Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Oh, the cover. Rather than go meat packing plant on us, Pen 'n' Pixel flipped the prescription pad and gave the world unapologetic martial fury. Fighter jets, missiles, flames, tanks! Still, nothing snatches my breath away quite like the sight of the man himself. Surrounded by havoc, Soulja Slim remains the picture of stoicism.
Perhaps his phlegmatic disposition is a sobering reflection of the horrors he's already witnessed--and participated in--at such a young age. Perhaps he felt bloated (foreshadowing, that). Probably, he was high as shit.
"From What I Was Told"--Soulja Slim's authenticity is not in question; neither is his energy. His originality is another story, as is his focus. Slim was hailed as "the 2Pac of No Limit," thanks to his renegade lifestyle and brash attitude. It certainly wasn't down to diversity in subject matter or political awareness.
"Street Life"--Master P refers to his rappers as "soldiers," and Slim sounds fully ready to take the battlefield and never, ever shut the fuck up.
God bless whatever beat guest rapper Silkk the Shocker heard in his head while recording his verse. The beat the rest of us hear was made by recalcitrant pigeons perched on a piano bench.
"Wright Me"--Write, right? Rite!
Slim rants and raves from behind bars at a scandalous ho, as the bass line slips around a drum beat weaker than a hamster sneeze.
"At the Same Time"--Snoop Doggy Dogg (remember when he was on No Limit?) is present, so the bass is down to squat on somethin'. It's funny, hearing such a severely unpolished rapper on a track with Snoopy the Smooth. Not bad, just circumspect.
"Only Real Niggas"--Be down or be up in smoke. "My bodyguard is the Lord." Religious criminals crack my ass. Speaking of ass, the instrumental!
"Pray For Your Baby"--You guys, "Dear Mama" is such a great song. More than just a tearjerking tribute from a troubled young man to the only woman he'll ever truly love, it's a beautifully constructed recording.
"PFYB" takes an insistent five-note guitar lick which it quickly buries deep in the syrup. The rapping is proof that sincerity does not guarantee quality. (In case you were unsure.)
"Head Buster"--How scared am I supposed to feel when the killer starts spelling at me?
"Me & My Cousin"--Joining Slim is his actual cousin, Full Blooded. He's a remedial rapper, and the beat fits him perfect.
"You Got It"--A remix of a track from one of Slim's pre-No Limit releases, now with more Mia X! Both she and Slim are insanely 'bout it. The chorus is the closest thing to melody on the entire record.
"You Ain't Never Seen"--Slim breaks down why his life is full of so much wrongdoing and nowhere-going. One of the better beats, too.
"Anything"--Sex song! Note, I didn't say sexy song. I think The Snorks featured this instrumental initially.
The cherry on this wholly incoherent sundae is the ever-baffling use of the word "cock" to mean "vagina." It doesn't matter how many hip-hop songs I heard that used in, it's just wrong.
"Imagine"--Slim, Mac and C-Murder vent about spot-scrutinizing cops who hate on their legit hustle.
Imagine, no crime. Does that mean no more criminal acts are committed, or the wholesale rewriting of the law books?
"Takin' Hits"--Bounce track boring as a bow tie.
"Wootay"--What the shit is this beat? Such heartless dissonance!
"Get High With Me"--Pull off a joint at the start? Check.
"Law Breakaz" --Slim's attempt to show off some rappity raps descends into incomprehensibility.
"What's Up, What's Happening?"--Suspenseful start. Some solid bass and a decent hook, but the man of the hour is second-rate.
"Hustlin' Is a Habit"--He ain't wolfin'.
"Getting Real"--Guest-starring Fiend, AKA DMX with no passion. Driven along by high, straining strings and low, mournful horns that are not at all real.
"N.L. Party"--Five minutes for practically the entire male NL lineup to rap over some Action 52-ass instrumental. Meaning most of them get only 2-4 bars. That's insufficient space for even the most adept lyricists, much less this cadre of chucklefucks.
No Limit detractors--hell, No Limit supporters--called their music "fast food rap." Give It 2 'Em Raw is a prime example of McHipHop. Who knew 70 minutes of sex, drugs and violence could be so exhausting? Yet despite scant artistry, and scanter promotion, it reached #13 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart, just missing gold certification.
