When he’s not lecturing on UNLV at UNLV, William Hutson is a producer in the excellent rap group Clipping.
In an effort to manufacture a timely explanation for why I made this mix—the likeliest actual reason being a mid-30s nostalgia that I’d rather leave unexamined—I discovered that this month marks the twentieth anniversary of the release of B.G.’s s Chopper City in the Ghetto. Although it followed Cash Money Records’s breakout hit, Juvenile’s 400 Degreez, by six months, it was B.G.’s album that confirmed the label’s takeover of southern hip hop by demonstrating that “Back That Azz Up” wasn’t an accident, and that the Hoy Boy$ had more than one member with star potential. In my personal life, the album kicked off the spring and summer of 99’s most active debate among my high school friend group—No Limit vs. Cash Money.
In hindsight, that was the only period during which that rivalry actually felt like it could go either way. No Limit Records had been dominant in mainstream rap music since the release of Master P’s Ghetto D in 1997, while Cash Money was still a strictly regional label with almost no distribution outside of Louisiana. But early 1999 was a turning point. Unfortunately for this narrative I’m half-remembering/half-inventing, that April wasn’t a strong month for No Limit. Throughout 1998, the label put out twenty three albums, averaging one almost every two weeks. Some were great, others were not. At the beginning of ’99 they were still moving at that pace, but April’s two releases were Mo B. Dick’s insufferable R&B marathon Gangsta Harmony and Boot Camp, by Lil Soldiers, a novelty duo composed of one seven and one nine year old rapper, which is as repellant as you think it is. Shortly after, No Limit released Snoop Dogg’s No Limit Top Dogg, probably his best for the label, but by then many fans, including my friends and myself, had felt the power shift away from the Tank.
That’s the way I remember it, anyway. In actually sitting down to make this mix, I’ve developed a new sense of this history, without regard for the sensationalized beef that a clueless white teenager from the Bay Area had no understanding of, or access to. Here are a few material things I learned while selecting songs, and then some reasons as to why I think these things are the case. First, NL songs are, on average, much slower than CMR songs. Ordering the tracks I was considering for this mix by BPM meant that the two label’s material would have basically been split evenly into two halves. I had to actively search for slower CMR tracks, and faster NL tracks. And second, I found that CMR usually picked the best songs to be singles, while NL singles were often much less interesting than tracks buried deep in the albums’ tracklists. Both of these observations are related.
Master P started NL in Richmond, California in the early 1990s. In 95 he moved back to New Orleans and started signing every rapper he could find, amassing an unwieldy roster of varying talent. At this time, though, southern hip hop was not on the national radar, and the commercial prospects of southern regional rap styles must have seemed uncertain. Most NL albums from this period lead with singles that had more in common with west coast hip hop—the slower G-Funk from Los Angeles, and Mobb Music from the Bay—than they did with New Orleans Bounce. The best of these, like TRU’s “I’m ‘Bout It, ‘Bout It” and Master P and U.G.K.’s “Break ‘Em Off Something” plod sluggishly forward under stretched-out Dr. Dre style synth leads, while the worst mimic the remorseful gangster ballads of Tupac, feeling much less sincere or deeply felt than any of the same artists’ songs about money or drugs. Where the label really shined, in my opinion, were the album cuts that you’d never know existed if you only listened to the radio or watched music videos. Deep into the tracklist is where you’d find something more countrified, or bouncy, or just plain weird (several examples of which appear in this mix). In this way, NL albums were clearly aimed toward a national market from the beginning, with singles savvily designed to be “hits” outside of the south, yet also containing songs aimed at other subgenres to satisfy specific audiences. They felt less coherent, more scattered, trying out various styles, hoping something would hit. But when something actually did, as “Make ‘Em Say Uhh” did for P and the rest of the soldiers, that breakthrough left an opening for the more regionally-specific CMR to follow.
Before CMR pared its roster down to just the Big Tymers and the Hot Boy$, many of their albums resembled NL’s. Kilo G’s The Bloody City is pure LA car music in the Likwit, or Warren G fashion, while Mr. Ivan’s 187 In A Hockey Mask could almost be a lost Sacramento Horrorcore gem. But by the time Chopper City In The Ghetto made its way to commercial radio, Mannie Fresh had refined his style of propulsive, bubbling beatmaking into the most recognizable signature sound of any 90s producer—and it was one hundred percent New Orleans. While not always strictly Bounce music, his beats were always uptempo, and Bounce-inspired—he underscored even the toughest murder raps with percolator synths and cartoony snare rushes. He was consistent, had a clear voice. In this way, Fresh seemed more limited than NL’s in-house team, Beats By The Pound—an all-too-on-the-nose moniker for a label whose bulk output occasionally felt like its value was in its quantity—but much more himself, and much easier to like.
