Hate him or love him, no one can deny that Master P changed the game.
In today’s digital age of albums struggling to sell, it’s hard to recall a time when tapes and CD’s flew off of store shelves. For Master P and his once mighty No Limit Records, the second half of the 1990’s were a boom time not seen before or since in the music business. With sheer will, a stunningly supportive distributor (Priority Records, who only kept 15% of sales for their services—half of what iTunes and Amazon keep today on albums they don’t even have to press and ship), and an armload of raucous hits (“Bout It Bout It,” “Make ‘Em Say Uhh!,” “Wobble Wobble,” etc.), P turned himself, his lengthy label roster, and eventually the entire Southern region into the focal point of a culture previously obsessed with East versus West.
Once unknown locals from P’s native New Orleans like Fiend, Mia X, Mac and Mr. Serv-On shockingly debuted at the top of the charts and procured gold and platinum plaques almost instantly–they had to; due to No Limit’s frenetic release schedule there was a new releasing bearing the label’s gold-emblazoned tank logo dropping almost every week.
The “Ice Cream Man” not only revolutionized retail, but the approach of aspiring artists and label heads nationwide. For better or for worse, Master P wannabe’s sprung up across the country. D-boys who became overnight CEO’s of local labels in—what would prove to be—the waning days of slanging self-made CD’s on street corners adopted P’s assembly-line approach to creating and distributing their product—complete with replicas of P’s gaudy, computer-generated Pen & Pixel album covers adorning their own mass-produced interpretations of the rowdy tunes crafted by No Limit’s in-house collective of on-call producers, Beats By The Pound.
Some of those P clones jumped behind the mic as well, proudly identifying themselves not as “emcees” but as “hustlers” rhyming solely for profit. P’s reinterpretation of the “rapper” planted the seeds that would be harvested by future hustlers-turned-spitters Young Jeezy, French Montana, Gucci Mane and countless others.
And while there were an enumerable amount of No Limit detractors enraged by Master P’s seeming treatment of culture as merely commerce to match the masses influenced by his new business model, there were millions of loyal supporters showing up to mom-and-pop record stores every Saturday to get the few-day jump on the rest of mall-shopping mainstream America’s consumption of everything “The Colonel” was selling. The then $350 million man successfully sold everything not nailed to the ground, releasing albums from random newcomers (Lil Italy anyone?) to star free agent signings (Mystikal and Snoop Dogg) until, in what seemed like an instant, his empire came crashing down.
Roughly a dozen years after his monument to the power of self-starting collapsed in on itself, HipHopDX spoke to the head of the recently rebranded No Limit Forever record label and got the jaw-dropping story straight from Master P’s mouth of how the most successful commercial run of any label in Hip Hop history essentially ended when the then record company CEO/CBA player (and NBA tryout) decided his company’s sonic architects were “some old shoes” he couldn’t continue rocking. While at times audibly disgusted with having to deal with decade-old grievances still being levied at him by some former “No Limit Soldiers” (and one former member of the Cash Money army), P remained remarkably forthcoming during his discussion with DX – even providing his previously-reported revelation that he talked to Tupac about jumping aboard the tank.
One-third of the Louie V Mob (along with Atlanta’s Alley Boy and D.C.’s Fat Trel) additionally discussed his just-released Al Capone mixtape (which serves as the free warm-up to P’s first digital album, Boss Of All Bosses), his parental guidance of Chief Keef, and his disdain for “new niggas wearing dresses” in a must-read interview for any longtime No Limit supporter—or even any nauseated No Limit hater. Uhh! Na na na na.
Master P Discusses Starting Over And “Dress-Wearing,” Remarks
HipHopDX: Did you ever think back when No Limit was selling an album every couple of weeks, something like 20 million copies just in 1998 alone, that we would ever reach the day where you’d have to give the shit away for free?
Master P: You gotta be able to change with the times and what’s going on. Instead of me going on what I did 10, 15 years ago, I’m like, “If you gonna be relevant in 2013, you gotta start all over from the beginning, from the bottom.”
