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By now, anyone that reads this blog and is a fan of the many, great New Orleans labels that sprouted in the fertile hip-hop delta back in the '90s may've wondered why no Cash Money thusfar. Well, I've been working on it but the greatest of labels required a lot of work. Hope you enjoy... wodie.
Back in the 1980s, the New Orleans Rap scene began to take root with early rappers like Tim Smooth, Warren Mayes, Ninja Crew and New York Incorporated all making noise. The latter act featured Mia X, Denny D, DJ Wop and Mannie Fresh and was probably the first rap group in the city. After their dissolution, Fresh hooked up with former Ninja Crew member Gregory D and they released a handful of influential, if not very widely promoted records.
At first CMR only had one artist, the fifteen-year-old Kilo-G. His debut album, The Sleepwalker (1992), was produced by Ro and Goldfingers. Unlike their rivals, Take Fo', who favored good-time bounce music, Kilo-G's Cash Money debut was all gorey, blood-soaked horrorcore. Before they relied on local distributors like Gonzales Music and SouthWest Distribution, the Williams brothers sold copies out of their car. In bounce-loving New Orleans, the Scarface-indebted The Sleepwalker only sold a couple thousand copies.
Serendipitously, the Williams brothers were introduced by Ziggler to Wiggler to a 7th ward resident, DJ Mannie Fresh, who’d recently returned to New Orleans after a stint as understudy to famed innovative house music DJ/producer Steve “Silk” Hurley (after ending his partnership with Gregory D in frustration over the way the major label handled their career). Although Fresh would at first frequently produce releases for other local labels, he became Cash Money’s in-house producer, ultimately helping them sell some 23 million records and making all of their large output during their creative heyday.
Fresh's first effort with the label was with PxMxWx (Projects' Most Wanted -- and Iberville being the project in question). PxMxWx was essentially rapper Big Man, hype man Big Heavy and Black Jack. Their debut album, Legalize "Pass the Weed" (1993), also featured new signees Lil Slim, U.N.L.V. and Mr. Ivan as well as Port Arthur, Texas's Bun B of UGK fame.
However, PxMxWx's release came after that of U.N.L.V.'s 6th & Barrone (1993). The uptown-based U.N.L.V. (from... 6th & Barrone) was initially Reginald "Tec-9" Manuel and Yaphet "Lil Ya" Jones, who formed in 1992 and performed at block parties, clubs and gong shows. Almost immediately after their formation they were joined by the charismatic, unpredictable, drama-courting Albert "Yella Boi" Thomas. With Mannie Fresh's bounce-inflected production and their call-and-response vocals, they created a recognizably New Orleans style of bounce-infused gangsta rap, sometimes referred to as "gangsta bounce." With popular songs like "Eddie Bow," it was much more successful than Kilo-G's record, reportedly selling 40,000 with barely any promotion. It also notably included the track "UNLV Style" which accused Partners-N-Crime of jacking their style and was thus the opening salvo in CMR's long-running war with Big Boy Records.
Hollygrove's Lil Slim (representing Apple and Eagle) is one of New Orleans's most underrated rappers and the uncredited influence of his style can be heard in later label successes like Lil Wayne (whom he discovered) and especially Turk. Slim performed in Club 49 alongide another "slim," the Magnolia Slim (later Soulja Slim). The Game Is Cold (1993), is also noteworthy for its inclusion of Pimp Daddy, a local bounce rapper of considerable importance and popularity. As far as I know, this is a tape-only Cash Money album (recorded in Baby's kitchen), which may account for its rarity and the fact that the picture used here is the only one you can find on the net.
Another release that year featured Pimp Daddy too, Ms. Tee's Chillin' on tha Corner. Her stuff is the only early Cash Money stuff I just don't feel. See, Tee was the hook-singing songstress of the label and there's nothing wrong with that, I just never much liked post-New Jack Swing R&B - especially when dominated by vocal runs. Any love I have for R&B went out with stuff like SOS Band, Starpoint, RenÃ© & Angela and Cherelle.
Last and, to be fair, least; Baby (as B-32) released I Need a Bag of Dope. It's honestly not a bad album. In fact, it's better than the rap efforts of most label heads. But Baby would go on (in my opinion) to find a distinct and superior voice in Big Tymers and in his later solo career. Here, Baby only raps/toasts/talks on four songs (which sound like Pimp Daddy had a hand in them) but Mannie Fresh's three instrumentals, occasionally reflecting his experience with Steve Hurley, make it well worth tracking down.
