Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bullets Gots No Name

Master P "99 Ways To Die" (No Limit, 1995)

Master P "Bullets Gots No Name" (No Limit, 1995)

Wheels on the Tank is back again with the first record from the Tank's 5-Star General covered in this space.  99 Ways To Die is actually the third proper release from Master P (in addition to a couple of 12s), and the production remains on a strong West Coast vibe.  Beats are handled by the usual suspects from the early No Limit days:  E-A-Ski, CMT, Larry D., and K-Lou, though Bay Area O.G. Al Eaton lends his sampled funk to three tracks, as well.

This is a strong entry in the NL catalog that finds P refining his tales of the gangster lifestyle over thick, bass-heavy grooves and sinister synths on tracks like "17 Reasons" and "Dead Presidents", while "Baby Jesus" Eaton's electric piano and church organ vamps provide the backdrop for the thug lament of "When They Gone" (dedicated to Eazy-E who passed away earlier that year).

However, it is the title track that stands out as perhaps the most memorable and enduring on the album.  Larry D. lays down a fat, foreboding bass line (straight out of the World Class Wreckin' Cru playbook) and a woozy synth melody, as P lets the listener know there are 99 ways to die in his world...and only one way to stay alive.  It's a lifestyle that that leaves him searching for even the slightest of reprieves:  "Blood drippin' from my nose, I'm in a cold sweat/I done smoked this fool, can't sleep I need a cigarette."  It's clear that this lifestyle can take its toll on even a cold-blooded killer "dumpin' bullets in your back like young Scottie Pippen".

At the same time, though, P & Ski (along with Rally Ral) let you know that they won't hesitate to let 'tecs ring out on the Spice-1-sampling "Bullets Gots No Name":  "Hollow tips in ya, bang!/So duck when you hear that rat-tat-tat 'cause bullets got no name."  It's yet another example of how greatly the gangsta funk of early-90s West Coast artists influenced P and the pre-NOLA No Limit sound -- names like the RBL Posse and San Quinn don't usually come to mind when discussing this label, yet there they are sprinkled all over early compilations from the imprint.

But with that in mind, we'll be moving on from the Ski & CMT tenure behind the No Limit boards to the Beats By The Pound takeover, with a criminally slept-on artist who's 1995 album marks an important shift in the evolution of the Tank.  So check back here soon.

(All tracks ripped @ 320 kbps.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

The TRU Mind, Part I

The Real Untouchables "N**ga's From Cali" (prod. by E-A-Ski & CMT)(No Limit, 1992)

The Real Untouchables "Understanding The Criminal Mind" (prod. by E-A-Ski & CMT)

The Real Untouchables "Tell Them What's Going On" (prod. by Master P)

Originally an underground "super group" consisting of Master P, Big Ed, Silkk The Shocker, C-Murder, KG, Sonya C, Fonzo, Milkman, Markest Bank, King George, Mia X, Mr. Serv-On, and Daniel Fry, The Real Untouchables (TRU) released two LPs before No Limit relocated to New Orleans and P trimmed the roster to only himself, Silkk, and C-Murder.  (It should probably be noted, however, that some of these members failed to contribute verses to any of the TRU releases, and are probably better described as associates of Master P than as recording artists.)

Though far less heralded than 1995's classic True, Understanding The Criminal Mind features surprisingly soulful production from E-A-Ski, CMT, and P, himself, with K. Lou and Ken Franklin lending a hand with the mixing and engineering, respectively.

The tracks here typically feature chopped drum breaks, funk basslines, Marvin Gaye samples and even a "We Are the World" interpolation ("We are the world, we are the dealers...") -- which is to say, they bore little resemblance to the creeping, minimalist backdrops that Beats By the Pound would use to launch the label into multi-platinum status in the late-90s.

The lyrical content is straight gangsta rap and street tales, exemplified by tracks like "N**gas From Cali", "Fuck the System" ("no justice, no motherfuckin' peace, bitch!/Fuck, fuck, fuck the system"), "I Wear A Bullet Proof Vest" ("Big Ed in the back with the 9, bitch/And Silkk got the uzi sayin' let's do this shit") and the title track, though there is an attempt at "conscious" rap (filtered through the mind of Master P) in "Tell Them What's Going On" ("money and dope was a trade/but not enough money to save his mother from AIDs).  Though long out-of-print, this LP should appeal to any fan of early 90s West Coast g-funk, and can be found floating around in its digital form.

I'll be revisiting TRU's 1993 release, Who's Da Killer, in Part II later this week.