In November 2003, Soulja Slim was murdered in front of his mother's New Orleans home. Nearly a year later, his duet with Juvenile, "Slow Motion," hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100. I once shared a five-hour bus ride in late summer 2004 with a young man who every half-hour or so would bust out the chorus of "Slow Motion." Despite that, I don't hate the song--or Slim. I do hate bus rides, though.
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
For body connoisseurs, there's Mercedes bent over the hood of her namesake vehicle. For car aficionados, there's a Mercedes. Finally, for those who appreciate women attempting visual dichotomy, there's another shot of Mercedes, chillin' in bitch-boss mode.
"It's Your Thing"--Mercedes, like Mo B. Dick, is a singer who occasionally raps. Also like Mr. Dick, her talents in either arena are humble.
"Pussy"--The Ghetto Committee dudes drop by to spit pure misogyny over an Isley Brothers-on-ketamine track. Pussy does keep us all spinning, and there's worse ways for a man to deal with that irreversible reality than insisting on super-aggressive consensual sex. Mercedes remains a defiantly proud possessor of the pussy.
"Talk 2 Me"--Ugh, phone sex and Master P. No no no no. My vagina's practically coughing.
"I Can Tell"--A back-forth boxing match with No Limit rapper Mac. No great romance, this; he has a boo back at the hive, and his idea of seduction is "rippin' the pussy walls."
"Hit 'Em"--Time for the lady to rap. Her internal rhymes are so good, I can't help but wonder as to the identity of her ghostwriter. Add in A-Lexxus and Mia X, we have "3 Tha Hard Way" for sex-crazed ass-beating bitches.
"Kiss Da Cat"--Cunnilingus-balkers have a special spot in Hell.
"Do You Wanna Ride"--"In the back of the Caddy, chop it up with Do or Die."
No, wait…this is "Mercedes Boy" by Pebbles. Oh that's clever, she wrote, without a scintilla of sarcasm. Add some Miami heat, you got a rail ready to ride. I fuck with this pretty tough, being an 80s baby.
"N's Ain't Shit"--Master P as a producer makes me yearn for Master P as a rapper. His drums have stage fright, even though the only audience member is a dog.
"Bonnie & Clyde"--A duet with Magic, one of the few No Limit soldiers I ever looked forward to hearing. He was Mack-10 with personality, and he singlehandedly made this tired concept do a few extra push-ups before bed. Yeah, most Clydes'll die for their Bonnie, kill for their Bonnie…Magic's Clyde beats his Bonnie.
"Pony Ride"--If you've ever wondered what a Christopher Cross/James Ingram duet would sound like, you're really really fucking weird.
"Candle Light & Champagne"--Get drunk and burn the house down? Let us go.
"Camouflage"--Not a material I'd call sexy, but I don't fetishize war. And these are the No Limit soldiers. The logo's a fucking tank.
"Stop Playing In My Phone"--Oh wow it's a skit, color me stunned sienna.
"Hush"--Mystikal yelling over a ring-ting backdrop is mildly amusing.
"What You Need"--I fux with faux-Timbaland beats almost as much as I do real Timbo beats. Leave it to Silkk the Shocker to screw up a one-car funeral procession.
"Crazy Bout Ya"--Ridiculous balladry.
"My Love"--A missed opportunity. The music is a night out at the local club for a devoted young couple, circa 1985. They lyrics are a night in for a bitter single person.
"Free Game"--Apt title; you can't reasonably expect anyone to pay for this.
"Chillin'"--Cubin'. Freezin'. Makin' music for no reason.
"I'm Down"--Rear End is full of titles already used by much better songs.
"I Need a Thug"--Featuring Popeye? Aw man, you steppin' out on Olive Oyl?
Unusually well-mixed, a nice confluence of vocals and instrumentation, and guess what? I'm horny as a violin. Master P's raps are so childish, they made my tubes tie themselves.
"You're the Only One"--Look harder.
