Pinpointing that exact moment when an eventual monumental artists finally hit pay dirt can be difficult but ask Master P and he knows his bottled lightning date just like one of his children’s birthday.
It was April 16, 1996: the day he released his fifth studio album, Ice Cream Man. The project essentially carved the path for one of Hip Hop’s most successful music moguls as he independently went platinum and kept a lot of money, thanks to a very unique deal with Priority Records. It was one of the first examples that a regionally known artist could spout off classic records without any major radio play. By the end of the year, everyone was screaming “I’m bout it, bout it” and “break ’em off somethin.'”
P, now 46-years-young, is repositioned in his executive chair as he kicks game to the new No Limit Boys (Moe Roy, Ace B, J. Slugg and Blaq n Mild) but he’s here to tell it, if it wasn’t for the ice cold raps of Ice Cream Man, none of this would be a reality.
From Headbussa To Head Honcho
HipHopDX: When that album dropped, who was Master P at that time? Who was Percy Miller?
Master P: Man, I was wild. 1996. April 16. A lot of artists careers probably lasted maybe two years. A lot of artists died, went to jail. To be able to be here 20 years later is definitely a blessing because my goal was to live to be 19-years-old. To be able to be here 20 years later—my album lived to be 20—crazy. In the movie, King Of the South: Ice Cream Man the movie biopic coming real soon. I’m here. To be able to make it and not have to have somebody else tell my story, I made a lot of changes to my life. I had a pretty rough life at that time. In 1996, New Orleans was the murder capital of the world. If you looked at Chicago or New York, three times the size of New Orleans and they had more murders than anybody. I tell people, “Bout It Bout It,” this is forreal. This is the murder capital of the world. Then to have one of the Saints football players this week lose their life down there. Rest in peace, Will Smith. I don’t know exactly what happened but, New Orleans is a place that gets real. It’s not something to play with. I love my city. I love my town. I love my projects. I’m not afraid to do what I’ve done to be here 20 years later—especially with this historic album, Ice Cream Man. When I first did it, people were like, “What is this gonna be?” Now it’s a platinum record. It’s dreaming. To anybody from the ghetto, anybody from the hood that’s into the music, we definitely showed that it’s possible to make it out and chase your dreams.
DX: So the Ice Cream Man biopic is going to take place around the time that you were making the album?
Master P: This is where it happened at. This record changed my life. It’s probably one of the best records that I ever done. It made me the King of the South because, people liked this style of music, but until this album came out, it changed the game. It also opened the doors for trap music in the South. People wasn’t really rapping about real street stuff and actually being in the trap hustling and actually living it. My thing was, to anybody that’s listening to my music, you can be better than me. You can make it out. I made it out trapping. I was able to educate myself. they call me the intelligent hoodlum because I went to school even though I was trappin. The education part got me to the 20 years and how I was able to change for me.
DX: How serious were you about rap, about No Limit the business when you created this album?
Master P: When I created this album, at the same time Tupac died. I was chasing a dream because I was opening up for Tupac and the bigger artists at that time. So I’m going everywhere. I’m doing shows. I’m poppin’ my trunk open. You know they “Out the trunk of your car?” That’s what I created. I’d pop that trunk open in any hood anywhere, swap meet, whatever, and sell CDs. I wanted a life change. I didn’t want to die in the ghetto. I didn’t wanna get caught up in a bad environment. I’d say, “It’s all I got so I gotta make something of it.” This Ice Cream Man record, it came to me watching the ice cream man come into the hood—the music playing. We spent money with him. I said, “If I ever put a record out, I’m gonna be the Ice Cream Man but I’ma be clean. I’m gonna put some triple gold Daytons on my car and I’ma wear a white Dickies suit.” Everybody was wearing the black Dicky suits in the 1990s. I went white. I’m like, “Man, I’m about to brighten this thing up. It was all dark.”
DX: Was the ice cream man in your hood selling more than just ice cream?
Master P:You know what, I can’t talk about that right now. [Laughs]. You know, the ice cream man was definitely an interesting character. He was always clean, the one in my hood. If you look at the N.W.A records and the Eazy-E records, the Ice Cube records, the Geto Boys records—it was all dark. The covers were dark. I said I’ma change it. I was neutral. I was never in a gang. My gang was getting money. Green. I put the white suit on, because at that time if you had a Dicky suit on, you was from the hood. You good. You living alright. Starch in my Dickies, making sure they pressed right.