9th Ward star Edgar "Pimp Daddy" Givens released his debut, Still Pimpin' in 1994. Explaining Pimp Daddy's genius isn't an easy task. You have to listen to this album to get it and even then, maybe you won't. At the time, Pimp Daddy was dating Cash Money's Ms. Tee but another rapper, ex-Mobo/then-current Tombstone (and Mannie Fresh-produced) "queen of bounce" Cheeky Blakk claimed to have mothered his child. Not long after, he was shot in the face and killed in the Florida projects after an argument.
U.N.L.V.'s second album, Straight Out Tha Gutta (1994-Cash Money Records) benefitted from cleaner production and was an even bigger success, selling 60,000 on the strength of jams like "Pussy C'mon Too Me!!" and "Bad Ass Yella Boy." On the other hand, "Bangin With My 'Pump'" is well disturbing.
Alonzo "Mr. Ivan" Newton, from Congress St. in the 9th Ward, is another of Cash Money's under-appreciated rappers, although it wasn't for want of effort, with Ivan memorably performing live in a hockey mask. 187 In a Hockey Mask (1994) is solid all the way through and showcases his dynamic style in a manner somewhat reminiscent of fellow hyper-energized rappers 6 Shot and Mystikal.
Lil Slim's Powder Shop (1994) moved away from the bounce a bit into a more narrative, gangsta-leaning territory. It was another solid release with the classic "Eagle St. Bounce."
To me, PxMxWx's High Life (1994) was much more enjoyable than his debut. Not to say the debut's not good -- it is -- but (even though I no longer puff) this album still gives me a contact high.
In 1995, Mystikal jumped ship from Big Boy and signed with Jive, but the beef raged on. Shortly after moving to New Orleans from Richmond, California, Master P hired the talent from Parkway Pumpin' and released No Limit's Down South Hustlers: Bouncing and Swingin' (the first double rap CD). In the process, he helped get the attention of the major labels and the nation at large, who'd previously ignored to New Orleans.
Meanwhile, at Cash Money, many of the earliest rappers released what would be their final albums for the label as the Williams brothers began to purge most of the talents that helped establish the label, claiming that drugs kept them from being hungry enough to expand the label's presence beyond New Orleans. For their part, the departing artists alleged that the Suge Knight-disciple was screwing them out of their fair share.
Kilo G's The Bloody City (1995) (with appearances from Bun B and Pimp C as well as Lil’ Slim, M$. Tee, and Tec-9) was, as to be expected with Mannie Fresh on the boards, a huge improvement over his first record. Not only was it better production-wise, but Kilo-G had grown more assured and skilled as a rapper too. Although still mostly gangsta, his songs were more grounded in reality and in a song like "Coasting," where he sings about his son and parents, he comes off as much more reflective and mature, especially for his eighteen years.
On Lil Slim's Thug'n & Pluggin (1995), Mannie Fresh's production made more concessions to West Coast styles on G-Funk-flavored tracks like "Bitches Ain't Shit," "Gangsta Day," "Shakem Up Shakem," "Time to Murder" and the excellent "Hands on My Gun." But there's still a lot of N.O. in "Live in Club Rolex (Real High)" with its heavy use of the triggerman beat and "Neighborhood Terror."
U.N.L.V.'s Mac Melph Calio (1995) was another certified banger and sold 80,000 copies. To me, it's not their best... but it's got its charms, not the least being the scary-ass cover.
I have listened to Ms. Tee's Having Thing$!! (1995). It's just not for me. But that's not meant to discourage you from seeking her albums out. If you like ol school Mannie Fresh and '90s R&B, you'll probably love it. Actually, I think I prefer Hot Girl, the album that she released with Untouchable.
On the other hand, the debut from Tec-9's (from U.N.L.V.) Straight From the Ramp!!! (1995) is great. The brash, attention-grabbing Yella Boy tended to get all the attention on U.N.L.V. releases but Straight From the Ramp!!!, is just so good it's too hard to choose even one or two or three highlights.
As Cash Money began to get rid of its early roster, it began to invest in younger rappers with presumably and potentially longer careers and more controllable personalities. At the time, their newest investment was two youngsters, thirteen-year-old Lil Doogie (Christopher "B.G." Dorsey) and eleven-year-old Gangsta D (D'Wayne "Lil Wayne" Carter). Though credited as a duo, the B.G.z' Tru Story (1995) (with only three songs featuring the future Lil Wayne) is owned by the future B.G., who sounds remarkably fully-formed and much as he does now. On the other hand, Wayne sounds like the eager elementary school student he was.
