The Number Ones

August 7, 2004

The Number Ones: Juvenile’s “Slow Motion” (Feat. Soulja Slim)

Stayed at #1:

2 Weeks

In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.

Rap music is an amazing thing. I can’t think of any other genre where a deeply horny sex song can also serve as an ad hoc elegy for a young man who was murdered in the prime of his life. That’s what “Slow Motion” is. The video for “Slow Motion,” the only #1 hit from the great New Orleans rapper Juvenile, strikes a weirdly beautiful tonal balance. The “Slow Motion” video is about women’t butts, and it’s also about Soulja Slim, the Juvenile collaborator who was shot dead nine months before the song topped the Billboard Hot 100. Somehow, the video never seems messy or contradictory. Sometimes, sex and mourning exist in close proximity. Sometimes, a beautiful, sunny afternoon in New Orleans is a time for partying and also a time for paying tribute to a slain friend.

“Slow Motion” wasn’t supposed to be an elegy, and it wasn’t supposed to stand as the final statement from a talented rapper who never made a pop hit during his lifetime. But things don’t always go according to plan. The pop charts have always been chaotic, but the late-’90s rise of New Orleans rap made them stranger and looser and more alive. The rap stars who emerged from New Orleans generally made hyper-local, hyper-specific music, but that hyper-local, hyper-specific music resonated far beyond Louisiana.

The rise of Cash Money Records was one of those beautiful, unpredictable stories. The Cash Money Millionaires didn’t have to switch their style up to appeal to mass audiences. Instead, they made the kind of music that they’d been making, and they bent the mainstream toward themselves. Cash Money developed in relative isolation over years. By the time that Cash Money got major-label distribution, it wasn’t just a regional rap label. It was a tight-knit crew, a sound, an aesthetic, and maybe even a lifestyle. The Cash Money Millionaires had style and charisma and a sui generis sound. That sound quickly became a huge force in the rap mainstream, and it made an impact on the pop charts, too — so much of an impact, in fact, that Juvenile eventually scored himself a #1 hit.

Cash Money Records is the creation of Ronald “Slim” Williams and his younger brother Bryan “Baby” Williams, now known as Birdman. Both Williams brothers grew up partly in foster care and partly in the Magnolia Projects. As young men, the Williams brothers made money in the street. In 1991, after Baby finished up a stint in jail, the two brothers decided to start a record label that would be devoted to bounce, the rap subgenre that was taking off in New Orleans. Eventually, the Williams brothers were able to start making their money legally.

Bounce is chant-heavy call-and-response party music. It’s basically a variation on Miami bass, with some of the syncopation from New Orleans second-line jazz, but that’s a hopelessly reductive description. When Cash Money launched, bounce was a strictly local phenomenon. The Williams brothers combed the city’s clubs and block parties, and they eventually put together a roster of artists. One of those artists was Juvenile.

Terius “Juvenile” Gray grew up in the Magnolia Projects, and he started rapping at 10 years old. (When Juvenile was born, the #1 song in America was Frankie Valli’s “My Eyes Adored You.”) In 1992, a teenage Juvenile made his on-record debut with “Bounce For The Juvenile,” a track that appeared on an album from the local bounce artist DJ Jimi. A few years later, Juve signed with Warlock Records, the label founded by Morris Levy’s son Adam, and released his debut album Being Myself. It didn’t go anywhere, and Juvenile quickly moved on to Cash Money.

At Cash Money, the Williams brothers put together a roster of hungry young bounce rappers and pushing them toward harder, more street-oriented music. The Williams brothers also had a genius as their in-house producer. Mannie Fresh had been DJ’ing since the mid-’80s, and his tracks sounded like beautiful chaos. On Mannie Fresh beats, drums and synth-pings would explode in every direction, forming a rhythmic bed that sounded perfect when paired with a thick New Orleans accent. Mannie and Juvenile quickly developed what would become one of the all-time great rapper/producer dynamics. Over those frenetically bugged-out Mannie beats, Juvenile would somehow sound relaxed, his sticky drawl easing into beat-pockets that out-of-town rappers couldn’t even detect. Juvenile’s Cash Money debut Solja Rags came out in 1997, and it became a regional smash.

By 1997, something else was happening in New Orleans. No Limit Records, another label founded by a group of brothers who’d made off-the-books money, was becoming a commercial colossus. For those of us from outside the region, No Limit seemed to erupt out of nowhere sometime around 1996. The label would buy up pages and pages of advertising in The Source — all these gaudy, colorful CGI cover-art images of, like, pitbulls with diamond necklaces and laser eyebeams. The No Limit roster was huge, and the label seemed to release a new album every week or two. Those albums were selling. No Limit was a movement, and Soulja Slim was part of that movement.