At the time, I remember friends criticizing NL’s rappers for feeling anonymous and generic—a position I could not, myself, abide, because only somebody not listening wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between Mia X, Mystikal, Mac, Fiend, Young Bleed, etc. (all of whom were brilliant, technically-gifted lyricists, by the way)—but what I think they were responding to was their apparent interchangeability, and the way the NL album format made it difficult to glean much of a rapper’s personality from the work. And unlike the Hot Boy$ and Big Tymers, it was rare to get the impression that any NL rappers were actually friends with each other, except for maybe C-Murder and Magic. CMR’s narrower stylistic field allowed its artists to demonstrate their differences, and even more importantly, play off each other. Listening to a CMR album inspired the same feelings as watching, say, A Hard Day’s Night, where it seemed like hanging out with those guys must have been the coolest thing ever.
I put the word “versus” in the title of this mix as a nod to my argumentative high school self, but while making it, I had no intention of actually framing this as a competition, or declaring a winner. It’s simply a tribute to these rappers and producers who had a massive influence on me, and have provided me, with twenty-something years of listening. But in this project I found an opportunity to reconsider each label’s legacy, and how I perceive their stories today. I’m impressed by how well all these songs aged, but maybe I’m getting too old to judge that. Back in high school, despite my constant conversation about the two camps, I hadn’t had the capacity to recognize the material differences in their two businesses. NL covered a wider breadth of styles because P’s intention was to take over the world. The label released too many albums with too many songs on them, but more than a few masterpieces. And without NL, it’s hard to imagine how CMB’s quirkier, more regional sound would have ever made the impact that it did. P directed mainstream attention toward the type of sounds Fresh was already making, and without that work, the New Orleans sound might have stayed at the level of other regional subgenres, like Baltimore Club, and Miami Bass, that remain just out of the spotlight.
Both labels flamed out after only a handful of “classic” years, so the mix focuses on that period, which I have arbitrarily defined, based solely on my own unfounded ideas. I cut off CMR entries at the first departure of Juvenile, so Lil Wayne’s run of Tha Carter albums are not represented, although they contain the best rap music ever made. NL barely limped into the 2000s and I think the newest song from the label to appear in this mix is “Wobble Wobble,” one of NL’s most overtly Bounce (read: Cash Money-like) single.
Oh and this mix is likely only part one. There are enough classic tracks to fill ten hours. I’ll probably do another one of these this summer.
0:00:00 Mia X f/ Fiend “I Think Somebody”
0:01:31 Mack 10 f/ B.G. “Dog About It”
0:03:38 TRU “Swamp Nigga”
0:05:12 Mac f/ Mystikal “Murda, Murda, Kill, Kill”
0:07:24 Kilo G “Coasting”
0:09:24 Fiend “Mr. Whomp Whomp”
0:11:52 Mack 10 f/ Mannie Fresh “That Bitch Is Bad”
0:14:05 Young Bleed f/ C-Loc & Master P “Keep It Real”
0:16:46 B.G “To My People”
0:18:04 Silkk The Shocker f/ C-Murder, Master P & Eightball “Mama Always Told Me”
0:21:16 Lil Wayne “Fuck Tha World”
0:22:46 Master P f/ Mia X, Mystikal, Silkk The Shocker & Fiend “Make ‘Em Say Uhh”
0:25:22 504 Boyz “Wobble Wobble”
0:26:52 Kilo G f/ Ms. Tee “Pop ‘Em”
0:28:12 Lil Wayne “Tha Block Is Hot”
0:29:29 Big Tymers “Get Your Roll On”
0:30:46 Skull Duggery “Heat”
0:32:02 C-Murder “Like A Jungle”
0:33:25 Big Tymers f/ Juvenile & Lil Wayne “#1 Stunna”
0:35:57 B.G. “Cash Money Is An Army”
0:37:12 Young Bleed f/ C-Loc & Master P “How Ya Do Dat”
0:39:53 Soulja Slim “From What I Was Told”
0:42:04 B.G. “Trigga Play”
0:43:33 Hot Boy$ “We On Fire”
0:44:38 Snoop Dogg f/ C-Murder & Magic “Down 4 My Niggas”
0:46:58 B.G. f/ Big Tymers “Hennessy & XTC”
0:48:45 Steady Mobb’n “Strong Heart”
0:50:28 Juvenile “Ha”
0:51:39 Soulja Slim “Wootay”
0:53:04 TRU f/ Mia X “Freak Hoes”
0:55:27 Mr. Ivan “Devil N Me”
0:56:40 Full Blooded f/ C-Murder & Big Ed “I’m Gonna Hustle”
0:57:59 Big Tymers “10 Wayz”
0:59:28 Lil Wayne f/ Hot Boy$ “Shine”
1:01:32 Master P f/ C-Murder & Silkk The Shocker “Ghetto D”
1:04:14 Magnolia Shorty “Monkey On Tha D$ck”
1:07:37 B.G. f/ Lil Wayne “I Know”