1996 was the year No Limit Records signed a $30 million deal with Priority. In July, the Williams brothers' father died at 75 from injuries sustained in a car accident. Mannie Fresh did a little outside production, notably for Untouchable Records' Bone Thuggish rapper 211 (among others) but at Cash Money, a new sound he debuted with U.N.L.V. was one small step for a label, and one giant leap for music-kind.
On U.N.L.V.'s Uptown 4 Life (1996), Fresh created an amazing electronic landscape for the rappers, who turn one track into what is without a doubt one of the greatest songs in rap history, "Drag 'Em "N" Tha River." Of course, cultural watchdogs and other haters hate on anything that doesn't rely simply on scratchin' and samplin', but that's just haters being haters. Uptown 4 Life sold 200,000 copies and local bounce legend Juvenile decided, after hearing it, to come to Cash Money.
The B.G.s released their second record, the classic Chopper City (1996), which sold roughly 25,000 copies. Although credited to The B.G.s, in reality it's even more of a Dorsey solo record as Wayne recovered after shooting himself in the chest and was taken off the label for a while by his concerned mom. With just Lil Doogie pictured on the cover, blithefully unconcerned with the rain of enormous bullets falling around him, listeners began to associate the name B.G. with Doogie and he became the B.G. Three years later, both of The B.G.z' albums were re-released and re-credited, this time solely to B.G.
Pimp Daddy's Pimp'n Ain't E-Z (1996) came out a couple years after his untimely death. Obviously some of the songs date from before his death but others are more of a tribute in nature and reflect Mannie Fresh's then-new style.
Ms. Tee released Female Baller (1996), which is (absolutely no disrespect intended) the only Cash Money of the era that I've never listened to. As I already said, her brand of R&B isn't my thing. Once again, all you R&B heads, check it out and let me know what I'm missing. Recently, she and Magnolia Shorty have been collaborating as the Gutta Girls which I will give a fair shake to.
Shortly after the new year, on January 15th, Kilo-G was shot and killed in his 7th Ward home. He was only twenty years old.
U.N.L.V. were let go from Cash Money but didn’t go quietly. Yella Boy supposedly pistol-whipped Baby and shot holes in one of his trucks as it was parked in front of the Melpomene projects. In April, after having bought some dope from a certain D-boy, Yella Boy was shot and killed in his vehicle while parked near Washington and Dryades. He was only twenty-two years old. Cash Money moved on.
Magnolia Shorty's Monkey on tha D$ck (1997) was the final throwback to Cash Money's earliest years. It's a collection of crude, sexual bounce with an album cover as bizarre and disturbing as any in history -- and yet it may contain the secrets of the universe.
After first gaining fame with bounce pioneer DJ Jimi, Juvie had undertaken a short and creatively stifling major label career for New York-based Warlock. With the sour taste of the industry in his mouth, he relegated his rap career to doins and club gigs (often at the French Quarter House of Blues) whilst working odd jobs during the day. After he heard U.N.L.V.'s “Drag ‘Em ‘N’ tha River,” he knew he wanted to rap over Fresh's beats. After Lil Ya set up a deal with Baby, Juvie signed and soon after delivered Solja Rags (1997-Cash Money). Although Juvie's never made a less-than-good album, Solja Rags captures the heart and souls of hundreds of thousands of soljas who donned solja rags in solidarity and helped it sell 200,000 copies.
With B Gizzle and Juvie riding high, the label formed the Hot Boys with them, newcomer Turk and the recently-returned Lil Wayne. At the end of the year they released Get It How U Live!! (1997), which sold about 75,000. By then, Cash Money was just them, Baby and Mannie Fresh. The latter two formed Big Tymers, who dropped How You Love That (1998). I've still got the T-Shirt. How you love that?
On June 24, 1999, Cash Money's muscle, "Gangsta" (Terrence E. Williams), was sentenced to life plus 240 years for "continued criminal enterprise" and "conspiracy to solicit murder." By that point, Sterling, Dooney and Mosquito were all dead.
Few could've guessed that Cash Money, apparently reduced from major regional player to a vanity label for Birdman and Lil "Birdman Jr" Wayne would continue into the next millennium. However you feel about Cash Money's post-Universal-deal output, they're so big now that probably few of their new fans even know anything about their independent years.