Souja Slim was born James Adarryl Tapp Jr. Slim was a couple of years younger then Juvenile, but like Juve, Slim grew up in the Magnolia Projects. (When Soulja Slim was born, the Emotions’ “Best Of My Love” was the #1 song in America.) Soulja Slim dropped out of high school and sold heroin and cocaine. He used both drugs, as well, and he survived a couple of near-fatal shootings in the mid-’90s. Slim also had a creative streak, and he started rapping at neighborhood parties under the name Magnolia Slim in the early ’90s.

Soulja Slim released a few records on local indies in the mid-’90s, and those records sold pretty well regionally. Soon afterward, Slim joined the fast-expanding No Limit roster, and his album Give It 2 ‘Em Raw came out in 1998. The LP debuted at #13 on the album charts and sold a few hundred thousand copies — pretty impressive, considering that Slim was in prison on a probation violation when the album came out. That’s a tribute to the No Limit machine and also to Slim’s own slithery swagger.

While No Limit kept its assembly line running, Cash Money maintained a much smaller operation. (The Cash Money and No Limit camps did not get along, but the tensions mostly stayed at a low simmer.) Cash Money only had a few rappers on its roster, but they had a cohesive group. The Williams brothers assembled Cash Money’s four most promising rappers — Juvenile, BG, Turk, and Lil Wayne — into a group called the Hot Boys. (The Hot Boys’ only Hot 100 hit, 1999’s “I Need A Hot Girl,” peaked at #65. Lil Wayne will eventually appear in this column.) Baby and Mannie Fresh also formed another group, a duo called the Big Tymers. (The Big Tymers’ highest-charting single, 2002’s “Still Fly,” peaked at #11.) Mannie Fresh produced all the records, and everyone rapped on everyone else’s tracks. Thanks to the success of No Limit, major labels started looking around for other Southern rap crews, and Cash Money eventually signed a hugely lucrative distribution deal with Universal. The first album released under that deal was Juvenile’s 1998 classic 400 Degreez.

Do you know how fucking weird 400 Degreez sounded to an untrained ear in 1998? The shit was positively alien. On the single “Ha,” Juvenile slurred all over Mannie Fresh’s futuristic riot of a beat, drawling out casual shit-talk in an accent so thick that I mostly had to guess what he was talking about. The “Ha” video, a small masterpiece, made the song’s New Orleans context feel vivid and tangible, and the song hit the Hot 100, peaking at #68. But that was the mere throat-clearing before Juvenile released the generational anthem “Back That Azz Up,” a song that still levitates parties decades later. “Back That Azz Up” peaked at #19 on the Hot 100 — a clear testament to the way the Hot 100 doesn’t always give you the full picture. In the moment, that song was huge. It’s the defining song for Juvenile, Cash Money, and maybe 1999 in general.

On the strength of “Back That Azz Up,” 400 Degreez went quadruple platinum. Juvenile, along with all of the Hot Boys and Big Tymers, also rapped on BG’s 1999 hit “Bling Bling,” which peaked at #36 and which introduced a new term to the English language. For the next few years, Juvenile and his Cash Money labelmates all cranked out albums, and those albums sold, though nothing was touching 400 Degreez.

Juvenile’s 1999 follow-up The G-Code went platinum, while 2001’s Project English went gold. By this time, the various Cash Money Millionaires were starting to get pissed off with the way the Williams brothers conducted their business. Eventually, most of them left the label. Juvenile almost left before his manager and Birdman worked out a last-minute deal to release Juvenile’s 2003 album Juve The Great. That album didn’t sound much like Juve’s previous Cash Money records. Mannie Fresh only produced a few tracks, and the other Cash Money rappers weren’t all over the album. Instead, Juvenile was trying to get his own UTP crew off the ground, and his proteges Wacko and Skip made multiple guest appearances. (Nashville’s Young Buck, a former UTP member, joined 50 Cent’s G-Unit crew in 2003. Buck’s highest-charting single, 2004’s “Shorty Wanna Ride,” peaked at #17.)

On Juve The Great, Juvenile seemed to be mellowing out, making music that was less hectic and more laid-back. Still, it’s not like Juvenile had matured; he was still plenty juvenile. The lead single from Juve The Great was “In My Life,” one of a handful Mannie Fresh productions on the album. That song doesn’t bring the same kind of insanity as the Juve/Mannie collabs of the late ’90s, but there’s still plenty of old-school New Orleans bounce left in its DNA. On the Hot 100, “In My Life” peaked at #46, giving Juvenile his biggest lead-artist hit since “Back That Azz Up.” But the real hit from Juve The Great would turn out to be the twinkling, understated sex-jam from the end of the LP.