"Talk Dirty To the DJ"--90 seconds of Mercedes speakin' nastily to record spinners. "Pour my body with some ice cream"? You know what's sexy, Mercedes? Reading.
I wonder what Mercedes does now. Works at a church, I bet.
Monday, November 20, 2017
Is this the same guy who did "Trial Time"? "Get'cha twelve white folks and take that shit to trial, bitch!" No? Boo.
I consider Ridah 4 Life an overlooked crappy cover. There's the ostensible MC's name in gold-trimmed diamond letters; skeletons riding in the drop-top with our host, one holding a 40 bottle, the other clenching a cigar between his teeth. (Death cannot stop the need for status symbols.)
The cops are on their tail, but Mr. Bigg Time isn't concerned. Is there a law against driving with two malt liquor-guzzling skeletons in your car? Nope, not even in Georgia.
The fact that this is J. J. Abrams's favorite album cover--I mean, probably--is good enough for me.
"Change"--More rushed than Geddy Lee speed-dating.
"World Is So Real"--Mr. Bigg Time's voice spills over with gravel and smoke. The Mannie Fresh-esque drums try to keep my interest, but there is truly something important to be said for keeping samples in hip-hop. Yeah, money is saved, but unless the producer is musically-minded (not just a button-pusher) the beats will get stale swiftly.
"Mama"--The second verse, breaking down his entry into the crime life, is fairly compelling. (Like I'm gonna call a "mama song" boring.)
"Let That Trigga Fly"--Triggers fly? Must be blue jays, then. Blue jays are the officious, entitled pricks of the bird world. That's not baseless prejudice--the collected data is overwhelming.
"Ride-Out"--There are features all over R4L, indication number one that Mr. Bigg Time has no confidence in his ability to carry a record. Ke-Ke is a female MC with the mic presence of a catatonic. A little faster, a little more brooding, than what's come before--yet somehow sounds just like what's come before.
"Crunk All Nite"--An extravaganza of ass, explaining everyone's over-eagerness. Sammy Sam wins best name, and a lap dance.
"Alize"--Neither celebratory nor desultory. Bonnie Tyler meets Pastor Troy. The first song I didn't struggle to sit through, for whatever that says.
"Better Days"--A schizophrenic lifestyle doesn't leave much time to be a quality father. Or finish a beat.
"Ridah 4 Life"--This is like Scarface: bearable and terrible.
"It's My Money"--Miss Bigg Time shows up to sing a hoodrat variation on "It's My Party." Hoes just love Mr. BT and all his rentals: car, jewels, apartment.
"Used To Be My Friend"--Tupac ruined the word "enemy" forever.
"Do Or Die"--Or, wind up hungover in the back of a cop car.
"No Friends"--No taste, either. It's amazing listening to rappers brag about their riches when they obviously paid an average of $35 per beat.
Funnier than the cover of Ridah 4 Life is the fact it was released on Tighter Than Tight Records. Damn thing's looser than the skin of my upper arms.
Friday, November 17, 2017
The cover of Deep In the Game is a contrast between wild riches and wild poverty. The rapper's faces--well, half of each rapper's face--are pushed to the sides, allowing us to view a busy overpass and a body of water which is either composed of large $100 bills, or in which large $100 bills are floating. I would have loved to have seen some diving gear, maybe a boat, something to suggest the entrepreneurial spirit of these two young men.
Lifestyl broke up after the cousins were sent to prison on drug trafficking charges. (As far as I know, both men are now free--in fact, one is currently the CEO of Salty Water Records, the label that released Lifestyl's music.) So you can't tell me they weren't about that submergence life.
"Cutthroat Island"--'Cause they sure as fuck weren't about that art life. I don't know which rapper is which--not racist, although Latinos saying the n-word might be--but the first guy at least plays with his flow a bit, and I appreciate that. Otherwise, it's sinister keys and empty threats.
Tommy and Pancho trade lines for verse three. Styles and Jada, they ain't. Kid and Play, they ain't.
"Tragedies"--Starkly animalistic. Shrouded in paranoia. Boring as hell.
"The Feeling"--Lifestyl made an album just to make an album. Their aesthetic is more in tune with the West Coast than any Southern style of hip-hop, and their mimicry is subpar.
