FICTION: It’s possible to create a picture-perfect representation of reality.
FACT: Attempts to portray reality usually say more about the artist than the world he’s depicting.
So is Juvenile’s Reality Check real, really real? Well, that depends on your definition.
It might seem strange to discuss Reality Check without dealing with its official first single, “Get Ya Hustle On,” in depth. But, while its commentary on post-Katrina New Orleans is a nice thread for journalists who are looking to weave a story around the album, it is, frankly, neither the most interesting, the best, nor the most important track on the album.
From a purely sonic perspective, Reality Check bangs – hard. For those who last heard Juvie on 1997s 400 Degreez, he’s long since abandoned Mannie Fresh’s swampy sonar funk. In its place, Juvie’s installed a grip of short, bottom-heavy loops. The sound isn’t all dark and menacing, however – like, say, Lil’ Flip, he occasionally takes up residence in a cartoonish musical landscape full of flutes and fanciful synthesizer noises (“Way I Be Leanin’,” “Why Not?”). In either atmosphere, Juvie holds the album together with his gooey, elastic delivery, riding his beats for all they’re worth. On tracks like the smoothed-out “Rodeo” and “I Know You Know” (with stylish hook from Trey Songz), or the harder-hitting “What’s Happenin’,” “Loose Booty” (featuring 8Ball and Skip), and “Break a Brick Down,” the former Hot Boy churns out fresh-for-2006 versions of the party and hustling anthems that have long defined his catalogue.
Mixed in with these hits are more than a few bricks (“Sets Go Up,” “Who’s Ya Daddy?”, “Keep Talkin’,” and “Animal”) that clutter-up an otherwise fast-paced, catchy production. Ironically, however, it seems as if Reality Check had to descend to the eighth circle of wack (advanced-stage-wackness, between quasi-wackness and full-blown wackness) in order to be redeemed. For all the eye-rolling “Addicted” (basically Juvie speaking for three minutes with periodic interruptions by Brian McKnight) will produce, it’s the perfect entrée to the impressive weirdness of the album’s tail end: the unstructured stripper ode “Holla Back,” the sinister air raid sirens of “Pop U” (featuring Ludacris and Fat Joe), and his duet with God, “Say it To Me Now.” Oddly enough, it is on this, the album’s closing cut – not “Get Ya Hustle On” – that Juvie shows his “progressive” side. Like the intro to Chamillionaire’s Sound of Revenge, Juvie takes the occasion of beef to explore his own insecurities and failures – call it a kinder, friendlier wax politics.
In light of all of the above, what is Reality Check, really? A daring, seamless marriage of politics and art? Fiction – check out dead prez or Black Market Militia for that. A head-nodder with plenty of replay value? Fact.