For “Slow Motion,” the last track on Juve The Great, Juvenile teamed up with Soulja Slim, his fellow Magnolia Projects native. By 2003, Slim had parted ways with No Limit, which had fallen into steep decline. Slim had ended his No Limit run with the 2001 album The Streets Made Me. A year later, Slim launched his own label, Cut Throat Comitty Records, in conjunction with the big indie Koch. Koch established a rap foothold by cutting generous royalty agreements with rappers who’d fallen through the major-label system. Soulja Slim wasn’t a national star, but he was still a big deal in Louisiana.

Juvenile has always been quick to give Soulja Slim credit for “Slow Motion”: “Really, it wasn’t my song. It was Soulja Slim’s song… My dude created it, and it was supposed to be on his album.” The song’s producer was a relative unknown who never got famous. Daniel Castillo, who went by the name Dani Kartel, got his start as a guitarist working under Carlos Stevens, one of the members of the No Limit production crew Beats By The Pound. In 2002, Dani Kartel produced a couple of tracks for Master P’s brother C-Murder. Later that year, C-Murder went to prison for murder; he’s still locked up now.

Dani Kartel didn’t come from the Cash Money inner circle, and the voice on the “Slow Motion” hook belongs to Soulja Slim. It makes sense that the track started out as a Soulja Slim song and that Slim took it to Juvenile because he knew he had a hit on his hands. If the song belonged to Juvenile, it could go national. At the time, that just wan’t going to happen with an indie Soulja Slim track. Slim was right about “Slow Motion” being a hit, but he didn’t live to see its release.

In November 2003, about a month before Juve The Great came out, Soulja Slim was shot to death on the front lawn of the home where his mother lived with his stepfather, Rebirth Brass Band tuba player Phillip Frazier. Slim’s murder has never been solved. Police made an arrest, but no witnesses would testify. At the time of his death, Soulja Slim was 26, and he was reportedly under investigation in a different murder. It’s one more tragic sign that success in the rap world doesn’t insulate anyone from danger. We’ve seen too many stories like that one over the years. In the history of the Hot 100, only six artists have topped the chart posthumously. If you include featured guests, that number grows to eight, and one of them is Soulja Slim.

Soulja Slim was known as a New Orleans street rapper, but “Slow Motion” isn’t a street record. Instead, it’s one of those songs that could be about dancing but that’s really just about having sex. Dani Kartel’s beat sounds like it’s built on a sample, but it’s not. Instead, Kartel played the woozy guitar-loop himself. Kartel added bluesy strums, oceans of digital bass, and echoing horn-stabs. The drum patterns come from New Orleans bounce, but the track itself is slow and laid back. “Slow Motion” is a dance track, but it’s not in a rush. It’s a lazy-afternoon song, a song for open windows and direct sunlight.

New Orleans rappers have very distinct accents, and you can kind of tell that Juvenile and Soulja Slim come from the exact same place. They both rap in bluesy, melodic croaks, dragging their voices across the track. On the “Slow Motion” hook, Soulja Slim unlocks the musical potential of the grunt, which is something that New Orleans rappers understood before the rest of the world caught on: “Unnnnh! I like it like that! She workin’ that back! I don’t know how to act!” Then Slim chants a command: “Slow motion for me, move it slow motion for me.” He sounds like he’s talking about a dance, about a slow wind, but he could just as easily be talking about sex. The verses clear things up: He’s definitely talking about sex.

On “Slow Motion,” Soulja Slim sounds just a little more wild and desperate than Juvenile, though they both sound totally natural on the track. Slim’s verse makes its own kind of sense, but he has a couple of lines that are borderline surreal: “Keep being hard-headed and I’ma make you get off me/ Got human enough disguise but my face is a doggy.” I’d never thought about that line until I saw it written out on Genius, and yeah, I guess that really is what he says. His face is a doggy. Huh.

Soulja Slim is also proud of his “outside dick,” and he’s funkily specific about the physical effects of having vigorous sex: “Slow motion, she open/ I’m hoping she don’t leave my dick broken, with brush burns and swollen.” “Slow Motion” is almost certainly the first #1 hit to explicitly reference how it feels to get friction burns on your dick. Thanks to Juvenile, “Slow Motion” is also the first #1 hit to explicitly address the prospect of period sex: “Fine bitches if you listening, you heard me, I’m strong/ If you going through your cycle, I ain’t with it, I’m gone.”

Juvenile sounds marginally more polished than Soulja Slim, but they’re coming from the same place, both geographically and philosophically. Juve: “It’s like I got the world in my palms/ Your girl up under my arms/ She fucked up from the charm.” He likes how that Victoria’s Secret sit in that ass, and he sounds almost courtly when he asks if he can grab it. Most men wouldn’t be able to get away with asking if they could grope someone, but most men didn’t make “Back That Azz Up.” Coming from Juvenile, that request can’t really come as a surprise. There’s a playfulness to Juvenile’s sex-talk. He makes it sound less exploitative, more flirtatious.