"O Baby"--Take the missing letter from the group's name and the missing letter from this song, and you have my opinion.
"Confianza"--I'd rather eat the cardboard box this album was recorded inside than keep listening.
"Killas & $ Billas"--The 379th song (at the time) to sample "Shook Ones, Pt. 2)." Lifestyl probably fancied themselves the Latin Mobb Deep, and I wish someone had recorded those smoky in-studio pep talks.
"Deep In the Game"--Never be afraid to be great.
"Haters"--Fantasy Land gonna hate on Chutes N Ladders.
"So Many Ways To Die"--Add "waiting for this album to get good" to that list. Those drums make Swizz Beatz sound like J Dilla.
Four more songs follow: "Smoked Out," "Fast Eddie," "Roll 'Em Up," and "Pop Pop Pop." I hate to tap out, but I hate uninspiring music even more. Nothing about Lifestyl wants me to keep listening. No personality, no cleverness, no insight into their shared situation.
Thursday, November 16, 2017
Allow me to explain.
Xcuse Me! is minimalist compared to most Pen 'n' Pixel offerings. The off-white framing makes it look almost incomplete. Then there's Papa, looking unashamed at his resemblance to Ja Rule, posing in front of (not) his car and some pillars holding up nothing. Worse, while many of these covers are emblazoned with the names of other rappers featured on the records, Xcuse Me! boasts a list of other rappers whose records Papa Reu has been featured on--but none of whom reciprocated.
I feel bamboozled. I feel insulted that someone who put this out into the world with the sincere expectation that a non-blood relation would actually buy a copy.
"Intro"--Papa Reu is Houston-based, but born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago. Thus, he makes hip-hop with a reggae tinge. Which sounds as appealing as a can of Coke with a strychnine tinge.
"Shine"--Guest rapper TC sounds like BG on Robitussin. Papa Reu sounds like bootleg Shabba Ranks. Great. Awesome. Tell me more, sir, of the wealth you enjoy.
"Bluka Bluka"--This shit is a hate crime. Fake BG is back, joined by fake Wyclef on guitar.
"Holla"--Not content to jock the look, Papa Reu also lifts from Ja Rule's one good song. (Kinda, anyway.) The chorus isn't the title to infinity, yet I still long for the comforting embrace of stomach flu.
"Na Mean"--"Na na na na!"
And we're back. A fairly intense beat that Papa Reu dribbles all over.
"Diamonds & Pearls"--Holly holy, Li'l Keke is on this? Guys, he's a rapper. Real true and actual. Original member of the Screwed Up Click. Over two dozen albums to his name. When Keke talks over a beat, folk tend to listen, and to believe.
Papa Reu, not so much. He never actually pronounces the "s" in "pearls," so I'm assuming his lady only gets the one.
"Be Bout Ya Issue"--Following up his ode to the good life, here's a gangster missive. Marinate, haters. The cat that produced this is probably dead now, so I'll go easy.
"Bubble"--It's a Papa Reu song, it ain't supposed to bubble.
"Now Everybody Wanna Be Down"--Those people who said Reu would never "make it" were wrong! Never mind that I used to read The Source, XXL, Rolling Stone and Spin religiously and never once saw mention made of this meffer.
"How We Ball"--The music has the Atari-esque bop of a solid Cash Money song.
"Skit"--Eat me, loser.
"Black Queen"--Positivity performed with all the zeal of a stepped-on snail.
"X-Cuse Me"--Ras Intelligence is a basic gangster rapper bringing basic gangster raps.
"Looking Good"--Sounding bad.
"Grimy Niggas"--Featuring Ali. Not the one regarded as the most lyrical member of the St Lunatics (meaning, he threw in a three-syllable word once every sixteen bars). In the style of cheap 90s Southern rap, lazy percussion and lazier synth patterns rule the day.
"Outro"--Three and a half minutes? Not acceptable, let alone excusable.
Fucking Steve Martin and Eek-a-Mouse would have made a better album.
