Hip-Hop That Breaks No Rules

Featuring Master P, Snoop Dogg, Mya and Mystikal, among others.

I've just heard an album that would make a pop culture-hating, critical

theory-spouting egghead named Theodore Adorno not just turn in his

grave, but rise from the dead and go on a murderous rampage. This

mid-century fuddy-duddy saw mass culture, and particularly pop music, as

being nothing more than a series of prefabricated formulas to be put

together in the form of pop music, radio and TV shows by a culture

industry that feeds the "mindless masses" in order to oil the capitalist

machine.

What does a dead honky who hated jazz have to do with Silkk the Shocker?

Quite simply, Master P and his proteges (such as his brother Silkk)

represent the logical conclusion of Adorno's theorizing. His

assembly-line approach to music is reflected in the large number of

yearly releases, generic artwork, sequels to songs, crafty

cross-promotion (in the form of numerous guest appearances and

advertisements for other No Limit albums on the CD packaging), and the

name of the in-house production team that churns out No Limit albums:

"Beats By the Pound."

You also might be wondering how I can get this far into a review and

speak so little about the music. The answer is that with No Limit, it's

not the music that matters, which is demonstrated by the fact that

virtually everything printed about No Limit has focused on Master P's

uncanny business sense. The music is, for the most part, about the

business. But what about the remaining part? Well, with Made Man,

there's not much to write home about.

The lead-off single, "It Ain't My Fault (part 2)," features No Limit

rapper Mystikal and the most annoying hook I've heard in a number of

years ("uh-oh!/ It ain't my fault/ DID I DO DAT?"). They even attempt

some Run-D.M.C.-style, bounce-the-verse-back-and-forth, tag-team

rapping, but end up merely spazzing out, throwing caution (and diction)

to the wind.

With a single that's so bad, one would expect an even worse album. But Shocker and company have positioned the bar so low that almost

anything sounds good -- "End of the Road," for instance. The song -- which jacks "Easy," by pop-schlockster Lionel Richie -- is a standard R&B/hip-hop

jam whose sentimental Richie riff and harmonizing by Sons of Funk

actually works when juxtaposed with the sad tales Silkk weaves

throughout the song. It's cheesy, but sometimes cheese works, especially

amidst an album full of thuggish, ruggish, sexist, gangsta-ism.

A brief aside: The use of "Easy" got me thinking, "What's up with this

new trend in hip-hop?" If, five years ago, I had told a bunch of critics

at The Source or Rap Pages that the next big thing in

hip-hop would be for hardcore MCs to take the goofiest songs of the past

few years and lay rhymes over them, I would have gotten a severe

beatdown, or at least a few laughs at my expense. In the past year, DMX

sampled Phil Collins, Tupac lifted from Bruce Hornsby and Jay-Z sampled

"Annie," Glenn Frey and the Waitresses -- the list goes on and on.

"All Because of You," featuring Mia X, is moderately amusing because of

the inclusion of a human beatbox and the hook from the oft-covered

"Sukiyaki" (most recently re-made into a hit in the mid-1990s by 4 PM).

The following song, "No Limit," is just plain weird with its

not-quite-drum-n-bass rhythms and barked, cheerleader-styled raps

("N!-O!-L!-I!-M!-I!-T!/ NO!/ LIMIT!"). It's the most unnatural sounding

song since Josey Wales attempted to marry country and western with

reggae dancehall on "Bush Wacked" back in 1997. And when "No Limit"

abruptly ends and the smooth, opening piano riff from "Easy" rolls from

the speakers, the effect is positively surreal.

The way elements are thrown together on Made Man is almost

avant-garde, in an unintentional way. It reminds me of conceptual art

generated by computer software that randomly tosses together cliched

elements of pop music to make "songs" that almost sound right, but not

quite. It's amusing and irritating at the same time, but mostly

irritating.


VMAs 2018