“Slow Motion” was never supposed to be an emotional song, but Soulja Slim’s murder gave it an unexpected resonance. Thanks to its rich, humid musicality, “Slow Motion” can sound strangely plangent. You can see that in the video. The clip is celebratory. It’s full of dancing and drinking and sunshine. But it’s mournful, too. People hold up signs and placards: “Thou shalt not kill,” “RIP Soulja Slim.” During Slim’s verses, nobody lip-syncs. Instead, we just see people coming together outdoors.

Some people set up an outdoor stage. Some hang out with animals: pitbulls, a boa constrictor. Kids have a water-gun fight. Middle-aged men grill burgers. Juvenile emerges from his tour bus and walks around with his daughter in his arms. Birdman and Lil Wayne show up, their presence signifying an end to Cash Money’s internal tensions. Birdman teaches a little kid to do the Birdman hand-rub. Finally, Juvenile takes the stage at a high school football field, rapping to a sea of hands. It looks like the best kind of wake.

None of the people involved in “Slow Motion” ever returned to #1. Dani Kartel didn’t make any more hits, but he did produce Houston rap cult hero Z-Ro’s low-key banger “The Mule,” which came out in 2005 and which featured Juvenile and Devin The Dude. (On “The Mule,” Juve rhymes “connoisseur” with “kinda knew her” — true elite shit.) According to this LinkedIn page, Dani Kartel has worked as a stage tech at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival for the past 13 years. Juve The Great eventually went platinum, but Juve still left Cash Money soon afterwards. Later in 2004, Juvenile’s group UTP made it to #31 with their single “Nolia Clap.” Great song.

Juvenile made his last appearance on the Hot 100 in 2006. That’s when he released his post-Cash Money album Reality Check on Atlantic and when first single “Rodeo” made it to #41. Reality Check went gold, and Juve released one more Atlantic album before moving onto the indie circuit. Eventually, Juvenile returned to Cash Money, and he and Birdman released a pretty good collaborative album in 2019. Juvenile also survived a great personal tragedy in 2008, when his four-year-old daughter was murdered. The girl’s teenage half-brother killed the girl, her mother, and her older half-sister. I don’t know how you keep going after something like that, but Juvenile kept going.

These days, Juvenile is a constant presence on the Southern rap nostalgia circuit. “Back That Azz Up” remains his biggest song by far, and it continues to cause general dance-floor mayhem to this day. Juvenile made his impact on pop-music history with 400 Degreez and “Back That Azz Up.” Everything after that, including his one #1 hit, is just a bonus. But “Slow Motion” is a great song that also put a spotlight on an undersung local hero soon after that local hero’s death. That’s a pretty good bonus.

GRADE: 8/10

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BONUS BEATS: In 2009, Kesha used the whole hook from “Slow Motion” on a Three 6 Mafia collab that was also called “Slow Motion.” Kesha’s “Slow Motion” was never officially released, but it made the online rounds anyway. Here it is:

(Kesha will eventually appear in this column. As a guest-rapper, Three 6 Mafia member Juicy J will also show up in this column. Three 6 Mafia’s highest-charting single, 2005’s “Stay Fly,” peaked at #13.)

BONUS BONUS BEATS: The R&B singer August Alsina used an a cappella version of the “Slow Motion” beat on his own 2012 track that’s also called “Slow Motion.” Here’s the video:

(August Alsina’s highest-charting single as lead artist, the 2013 Trinidad James collab “I Luv This Shit,” peaked at #48. Alsina also got to #27 as a guest on DJ Khaled’s 2016 posse cut “Do You Mind.”)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s JayDaYoungan’s video for his 2020 Latto collab “Touch Your Toes,” which samples “Slow Motion”:

(Latto’s highest-charting single, 2021’s “Big Energy,” peaked at #3. It’s a 7.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Isaiah Rashad’s 2021 “Slow Motion” freestyle, which ends with a “Bounce For The Juvenile” sample:

(Isaiah Rashad’s only Hot 100 hit, the 2021 Lil Uzi Vert collab “From The Garden,” peaked at #99.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s DVSN and Ty Dolla $ign sampling “Slow Motion” their 2021 collab “Fight Club”:

(As lead artist, Ty Dolla $ign’s highest-charting single is the 2013 B.o.B collab “Paranoid,” which peaked at #29. As a guest, he’ll eventually appear in this column. DVSN don’t have any Hot 100 hits as lead artists, but they got to #72 on Drake’s 2016 track “Faithful.”)

I know you heard about them chapters I done wrote in my home. The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The History Of Pop Music is out now via Hachette Books. You can buy it here.

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