Thursday, October 31, 2013

No Limit Records (Part 1)




(Note- This was initially going to be a single post, but it was SO long and took me almost 5 hours to complete it, necessitating that it be split into two parts.)

Yes you read that right. This post will be dedicated to No Limit Records, probably one of the more revealing posts I've ever done on this blog so far. It will not be a "rise and fall" post in the general sense, but rather I'm going to talk about the albums I did own, among other things. In early 1998, I got turned onto No Limit by a guy named Pharrell Robinson, and after that, I decided to check them out and didn't look back. Believe it or not, even though I was still an "East Coast head" then, I was a big fan of the crew. In addition to the albums, I had a No Limit earring, ring, bracelet, skull cap, t shirt and of course a silver charm with a necklace, I sure did. Now you may ask, "why Wayne why?!" lol. With hindsight being 20/20, it was the hype (which I admittedly was caught up in), the marketing & promotion and the production. And with a few exceptions, it sure as hell wasn't due to their lyrics, but I'll get into that more in a bit.

I will go on record and say I respect Master P for his hustle and business sense (then and now). When I think it about now, I feel he would've been a lot more effective remaining behind the scenes. Going from his local record store ("No Limit Records") in Richmond, California to selling CDs and tapes out of the trunk of his car (and getting noticed in the process) to landing a nice distribution deal with Priority Records (which was a big deal at the time, and later included No Limit Films, clothing, toys, shoes, etc), P did major things and for better (and worse), he changed the game and influenced many independent labels that came afterwards, especially in the South. They had a hell of a run that most in the industry today would kill to have. Before I get to the albums (I'll only be covering the ones I've owned and/or heard), I want to touch on four things.


Lyrics

When it came to lyricism, top notch or not, this was never No Limit's strong point, and those familiar with their sound can testify to that. I'll go more into this as the post continues, but it goes without saying that Fiend, Mac, Mia X, Kane & Abel, Soulja Slim (RIP) and sometimes C-Murder and Mystikal brought whatever lyrical muscle there was to the tank.

Production




From left to right ---> Craig B, Carlos Stephens, KLC, O'Dell and Mo B. Dick


Ah. Beats By The Pound were the heart and soul of No Limit and a large part as to why the label was so successful. These 5 men provided trunk rattlin, thumpin, bass heavy beats that would define the No Limit sound. I remember when two of my cousins, Andre and Aaron (and myself) would buy the albums, the first things we would look for was a "soldier song", which was our term for a joint that had 5 or more artists on it, and seeing who produced it. Chances are if it was produced by KLC and/or Craig B, you were in a for a banger.

Promotion

P was good at promoting his label and he did this very effectively. The man knew how to sell his product to the masses. Two key factors were 1) the gold No Limit logo (pictured above) placed on the back of the jewel cases and 2) the promotion of upcoming albums in each album insert, as well as magazines and TV commercials. This was very strategic and it worked for a while. And speaking of those album covers, that leads me to the fourth section, lol.

Album covers

Created and designed by Pen & Pixel, their album covers were some of the most unique, overblown covers in hip hop history and you'll see why throughout this post.

(Although I no longer own these albums, I still remember them.)


THE DISCOGRAPHY


Pre 1996

Can you believe there was a time when Master P was considered an "underground artist"? This is true. He had to start somewhere and to this day, I have never heard any of his material prior to the release of "The Ghetto's Tryin To Kill Me" and I have no desire to track them down and check em out, not even out of curiousity. Going back to the "Ghetto's Tryin To Kill Me" album, I only heard it once and I doubt it has aged well after all these years. A young and unproven P was clearly trying to find his voice, and being that it was released in 1994, it largely fell on deaf ears, not only because he hadn't made a name for himself yet, but there were many other artists at the time who were rapping about the same topics and doing a better job at it. He stayed on the grind though, so you gotta respect that. 

Next up was 1995's "99 Ways To Die", which I did own. I only played it about 2 times when I had it, and the only song that stuck was "Rollin Thru My Hood", which featured the late Big Ed, Lil Ric, King George, and Silkk. Later in 95, the first TRU album was released and it was No Limit's first on a major label (Priority Records). The C-Bo assisted "That's How We Break Bread" and the southern classic "I'm Bout It, Bout It" (featuring Mia X) were two of the highlights from this album. There was another artist affiliated with P at the time by the name of Tre-8, and while I never heard his "Ghetto Stories" album, also released in 95, I do remember a song called "Fright Night", and let me tell you something, Tre's flow over that dope beat was tight as hell. Definitely YouTube that one if you've never heard it. 



1996
 With the Priority Records deal already in place, not only were they heading for major things in 96, but they maintained a distinctive West Coast/Bay Area sound, and some may still argue that this was their best period as far as music is concerned.



Well, this is the album that got the ball rolling for P and No Limit Records. The lead single, "Mr. Ice Cream Man" was a little too gimmicky for my tastes then and especially now, however, two standouts on this album were the UGK featured "Break Em Off Somethin" the sequel to "I'm Bout It, Bout It".  The rest of the album was your standard gangsta fare, nothing special about it. This was also the first album for P and the label to go platinum.  