DX: Romeo wasn’t even born when this album came out.
Master P: He was born, he was just young. He was a couple years old. We had just made it from ghetto to ghetto. I had moved to Richmond, CA. Then I moved back home to New Orleans. I felt like at the time, I got my independent hustle. The Bay Area showed me how to independently hustle records by opening a record store and seeing the JT The Bigga Figgas; seeing the Herm Lous; the E-40’s and Too $hort’s and Spice-1 and Tupac. They was on major labels. Watching it from those perspectives but watching how E-40 uncle St. Charles, he really showed me the ropes. 40 and them was signing their deal with Jive and he was still independent hustling. I’m like, “Man, Saint, you need to get with me right now,” because I’m just a country boy with gold teeth. I looked different. Now everybody in the Bay Area looks like that. That Ice Cream Man record, coming home, making the “Bout It, Bout It,” “Mr. Ice Cream Man,” with K-Lou. K-Lou was from Richmond, CA. He produced that record. He gave me that west coast sound. KLC gave me the southern sound. I kind of blended those together. I felt like I had the best music for the southwest. And then the East Coast took to the music.
DX: What was the first track you made for the album?
Master P: The first track was “Mr. Ice Cream Man.” I always liked to get the first song done for the album because that’s gonna be the motivation. So if you notice, that first record is what I’m probably gonna name that project. Once I got that I knew I got a real project now.
DX: If you think about it, “Ghetto Dope’s” the first track on Ghetto D. “Da Last Don Intro” set up Da Last Don.
Master P: “Da Last Don Intro,” once I came up with that I knew I was good. Having an image to put to the project because I always made 20 different covers. So that’s how I kind of sold all my products at one time, so I said, “Let me cross market all this product that I have.”
Hustling With Tupac & At Death’s Door
DX: Explain this hustle to me. In 1996 there was no Internet in a broad sense. You were trapping music out the trunk in cities all across America.
Master P: I’d go to Atlanta, Chicago. I’d go to New York.
DX: Did you play this music for them?
Master P: I’d drive up. Sometimes it would be bad. Guys would pull they guns out like, “Man, who you?” I’m like, “Man look, homie. I’m tryna sell a little bitty record. Go ahead and put that gun down. We good man. I’m a country boy.” They’d be like, “Man, this shit better be good.” I’m like, “This is the best you gonna ever get.” You gotta know, my whole southern hospitality and swag, I just took it on the road with me. Even if it was a bad situation, sometimes I’d go in hoods where it was just bad, and I dealt with the kids. I’d get the ice cream truck to come up. Buy all the kids ice cream. Whoever’s gang banging, I don’t know what ya’ll talking about. I’m here with the kids. You wanna buy some music? That’s it. I think being able to connect to what’s good in any hood, you can go anywhere. Everybody has a soft spot. If you a killer, you love your kids. You love your momma. That’s what i connected to. When I come to my hood and I don’t know them, if they come with respect and they come connected to something I’m attached to, I’ma show love. That’s what happened for me. I think that’s how I built a loyal fanbase to sell 75 million records, to make this album go platinum and nobody even heard of me—because I touched the people. I think with social media now, artists don’t touch the fans no more. That’s what I’m doing with Moe Roy, AceB, BlaqNMild, JSlugg, we gonna touch the fans. We gonna get in the bus and go out here and touch the people along with the social media. The whole campaign. “The Trap Michael Jackson.” Let the people see MoeRoy. We gonna pop up with the music playing on the bus and pop up in the hood and let them see him. Let those people touch AceB. I feel like we got some of the best talent in the world.
Ice Cream Man was your first platinum album. It hit No. 6 on the Billboard R&B Charts and No. 26 on the Billboard 200. Were these things a surprise?
Well, it was my first platinum national album. Everything else was local. But Ice Cream Man was the first time I went national with a record. It was a surprise for me but I think it was for the majors. I did a 85/15 [distribution] deal with Priority Records and they wasn’t expecting for an Ice Cream Man to outsell like a N.W.A or Ice Cube record; they just weren’t expecting it. But I know that I had touched those people. I had went out there and touched all those fans. I was on the road for like three months. Like just, didn’t go home. I don’t get tired. I know Kevin Gates “Don’t Get Tired” but I didn’t get tired. I’m like, ‘It’s No Limit; the grind don’t stop; I’m ain’t going home ‘til I build a fanbase.’