I don’t want no fringe benefits of what I did. ‘Cause, I feel like I got back in this game [to compete], and your swag gotta be right. You gotta be able to be relevant with this generation. And I think that’s what I was able to create with this Al Capone album; not trying to be like, “Oh, I’m an artist that sold 75 million records.” It’s like I’m reintroducing myself to a whole new generation of music buyers. It’s almost like the street thing. If you know me, the “Ice Cream Man,” you know I’ma give you the first one for free anyway.
DX: On “Brick To A Million” from the Al Capone mixtape, you note that the game done changed in more ways than one: “New niggas wearing dresses / Fuck it, I ain’t scared to address it / Gangsta niggas on skateboards.” Since you ain’t scared to address it, break down why you went after the youngn’s and the shit that they’re wearing and doing?
Master P: I think a lot of people took that as I’m going after the youngn’s, but I’m really not; even though we definitely on a different time zone as far as street artists right now.
That record was made for this program director that come to the job, a young dude. He on his skateboard, [and] he got like one of those look like mini type of skirt; plaid type of things going on and he think he a real dude. And this same dude was trying to tell me my career done, like I can’t do this. And I’m like, “C’mon man, really?”
Master P Explains His Empathy For Chief Keef And Abandoning Positive Rap
DX: You are showing some love to one notable name from the new generation: Chief Keef. Sosa surfaces on “It Don’t Make No Sense” on Al Capone. And on Game’s “HVN4AGNGSTA” you made a point of mentioning how Keef is just trying to eat. Why did you feel the need to speak up and defend the kid?
Master P: When you look at a Chief Keef—you could look at a Master P, you could look at all the artists that come from the streets—eventually you gon’ get it, you gon’ understand. And I just feel like that’s a reflection of us. We come from the Calliope Projects; it coulda went any way for us.
These kids just trying to make it. If you listen to all my old music, I’m just a ghetto kid trying to make it. And as you get there, you get some money, [and] you gonna evolve into something else once you able to see a different side of life. So first time you go through that process to where you get the money, and then that next process you gon’ start realizing how valuable you are.
We could also use this generation as a disposable bottle, and you could just get rid of ‘em as they come. And that’s what the game will do to an artist like Chief Keef, if you don’t have the right people on your team and the right people fighting for you. These some young kids [that] if we show ‘em something else they gon’ be alright. They gon’ do what they need to do. Sosa is a very talented young dude.
DX: Do you feel like that parental need, since you got kids? Do you feel like a parent when you’re around Keef?
Master P: I feel like a parent around any generation of street music that came after me. And I just feel like it’s my duty that I’m gonna give ‘em that blueprint, show ‘em the dos and the don’ts, the good’s and the bad’s, the mistakes I made, the good things I did, if they willing to listen.
DX: Now, you know there are gonna be some folks that are gonna question your alliance with a cat like Keef and your return over these last couple of years to making that gutta street shit. So I have to just bluntly ask, do you think you were setting a better example for the new generation with the curse-free positive Rap you dabbled in a few years back? Is that the way you should of kept going, or do you feel like you can mold more young minds by speaking to ‘em in their language, by giving ‘em some of that ghetto d?
Master P: This is the only way. Think about it. I can’t change who I am; I tried.
I tried for society to say “P man, try to do something.” I can’t; this my God-given talent. I’m not a preacher or nothin’ like that, [so] this the way I talk to my people that come from the gutta, come from where I come from. And the only way they get to hear me is they gon’ have to be able to relate to me, and they know that I’m relevant and they know that I’m real.
Master P Breaks Down The Collapse Of No Limit Records
DX: I referenced your classic 1997 album in that last question, so if you don’t mind let’s take it back to them late ‘90s days for a quick second to once and forever deal with some matters from No Limit’s past. First, Mia X told me during her 2009 HipHopDX interview that you “had decided to pursue a whole thing in basketball. And, No Limit, we was used to being just together. It was a family unit. We were very close. And when he decided to play basketball he had to bring in an unfamiliar staff. And so a lot of things just started to like breakdown.” Did something as seemingly unrelated as basketball really bring down the most successful commercial run of any label in Hip Hop history?