(All tracks ripped @ 320 kbps)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Getting "Deep N The Game"

Lil Ric f/ Mr. Brainy "Mobbin' Through the Town"

Lil Ric f/ G.R.O.P.E. "Step Above the Rest" (prod. by Larry D.)

When Master P (or his grandfather?) received a large insurance settlement just before the turn of the decade, the young entrepreneur used the money to open the No Limit storefront in Richmond, CA in 1988. After putting out his debut album Get Away Clean on In-A-Minute Records and distributing copies through his store, it didn't take long for P to cut out the middle man and begin pressing up his own product on the newly formed No Limit Records.

Middling sales of the label's early releases, however, were tempered with the regional success of P's West Coast Bad Boyz compilations, which featured tracks from Bay Area underground stars such as JT the Bigga Figga, Cougnut, Rappin' 4-Tay, Young Cellski, C-Bo and P's own group TRU. The goal was to organize the stars of the burgeoning Bay Area scene to showcase the wide-ranging talent of the region (something that P would prove incredibly adept at doing once moving his operation to New Orleans).

Tucked away among the "bigger" names on the that first compilation, Anotha Level Of Game, was Lil Ric -- a rapper/producer from Richmond. His self-produced track, "Mobbin Through the Town" would lead P to release Ric's debut full-length, Deep N Tha Game, on No Limit in 1994 (his only entry in the NL catalog). Produced almost entirely by Lil Ric (though JT the Bigga Figga and Larry D. lend their skills to two tracks), the record proved to be one of the strongest releases from the label's early years.

Featuring a sound that is decidedly top-down, block-cruising g-funk, Ric boasts on the strength of his game with tracks like "Real-2-Reel", "Playaz and Hustlaz", "Fuck A Bitch" with Silkk and C-Murder, and the Warren G-evoking, KC and the Sunshine Band sampling "Ride Wit' Me".

"Mobbin' Through the Town" f/ Mr. Brainy and "Step Above the Rest" f/ G.R.O.P.E.* showcase the best aspects of this record -- Ric's ability to easily ride laid-back, weed-infused cuts and then switch it up double-time when needed, and trunk-rattling bass -- and are two of the stronger cuts on an LP that is worthy of spinning front to back.

*Little can be found on G.R.O.P.E. (or Grope) beyond a feature on Lil Ric's It's Like Armageddon release on Noo Trybe Records in 1998, and a couple of features on records from C.I.N. and Mafioso. As always, any additional information is appreciated in the comments.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ooohhhweee! Here We Go.

(Click image for hi-res)

E-A-Ski "One Step Ahead of Yall"

E-A-Ski "Straight Business"

It's easy to dismiss much of the No Limit catalog as a "guilty pleasure" -- the cotton candy to Rap-A-Lot's steak dinner -- and is often pointed to by the so-called "rap purist" (along with Ca$h Money) as being responsible for the downfall of "real hip hop" in the 90s-00s. However, that argument paints a picture of the label with a brush that's far too wide.

The truth is, among the "uhh's" and shouts of "No Limit Soldier, I thought I told ya!" are some truly great rap records soundtracked by an in-house production team, Beats By the Pound, who developed a sonic landscape that would help sell millions of records. Now, maybe not every platinum release from the label stands the test of time, but undoubtedly Master P & co. were tapping into a sound that resonated with a hell of a lot of fans.

Unfortunately, many of these platinum releases are now out-of-print, and most of the early, pre-Priority releases never saw wide distribution. So with that in mind, this site will attempt to catalog the best of what the No Limit label has to offer -- the forgotten gems from Lil Ric, the full TRU roster, and Tre-8, to slept-on records from Fiend, Magic and Young Bleed -- and all the other good shit in between.

To start, here are two tracks from E-A-Ski's 1992 release 1 Step Ahead of Yall. The producer from Oakland was an original member of TRU, and dropped this record on "The Tank" (as well as a couple of 12"s along with CMT) before a falling out with P had them go their separate ways. The tracks showcase a heavily g-funk-influenced, West Coast sound that bore little resemblence to what the label would come to represent. (As you may remember, the label was located in Richmond, CA, where P's mother lived, until 1995.)

If anyone has additional information/corrections on early No Limit/In-A-Minute releases, please leave it in the comments. Thanks for coming through.

(Big thanks to Percy Mack for the audio.)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

I'm Going Big Time...Soon.

Wheels on the Tank: "Early, rare and forgotten records from P to E-A-Ski"