about Depp?John Depp: My talent, what I bring to the table is just a little bit different. Everybody is talented but I feel like I got that extra little spark because I sing and I rap. Un is a little like me, he kind of got the singing joints too so we kind of have the same style. I don’t want to big up myself too much because we’re all equal. I got hooked up with [Juelz] through Slow, one of peoples who’s one of his good friends. Now he’s my brother and we’re getting ready to take it to the next level. Juelz: Depp is young. Depp is young, fresh—no h###—tender. We all young but Depp is definitely the baby. He’s very musically inclined. He can do a lot more than just rap. That’s what I liked about everyone here. Most dudes be on that “I’m just going to go in and body the beat.” Which we all can do. If we want to just go in and body a beat we all can do that. But we all know how the game is structured and we all know what a beat is called for. A lot of people don’t know what a beat calls for. A lot of people will just spit any old rhyme to any beat. Just spit a written rhyme that they had because they might think it sounds good but you really should write to every beat. Every beat has a different sound and you should create your music to the beat. You can’t spit that verse you feel is the punchline crazy verse on every beat you hear. I feel all of us know how to go in and address the beat accordingly. Unkasa: We do songs so fast that half the times n****s don’t be knowing their verses. Like we only stop to learn verses when we go to do a show. Songs pile up. Like we f**ked the hard drive up. Real talk. We f**ked the hard drive up putting in work, like 80 songs a piece. That’s not including the songs we got with each other. Like I said, we’re the ’09 Death Row. Suge Santana, TuKasa Shakur, we got the ’09 Kurupt, Depp is the ’09 Nate Dogg. We got that whole family but it’s just on another level. READ PART 2 HERE.