Gangsta rap stumbled somewhere between Biggie and Jeezy. This collection is a lumbering reminder of that dry spell.
For better or worse, Master P’s No Limit Records represented the lowest common denominator in hip-hop. Sure, the label/aesthetic managed to revitalize Snoop’s persona years before “Drop It Like It’s Hot” dropped and, right, if customized ring tones had been available back in 1997, “Make ‘Em Say Ugh” would’ve likely spent a month or two on my cell. Then again, remember that stretch in the late ‘90s and early 2000s when most of us decided that gangsta rap had run its course, before T.I. and the Game, among others, took over and steered the ship back in the right direction? No Limit was, first and foremost, the reason why this looked to be the case for a minute there.
Master P seemed to actively court and encourage rap’s worst tendencies and impulses; bloated “all-star” tracks, reflexive misogyny, mindless cash worship, Mystikal, etc. And as full-time businessmen, part-time MC’s go, Master P makes Diddy look like Rakim. Featuring…Master P is consequently at its best (which still isn’t especially good, mind you) when he lets his more skilled employees and/or colleagues (Ice Cube on “You Know I‘m a Ho“, Snoop on “Soldiers, Riders, and G’s”, Eightball on “Pure Uncut”) carry the weight of bringing substance or, you know, at least style.
The rest of the comp belongs to names better forgotten such as Silkk the Shocker (credited on -- yikes! -- 10 of Featuring…Master P‘s 18 tracks), C-Murder, and, again, Mystikal, who’s as damn near unlistenable as you remember him being. (Oh, and none of those songs is the kinda-classic-in-spite-of-itself “Shake Ya Ass”.) Since gangsta rap was so fruitful a form in the early and mid ‘90s, and is again at the moment, it’s all too easy to not remember that it stumbled somewhere between Biggie and Jeezy. This collection is a lumbering reminder of that dry spell.
Of course, in a roundabout sort of way, No Limit’s moment in the sun also forecasted the impending creative and commercial rise of Southern rap. Yet while Master P and his closest associates hail from New Orleans, nothing here holds up alongside the gold standard achieved by the rival Cash Money crew, specifically Crescent City natives Lil Wayne and Juvenile. That’s no accident, nor can it be attributed exclusively to considerable discrepancies in overall talent. Master P was, quite simply, never in the business of producing imaginative, challenging rap records.
He pushed product, sometimes charismatically, always crassly, and with a better eye for market trends than an ear for good music. It’s fair to assume that, at the end of the day, No Limit Records meant no more to him than No Limit Clothing, No Limit Films, or No Limit Sports Management. Or, rather, that the degree of affection he held for each was determined precisely by which was yielding sweeter profits during a given quarter. That’s the way to win Forbes‘ heart, to be sure; at one point in the late ‘90’s, they recognized Master P as the tenth highest-paid figure in entertainment. But why exactly am I supposed to give a shit?