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Editorial: The Wasted Potential of Juelz Santana

By Sermon

Jim Jones’ contributions to the Diplomats’ success, as well as his own solo run, have been nothing short of great. However, in recent years, I found myself tuning out of his music. The man who made 'We Fly High' just hasn’t seemed inspired. It’s actually something that has plagued the whole Dipset crew, with Cam’ron suffering from it the least and Juelz Santana taking the biggest hit of all.

When I think of Jim Jones in 2015, I’m not reminded of his stellar run in 2006. Instead, it's a passage he wrote about Juelz Santana.

"I always told Juelz he could be greater than Jay-Z ever was,” Jim Jones wrote on SOHH. “That boy is super talented. Listen to everything he’s done and what his music says."

It’s the boldest statement anybody has ever said about anybody. Okay, maybe not, but it sure was bold.

To me, Juelz Santana was Dipset's stand out member. He was much more lyrical than everyone else, which helped him establish a sound that was distinguishable from the rest. He was what Lloyd Banks was to G-Unit. There wasn’t anybody within Dipset who benefited from the mixtape game as much as Juelz. Back Like Cooked Crack vol. 1 to 3, Final Destination, and who could forget Blow, his 2006 collaborative mixtape with Lil Wayne?

The next year, Juelz Santana and Lil Wayne set it off with the idea of a collaborative album I Can’t Feel My Face. Anybody else in the game sitting that close to Wayne would’ve collapsed under the weight of trying to keep up with the hottest MC. Not Santana. He already proved that he could keep up with Wayne on Blow. It was like when The Rock (Weezy) and Mankind (Juelz) teamed up. Still, it felt like Juelz wasn’t receiving the credit he deserved.

At this point, he was two years removed from his last solo album, What The Game’s Been Missing. Eight years later, he’s still in that position. I Can’t Feel My Face never came out due to label issues, and a third Juelz album never materialized. We’ve had its title -- Born To Lose, Built To Win -- for years now. There was God Will’n, the forgettable 2014 mixtape that was supposed to symbolize a return. God Will’n 2 was announced and subsequently shelved for unknown reasons.

What happened to such a promising career?

Once The Diplomats split, Juelz felt lost musically. He tried to kickstart Skull Gang, but it never took off. When you’re used to being  in a crew it can be be hard to make the transition when it's over. Even though he found solo success, Juelz was still Dipset. The focus always boomeranged back to them as a collective.

So, could Juelz Santana have been better than Jay Z musically?

Considering the impact Jay Z has had, that was probably an unrealistic goal for  Juelz. Even if you strip away the businessman aspect, Hov has given us several classic albums, made other artists millionaires and brought us producers who changed the industry

Juelz Santana is a great lyricist, but he doesn’t possess the drive, energy and mind-state to do all of that. Maybe it was Jim Jones telling him what a legend he could be that drove him insane when he couldn’t live up to that hype. Instead of jeopardizing his legacy, he mostly closed his discography to ensure it would remain more hits and less flops.

Which is real shame. This is the man who made “Santana’s Town,” “S.A.N.T.A.N.A,” “Make It Work For You,” and a plethora of mixtape hits. He once rapped, “ho selection, a whole collection/ a whole selection, of my ho collection.” He blazed through Hot 97 like the fires of hell were opened with his rhymes and that microphone! If only he kept going, he could still be relevant in 2015. But he also might have fallen off hard.

So instead we’re left with a series of “what ifs” and the former shell of Juelz Santana. Where Lloyd Banks will take forever to drop a mixtape, he’ll always deliver. After God Will’n, it was hard to believe in Juelz again. Maybe it's because there wasn’t a worthy challenge anymore. He didn’t have to separate himself from the rest of Dipset, or prove his abilities. The only challenge was proving to the fans that he was truly ready for a comeback. And that wasn't a challenge big enough for Juelz Santana to conquer.

A version of the article first appeared on Medium.

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