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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.
This blog entry is a look back at one of New Orleans's more obscure hip-hip labels, Tombstone. Tombstone Records was a notable New Orleans Rap label in the 1990s that released a handful of high caliber releases that sold over 100,000 albums around the South in three years before abruptly ceasing operations after a series of cataclysmic misfortunes.
It was founded by Elton “June” Wicker Jr. Most of the production was done by Merrill “Real Roc” Robinson, who also worked for Mobo. Other production was done by Ice Mike and the one-and-only Mannie Fresh. The label's biggest commercial success was the uncontested "Queen of Bounce," Cheeky Blakk, whose 1996 album Let Me Get That Outcha was a massive local hit for Tombstone before she jumped ship for Total Respect. Tombstone apparently operated on a shoestring budget with pleasingly dinky synths, cheap album covers and no music videos -- but unlike many local New Orleans labels of the 1990s, Tombstone seems to have been more fully committed to the compact disc format than most of their peers, forsaking the cassette for almost every artist.
Most of Parkway Pumpin's associates never got around to recording with the label. Artists like Fiend, Mac (as Lil Mac The Lyrical Midget), Mystikal Mike (as Mystikal), Mr. Serv-On and Da Hound (Da Gert Town Hounds/Full Blooded) all went on to record popular records at No Limit without having anything released in their time at Parkway Pumpin'. Only one future No Limit Soldier did, Soulja Slim.
Untouchable Records was one of the many New Orleans rap lables that sprang up in the early nineties after the advent of bounce. A small label with a roster of musicians that, for the most part, came and went as they pleased, they nonetheless featured some of New Orleans' biggest, most notable talents. It was
started by Al "Rock" Capone; he also handled some of the production of the mostly downtown roster.
Most of their production was handled by Gary "Ozone" McKee, as well as the Tombstone-associated Merrill "Real Roc" Robinson, and even Cash Money's prolific genius, Mannie Fresh.
The first release on the label was Raw II Survive's West Syde Gz, produced by Merrill "Real Roc" Robinson, L.O.G. and Swift. With titles like "Crippin' in da Darkness" and "West Syde Gz," you might assume that it has a west coast sound. Rest assured, it's unmistakably New Orleans. It's also solid but not especially memorable, perhaps hampered by its very low budget sound.
Also released in 1994, 9th ward rapper Pimp Dogg's Forever Loaded (produced by Double O, San Quin and L.O.G.) is the winner of the two. I'm not sure who influenced who, but it's got a gangsta bounce sound at times very similar to Fila Phil with the dynamics of Mr. Ivan and 6-shot.
Lil Slim was one of the first artists to be signed to Cash Money Records. After a series of underground classics, he parted ways with the label. A couple of years later, CMR signed a multi-million dollar deal with Universal and the label's star, Juvenile, carried the new roster to success whilst Lil Slim receded into the shadows.
Lil Slim lived way out in the 17th Ward on New Orleans's western edge in Hollygrove, a small, lower middle class neighborhood that also was home to Big Boy (and later, No Limit) artist, Fiend. Representing the Apple and Eagle intersection, he brought his raps to audiences at Club 49, where he performed alongside UNLV and Soulja Slim. One day, Ziggler the Wiggler introduced them to Mannie Fresh, a young DJ from the 7th Ward who'd gained a measurable degree of local fame with rapper Gregory D. Shortly after, Lil Slim was introduced to Baby and Slim, brothers and co-owners of the fledgling Cash Money Records label. They signed Lil Slim and recorded his first album in Baby's kitchen.
His sophomore release, Powder Shop (1994) moved a bit more into a more narrative, Gangsta territory, creating a Gangsta/Bounce hybrid made popular by his labelmates, UNLV. Some of the highlights include "Eagle St. Bounce," "True to the Game" and "Powder Shop," the latter about a heroin operation. Like a lot of early-'90s New Orleans rap, heroin is the drug most often referenced -- which is a bit unsettling, especially when the rest of the rap world was mellowing with Indo, Chronic and gin 'n' juice. I guess all that dope in the Grunge scene had to come from somewhere. Listening to it now, it's shocking how much Lil Wayne and, even more so, (Young) Turk owe to his sound.