Master P: Nah. I think that people gotta look at...I’m not God, man. I’m just a person that go through trials and tribulations, good times, bad times. So I think everybody gonna use an excuse of what it was.
Music is a time period. It last [but] for so long. I feel that our sound wasn’t the same. There was a new era of sound coming on, and that’s what it was. It was either you gonna get in there and find that next new sound and be a part of that next movement [or stall out.] Having a ten year run at what we did was great. Most people get a one or two-year [run], just have one hit record. I think what we did is greater than any other company has done in the music business, as far as a run. But then you have to go back and be able to regroup. Sometimes it might take a little time or whatever.
[Plus] everybody wanna do different things. Mia X decided to do different things that she liked to do. Once you successful, it’s a process. It’s like being a kid: you gonna go through adolescence, [and then] turn into a man, turn into a woman. So I just think that we went through a changing of the guard, as far as the music business, where somebody else got a chance to get it and they caught the [wave] and that’s how it go.
You just can’t stay with what you have because [times change]. And that’s something that we didn’t do. If we stayed on there to start searching cross the country to find the next talent, then you keep something like that going. But you can’t just last with the people that you have. ‘Cause you do get older; some people swag don’t be the same; some people not as hungry as they used to be. And so I think to make a movement keep going like that, you have to go find the next new young talent. And we didn’t do that. We relied on the older talent that we had.
DX: Is that why you didn’t wanna negotiate with Beats By The Pound, which they claim caused them to bounce and basically led Fiend, Mystikal, etc. to follow them out the door?
Master P: Yeah. I mean, it wasn’t no reason to renegotiate ‘cause they had the same sound. It was time to move on. Why would I renegotiate with something that I know it’s passed its time? That’s like buying some old shoes that you already done wore; you can’t do nothing with ‘em.
DX: I don’t know, me personally, after I heard Fiend’s “The Baddest” for the first time I woulda been like, Y’all can have as much muthafuckin’ money as y’all want. [Laughs]
Master P: Well, I mean, how many records [does] Fiend sell right now?
It was business. It sounds good what you saying, but the numbers don’t add up. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing right now. I’m not sitting around talking about what I did ten years ago; I’m doing something about my career right now. And I think that’s what everybody should be doing if they have talent. If you don’t have talent you gon’ play the blaming game. And I’m not doing that, because I wish everybody well. Everybody at the time, I think we did the best that we could do as an organization. And now it’s time to move on. Now you gon’ either be a coach or go try to find your swag and be able to maintain, which that’s hard to do for a lot of artists.
Master P Reveals He Talked To Tupac About Becoming A No Limit Soldier
DX: Let me just ask you one more question from No Limit past. I’ve always been curious to know, were there any other big names besides Snoop Dogg that you tried to sign to the tank during them days? Any other big free agents that you tried to bring over?
Master P: [Pauses] Uh … to be honest wit’chu, at one time, I was thinking about signing Tupac.
DX: When you were still out in Richmond [California]?
Master P: Yep. I was thinking about [it], ‘cause he was in Oakland and really just getting together. He was liking the movement of what we was doing, but we wasn’t fully there yet. So, it was like, we doing our thing, and people just would see it. And, that was one little piece that I was looking at like, “You know what? This could be alright.”
DX: Did you get a chance to talk to Tupac directly?
Master P: Yeah.
DX: And, do you remember if he was interested?
Master P: Everybody was interested in No Limit. I don’t think there was one person in the music business that wasn’t interested in being a part of that movement.
DX: This is some new information; I was under the impression you and ‘Pac had never really conversed, that y’all were in the same Bay Area but that you guys had never really crossed paths.
Master P: Me and [C-Murder], we opened up for Tupac at first, going on tour. So we go way back with them, mayne.
Master P Talks Mystikal’s Cash Money Signing And Mannie Fresh’s “Bout It” Claims
DX: Well I asked that previous question as a bad segue to asking you what your initial thoughts were when you heard Mystikal had signed to Cash Money?