 
Oh man, Silkk Tha Shocker. Nothing against the man personally, but he's one of the top 5 worst artists in hip hop history. His stop and go flow, seemingly going off beat and trying to catch back up with it, was not impressive at all. It's safe to say that the only reason he got put on was because he was Master P's younger brother, I doubt any label would've signed this cat. Regarding his debut, well, I've heard it once and it wasn't good. "Murder" (featuring Master P and Big Ed) and "It's On" were tight ONLY because the bangin beats and not the lyrical content. Let's move on to 1997 shall we.






 1997
No Limit's success continued in 1997. Their presence increased in the mainstream, the albums and singles kept coming and the promotion was on. 



This is the fourth TRU album overall and the first double disc for No Limit. Let me say something before I go any further, NONE of the double albums released on this label were justified in their length, not one. With the kind of material they were putting out, there's no way in the world such material warranted two discs. Honestly, this album would've been much better as a single disc. Starting with the first disc, the 7:04, KLC produced "No Limit Soldiers" is another southern classic. While P delivered his "usual" and Silkk came with a nonsensical verse, C-Murder and Mia X shined on this one. Now, I gotta rant on "I Always Feel Like" and "I Got Candy". Not only did I not care for those songs, but what makes it worse was that P jacked two classics in the form of Slave's "Watching Me" and Cameo's "Candy" and did nothing to expand on them. One can argue that Puff Daddy was doing the same thing at the time, but at least there was a musical element there that you didn't get at No Limit, if that makes sense. P was called one of the biggest biters ever, and I agree. "There Dey Go" and the Silkk solo "Pimp Shit" knocks in the system, their lyris were about as shake your head worthy as you can imagine.

Moving onto disc 2, "Heaven 4 A Gangsta", the original and the remix, were the wrong execution of the right idea if you ask me. "Freak Hoes" is one of those songs that was tailor made to bump in the southern clubs, and to be fair, P and UGK were already saying the word "twerk" before it became so popular in 2013. The show stealer on this disc was the C-Murder solo "Torcher Chamber". It was already clear at this point that C was the best rapper of the Miller brothers, but that's not saying a lot. Overall, it's ok, but still it would've been better as a single disc.






I'm including this one here, not because I heard the soundtrack (to this day I still haven't), but the movie itself is significant, not because of the content, but due to P starting the "Direct To Video", independent hip hop film. You can argue that Death Row Records got that ball rolling with 1994's "Murder Was The Case", but that was more or less an 18 minute video. This wouldn't be the last No Limit film.











Femcee Mia X was one of the brightest spots on a label with mostly men. She stood out due to her lyrics and energy, and some of the time she outshined the male artists on a track. This was her sophomore album and it's very good (I never heard 95's "Good Girl Gone Bad"). The opener "You Don't Wanna Go 2 War", a "soldier song" featuring P, C-Murder, Silkk and Mystikal, was hard as hell and KLC's beat bangs. Mystikal steals the show on this one too. Other good songs include the Foxy Brown assisted "The Party Don't Stop", "Who Got The Clout" (featuring Mystikal), "I'll Take Ya Man 97", a dope remake of the Salt N Pepa classic, "Ain't 2 Be Played Wit", "Let's Get It Straight", "Mama's Family" (featuring Fiend, Kane & Abel, KLC, Mac and, uh, Mr. Serv On") and the tribute to her deceased sister on "RIP Jill" round out a very good album. 









SMH, I'm not sure what the hell I was thinking buying a Mr. Serv On album, but I did. Simply put, this cat was NOT nice at all and the ONLY times he sounded dope was due to the production. "Let's Get It Started" is the opener, and although it's a soldier song, something was missing from this one. Mia X saves it with her verse. The only other song worth mentioning is "5 Hollow Points". Serv On gets outshined on his own track Kane & Abel, Mia X, Big Ed and Fiend, who provided the best verse. That's about it, but we'll be revisiting Serv On again, smh.









This was the biggest and most successful album of P's career, certified triple platinum (you see what the marketing and promotion will do). It was also the second No Limit album I purchased (on April 18, 1998). He only had ONE song on this album by himself, the other 18 came with features. I still don't like the song "Ghetto D" due to him jacking Eric B. & Rakim's "Eric B Is President", even though one can make the case that he and his brothers are not talking about making actual "crack", they're using that as a metaphor for "dope music". The other highlights, if you will, come solely due to the guest appearances and the beats. Mystikal steals the show on "Let's Get Em", Mac comes nice on "We Riders" (you should hear P's hilarious, off beat hook) and "Only Time Will Tell", "Come and Get Some" (featuring C-Murder and Prime Suspects), "Captain Kirk" (featuring Fiend, Mystikal and Silkk Tha Shocker, and on this one, Fiend and Mystikal drop dope verses) and of course, the hit single "Make Em Say Uhh!", featuring Silkk, Mia X, Fiend and Mystikal. KLC drops one of his most memorable beats and that's largely why this single did so well. This album has been considered a southern classic by most, and while I respect it, I don't agree with it.



Mystikal's No Limit debut (and second album technically) was good overall, and this was the very first No Limit album I purchased, on April 4, 1998. I remember the tight opener, "Born 2 Be a Soldier" (featuring P, Fiend, Mac and Silkk), the title track, the tribute to his deceased sister "Shine", the vengeful "Murder 2", "Ain't No Limit" (which should've just been him solo style), "The Man Right Chea", "We Got The Clout", the sequel to "Who Got The Clout" which features Mia X, "Dick on the Track" and "13 Years".










 
 
Stay tuned for Part 2.

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