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Master P's cousin shot to relative fame as a founding member of production squad Beats By the Pound. So it makes sense that Mo B. Dick handled most of the production on his debut record. Gangsta Harmony isn't just another NLR burger; Mo B. produces, occasionally raps, but mostly vocalizes in, uh, gangsta harmony. Was it a shame that his time to shine solo came as the label's own star was dimming?
"Picture U and Me"--Slow-burning pre-coital skit. Making love to SWV and Star Trek, oh baby.
"Station Identification"--Really? Picture you screaming while being attacked with a flaming crowbar by me.
"Intercourse"--Puerile and amateurish. The woman sounds as though she's being forced to choose between taking a pipe up her ass or a broomstick up her vagina.
"U Got That Fire"--I'd much rather listen to "I Got That Fire" by Juvenile. Or "U Understand," also by Juvenile.
"Got 2 Git Mine"--For a guy so fond of singing, Mo B. Dick can't sing very well.
"Mo B.'s Theme"--His rapping is a bit better. The snares still wish he'd cramp it up that "Tramp" sample.
"Part 3"--Of what?
C-Murder, Magic and Mia X stop by to liven up proceedings. Magic's great; he'll beat the shit out of you, then beat it right back into you.
"Twerk'm"--A bounce track sultrier than the title suggests. Yeah, twerking's been around forever. (Cavemen twerked! Jesus twerked!) I might could melt into this velvet overhead, down some shots, and make the middle of my arms smack the middle of my legs.
"U Fell In Love With a Gangster"--Like falling asleep with your head against the side of a fish tank, and all the fishes have stopped to gape at you.
"What's On Your Mind"--Silkk the Shocker? Buddy, you do not want to know what's on my mind. Did you mix this song too, asshole?
"Shoot'm Up Movies"--A touching (read: awkwardly hilarious) story about falling in love at the cinema.
"She smiled at me with big brown eyes." Wow, most people use their mouths. She's a keeper, Mo B.
"Smoke My Life Away"--Dedicated to "the children of the corn." The Stephen King short story or the short-lived rap group featuring Cam'Ron and Big L? Redman coulda rode this beat, no saddle.
"It's Alright"--The main musical hook is the intro to the Isley Brothers' cover of "Summer Breeze" played on a mini-Casio. C-Murder wooing a chick isn't as funny as I'd hoped.
"Want/Need"--Those horns got the fiber farts. My wants and needs are the same--for this album to end.
"I'd Be A Fool"--Laments over a trifling ho. Genuinely well-crafted and performed.
"As the Ghetto Turns"--When you hear this song, will you cry? 'Cause you know you're an idiot, if you cry.
"Could It B?"--A duet as sexy as pit bull puppies fighting over a box of decomposing kittens.
"Leave Her Alone"--Gangsta Harmony finally comes to a conclusion with an overly-long, utterly commendable anti-domestic abuse message. It quickly grows syrupy, but it's refreshing to hear a man on a hip-hop record urging women to reject abusive relationships.
Albums come much better than Gangsta Harmony. However, they also come much worse. Same with the cover. I'm more offended by the lack of flash. I get that No Limit had less money to throw at the P 'n' P guys as the 21st century approached, but they still should have made every key on that piano a different gem. Brilliant and durable. And how dare they defy Album Cover Rule #12: Never Place A Hot Bitch In the Distance.
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Percy Miller grew up in New Orleans' notorious Calliope Projects. After dropping his dream of a pro basketball career, Percy moved to California, where he studied business at a junior college in Oakland. Two deaths would change his life.
First was his grandfather, who passed as a result of medical malpractice. His wife received $10,000 from the hospital, and she bequeathed the money to her grandson. He would use this to open a record store, called No Limit Records, in 1988.
Then in 1990, his brother Kevin Miller was killed during a robbery. Percy turned No Limit into a record label, releasing his debut album (as Master P) in 1992. No Limit would go on to sell millions, make millions, and spend millions.
Tru 2 Da Game is not the most successful album in label history, but it's up there. Likewise, while it's not the ugliest NLR album cover, it is way the hell up there. Arguably, it's more useless than unpleasant. Why do the rapper names appear over each masked-up face? Those aren't even actual people, those are radioactive jack o' lanterns. That are on the verge of robbing Heaven, apparently.