Master P: I was happy for Mystikal, but at the time I wasn’t doing nothing. And Cash Money, they was on the top of they game. I thought it made sense for the type of talent that Mystikal has, to be with who ever best at that time. And I think that this was something that they probably always wanted. They knew the type of talent Mystikal has and was like, “Shit, put him on our team.” You don’t wanna go against Mystikal, ‘cause he’s that talented.
I thought it was a good move for him. But, sometimes too, you gotta look at the sound. So, it’s all timing.
DX: I think a lot of folks expected you to feel a different kind of way about Mystikal doing that.
Master P: Why?
DX: Due to the long history…
Master P: But me and Mystikal like brothers, man. Sometimes you gotta do what’s best for you and your family. So, it ain’t no hatin’ stuff over here. I got real love and respect for Mystikal. I wanna see him be successful and do what he doing. At the time, I wasn’t [in the game] hard like I’m in it now. If I was, then he’d be right here. But I wasn’t. You can’t dwell on that. You don’t see me dwelling on the past. We playing chess over here, we not playing checkers. We making moves. And like they say in The Bible, you gotta be able to celebrate other people’s success. So, I’ve always celebrated people’s success. I just hope people can celebrate mines, ‘cause 2013, this ours.
DX: Did you celebrate Cash Money’s success? Let me just bluntly ask, ‘cause you know people been wanting to know for years…
Master P: Yeah. Man, I’m happy for them. They from the same city I’m from. It’s always been a friendly competition with us.
DX: I don’t know, when I spoke to Mannie Fresh in 2011for HipHopDX he told me the competition maybe wasn’t so friendly at one point. He talked about the origins of the “bout it” slanguage; that U.N.L.V. had a song using “bout it” before you did. I know you don’t wanna revisit all that, but was there some tension back in the mid-‘90s over the “Bout It” [record]?
Master P: Man, let me explain something to you, Mannie Fresh was a producer, a beat-man; we really from the streets, man. If it was any tension, why you gonna wait till now to say something? I never heard a U.N.L.V. “Bout It” song. When you talk about “Bout It,” you gotta pull that up; No Limit is “Bout It.”
[With] all that I think people need to be themselves instead of trying to sell newspapers. I ain’t into all that, man. It’s not a gimmick for me, this for real. So, I wish him the best of luck, but I never talked to Mannie Fresh back then...don’t even know him like that. I always thought he was a great producer, and I think he should stay in his lane at that.
And if you feel like it’s some bad blood over a record or something, c’mon man.  years ago you ain’t say nothing and you saying something now? So you must not be no real dude. ‘Cause if somebody took something from me, I’m going to see him.
You shoulda been did an interview with him.
DX: Honestly, hand to God, I didn’t even know there was a U.N.L.V. “Bout It” song until he mentioned it.
Master P: I ain’t never heard it. And if it was, and if it ain’t successful, it don’t matter. You know how many songs I done made that wasn’t successful somebody else made [the concept] successful; you think I’m worried about it? Just like his music, you know how many beats people made [the same way]. The “Trigger Man” beat, that’s how they came up. You know how many people made that? It’s who do whatever [with it].
So, I ain’t into all that hatin’, man. I’m into celebrating people’s success, doing what I do. We live an eye-for-an-eye over here. We ain’t out starting trouble; we ain’t looking for trouble, we doing what we gotta do.
DX: So looking forward to the future, what are your current plans for the rebranded No Limit Forever label?
Master P: Well, you see the Ice Cream Man back; Al Capone. And I’m here to take my corner back. That’s what is. So 2013, be looking for Alley Boy, Fat Trel, Miss Chee, T.E.C., T-Bo, Bengie B.
DX: I heard Krazy on the mixtape.
Master P: That’s where the loyalty lies at. When you think about all what we done been through, we don’t put our problems on one man. You get out there and hustle and grind if you a street dude. That’s what I respect Krazy for, and that’s why we been so loyal so long. Because, Krazy from the projects and he doing what he gotta do as a man. We get out here and feed our kids and take care of our family. That’s what we do. We don’t put it on somebody else, our problems. We get out there and go make it better. We thankful for whatever run we had in this music industry. We get on our knees and thank the man up above and say, “Thank you.” We got an opportunity to make it out the projects, see some money, have some fun, travel; we thankful.