Entrepreneurial rap star Master P is making a lot of money by producing an easily recognizable and reproducible product. His independently owned No Limit Records releases a seemingly endless stream of albums with a style and content as reliable as a Big Mac or a Harlequin romance.
In the past six months, New Orleans-based No Limit has churned out at least seven new releases. And by the time you read this, it will have released two more albums, an all-star (or at least, all-its-stars) basketball tribute and a double album by Tru, the hitmaking trio of Master P and his two brothers, Silkk the Shocker and C-Murder. Recent No Limit releases have been uneven, suggesting that the label is putting out too much material too fast.
Snoop Dogg: 'No Limit Top Dogg'
With "No Limit Top Dogg," the new album by Snoop Dogg (formerly Snoop Doggy Dogg), No Limit alters its trademark formula in an attempt to woo Snoop fans who preferred the California funk of his hip-hop classic "Doggy Style" to the New Orleans bounce of his No Limit debut, last year's "Da Game Is to Be Sold, Not to Be Told." This time, not every cut is produced by No Limit's in-house production assembly, the aptly named Beats by the Pound. "No Limit Top Dogg" finds Snoop working with Dr. Dre, his original mentor and producer of "Doggy Style," as well as several other California-based producers, including Meech Wells, Ant Banks, ex-Toni Tony Tone front man Raphael Saadiq, and D.J. Quik.
The Dre-produced tracks "Just Dippin' " and "Buck 'Em," which recalls Mobb Deep's oft-sampled "Shook Ones Part II," easily rank with the best Snoop-Dre collaborations. But Snoop also sounds vital on the bass-bumping, Wells-produced "My Heart Goes Boom," and the Quik-produced "Don't Tell," a fluid funk number about infidelity that features some of the best and unfortunately uncredited female backing vocals in hip-hop.
A studied hip-hop historian, Snoop often includes well-chosen remakes for his albums. "Doggy Style" included a version of "La Di Da Di" originally done by Snoop's stylistic godfather Slick Rick. And "Top Dogg" includes two hip-hop covers, "Snoopafella," an update of Dana Dane's "Cinderfella," and "Ghetto Symphony," a cover of Marley Marl's mid-1980s posse cut, "The Symphony," which featured some of the biggest hip-hop hitmakers of the day. "Ghetto Symphony," one of the album's few cuts helmed by Beats for the Pound and featuring Snoop's No Limit pals Mia X, C-Murder, Fiend, Silkk the Shocker and Mystikal, works like the best posse cuts where the rappers' varying styles create a gripping roller coaster ride of ups and downs, stops and starts, sprints and lulls.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8151.)
Mo B. Dick: 'Gangsta Harmony'
If flat, whiny singing is your R&B bent, then Mo B. Dick is for you. But uninitiated listeners beware, as the liner notes state: "A thorough analysis of this project should bring 4th an understanding among those whom R classified as, or consider themselves 'Gangsta.' " Most listeners will just hear a bunch of poorly crafted love songs, sex songs, one well-intentioned tune against domestic violence and melodramas such as "As the Ghetto Turns," which have nothing on current R&B soap operas such as R. Kelly's "When a Woman's Fed Up."
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8152.)
'Foolish: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack'
How indeed foolish was it for No Limit to release a soundtrack featuring several '70s soul classics, and, as is No Limit custom, not to list the artists on the back cover of the CD. How are consumers to know if "Aqua Boogie (a Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)," "Let's Get It On," "For the Love of Money" and "Jungle Boogie" are the soul and funk smashes by Parliament, Marvin Gaye, the O'Jays, and Kool & the Gang, respectively, and not covers by such No Limit acts as Fiend, Porsha, Short Circuit or Mercedes? Just as every food product must include a label of ingredients, so should every CD. Thankfully, these are indeed the original versions of those hits.
"Foolish" also includes such contemporary offerings as two compelling Tupac-like numbers by C-Murder, another riling anthem by Mystical, and "Whatchanogood" by Mia X, the only No Limit star who doesn't release enough material. In the song, New Orleans native Mia X does D.C. proud by boldly flowing over a live and authentically low-fi go-go track.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8153.)
Lil Soldiers: 'Boot Camp'
There's nothing cute about the debut "Boot Camp" by Lil Soldiers, the rap duo of New Jersey-bred brothers Ikeim, 9, and Freequan, 7. Their somewhat shrill prepubescent mumbling makes the songs nearly incomprehensible, and given the lyrical content, that's for the best. Though they manage a few playful lines on "Where the Little Souljas At," a youthful take on Master P's stirring hit, "Hot Boys and Hot Girls," their boasts about being light-skinned and having the same father as their brother are much more distasteful than hip-hop's usual boasts about who has the most money and who has real hair. For an album aimed at kids, this seems like the perfect place for No Limit to have drawn the line.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8154.)
CAPTION: Snoop Dogg reunites with mentor Dr. Dre on "No Limit Top Dogg."
CAPTION: Poorly crafted songs mark "Gangsta Harmony" by Mo B. Dick, left, while shrill rapping makes much of Lil Soldiers' "Boot Camp" incomprehensible.