"Intro"--Eavesdropping on ghetto homework with Master P and son Li'l Romeo. Over descending piano and gunshots on the four, the "ice cream man" teaches his child how to detect and deflect hoe-ass ways.
"No Limit Soldier"--Master P, calling himself the Colonel, provides a roster rundown. No questioning the man's accomplishments as a mogul; as a rapper? He's at least better than his brother Vyshonne, who commits vocal misdemeanors under the sobriquet Silkk the Shocker. He rhymes, more or less, but he couldn't keep on beat with Gorilla Glue. (He's also absolutely the type of MC who'd reference a quarterback with an 0-4 Super Bowl record.)
Guest Mia X ("first lady" of No Limit) is better than both men, easily.
"I Always Feel Like…."--Mia rejoins the guys to kick paranoia over a hi-hat-heavy instrumental. Mo B. Dick croons the Rockwell-inspired chorus. Silkk's frequently-clowned verse features the following:
"And I be seein' shit that ain't there/It ain't there, but I be seein' shit."
Which is fine if uttered in a psychiatrists office. In a vocal booth?
"There Dey Go"--Begins with P namedropping half of America, emitting a constipated battle call and wasting this time of mine. Silkk pops up to tell some buster that he's "more cheese than some cheddar."
"I Got Candy"--Starting a song with Silkk the Shocker is like starting a sentence with "I'm not a racist, but…." This Cameo interpolation veers way left right quick, thanks to an tuneless bass line and Sega Genesis sound effects.
"Ghetto Thang"--Big Ed is the guest speaker for this ode to self-preservation. The beat is smooth and Master P forgets to OD on ad-libs.
"FEDz"--C-Murder is the best rapper of the Miller Bros., which sounds like a backhanded compliment. Mia X provides the hook (why wasn't she the fourth member of TRU?) and Silkk is his standard shit self, reminding us he's "twisted like a Twizzler" with "mo' stakeouts than a Sizzler."
"What They Call Us?"--Master Percy laments advice unheeded. (Jay-Z's most recent album is his attempt to succeed where P failed.)
The drums are knuckles rapping on an exposed sternum while the keyboard attempts to mimic dramatic movie music.
"Smoking Green"--Get high, get through more than one minute.
"Gangstas Make the World"--Unsurprisingly features a wealth of gangster namedrops, including "Machine Gun" Kelly, a man who in reality never committed one murder, much less murder one. Most of the instrumentals on No Limit albums were cooked up by Beats By the Pound, a production team who treated music like McDonalds cooks treat burger patties.
"Swamp Nigga"--A Master P solo track. Ad-libs and accidental sounds add to the goofiness inherent in a song titled "Swamp Nigga."
"Ghetto Cheeze"--Silkk's flow, his syllable emphasis, his accent choices. You're a killer? Good. Kill me.
"Heaven 4 a Gangsta"--West Coast whine. On to disc 2.
"Tru 2 Da Game"--Remember beepers? Guest Mr. Serv-On injects some humanity into the project. Leave it to Silkk the Shocker to reference the greatest QB to never win a Super Bowl.
"Freak Hoes"--With Mia X on riposte duty, so the song's not misogynist! My fave, for sure. How can you freak to a beat made with a spoon and frozen aluminum foil? I look forward to finding out.
"Tru ?'s"--C-Murder in storytelling mode.
"1nce Upon a Time"--Everything about the track--low-riding synth, slasher strings, incidental thumps--tries much too hard.
"Pop Goes My 9"--Watery as British baked beans.
"It's My Time"--Mia X could beat up Adrian Peterson, and probably she should.
"Torcher Chamber"--Nice play on words (I'm assuming). Everything else is like I'm hanging out with Dirk from the Rutles.
"They Can't Stop Us!"--Percy, I never once doubted your business acumen, please stop yelling at me.
"The Lord Is Testin' Me"--C-Murder deals with the effects that criminal life has on his loved ones. Silkk the Shocker's flow is, within this context, God.
"Final Ride"--No Limit Records really is an inspiring rags to riches story.
Just don't feel you have to listen to the music for the tale to be considered complete.