See, what had happened was, first I was on the road with Tupac. And I did a show with him. And I had one guy jamming to my music. I think I was in Cincinnati or something. And I’m like, ‘I’m going to turn that one fan into millions.’ And I just never forgot that.
DX: He was in the crowd?
Master P: Yeah, I’m up there early when the lights on. They waiting for Tupac! I walk through the crowd, hand the dude a t-shirt and said ‘Man, look. I appreciate it, man. You believe in me’ and he like, ‘Man, I love your music!’ I’m like, maybe he drunk or something [Laughs] but I said I’m going to turn that one fan into millions and that’s what I did. It starts with someone believing in you.
DX: This album came before the No Limit empire with the heated floors and gold paintings or whatever. How did you record it? Where did you record it?
Master P:So what was crazy, part of this album was recorded in the projects, in the bathroom, that was the mic booth. You’ll see it in the movie. I had a little four or eight-track [recorder] so I couldn’t mess up. You can hear it in some records, I’m talking to the crackheads in my neighborhood and people saying, ‘Y’all better shut up before P come down here!’ I’m trying to make music, in the hood, in the projects, and got my little equipment and I’m thinking I’m really on. I ain’t record in any big studios.
DX: What were Silkk The Shocker and C-Murder’s thought processes at the time? Did they think you were playing around or were they believing in you?
Master P:The thing about is, we all brothers. So when you talk about Silkk and C, we all been together all the time so, they believe. And I tell my artists now, you gotta believe. I tell my artists now, you gotta believe. Even when someone call you wack, boy we the best thing out here. You best not say that when you see us. We showed people what No Limit was about. Even when you had the biggest artists in the world, we wasn’t supposed to be able to compete. An Ice Cream Man album was supposed to compete with like a Tupac…he was a poet when you talk about music. He was a lyrical poet. Me? I just live the street life and was able to give it back…the stuff I had seen and had been through. Eric B. & Rakim…these guys was huge. But nobody figured out how to make money off the music. They was great lyricists but I figured out how to get paid from it and it all started out from having a retail store. And actually being through something. I know, after losing my brother, it tore something out of me and that’s where the whole ‘Bout It, Bout It…Make ‘em say Ughhh’ became like my battle cry. It was somebody you who slept in the bunk bed next to you and now they dead. That do something to you.
First you angry at the world, question The Man Up Above and then you realize I have to change this so our family don’t keep going through this. So they won’t be going to my funeral next. After seeing my momma cry, I was like, ‘I want to put it all into the music.’ And that’s what I was able to do with my records. Even though it was a lot of entertainers, I knew they had something that I didn’t. I’m actually living this. When I walk outside my door, I don’t see nothing but crackheads, jackers and killers. So I got to know how to survive just to make it to the next day. And so it was easy for me with the music. All I did was cut the track on and it would pour out of me.
Bout It, Bout It and Rowdy, Rowdy
DX: This album has one of the biggest records of all time “Bout It, Bout It Part 2.” What was the thought process behind making another one?
Master P: You gonna see in the movie King Of the South: Ice Cream Man biopic how I realized that even though “Bout It” was a hit, we could add some more drums and hype it up. I felt like that record needed to be hyped up and more for the clubs where people could jump around. Once we added that in there with KLC and came up with that groove and kind of remix it and give it a boost because it still had the same feel, but he definitely put some boosters on there. I rapped more hyper. I just started going crazy on the record. That’s gonna be a good scene for the movie, actually watching me make that record.
DX: Another record you had to go national aside from “Bout It, Bout It” was “Break ‘Em Off Somethin’” featuring UGK. How did that track come about?
Master P: You know, walking through the projects, I was already singing the hook maybe a year before [it came out]. Just the hook, no music. I’d come out the house like that, “Don’t make me break ‘em of somethin’! Hustler, baller, gangsta, cap…’ Just to myself. So when Pimp C came up with the music, I just remembered what I said. Never wrote anything down but it just poured out of me.
DX: What was the last track you recorded for Ice Cream Man?
Master P: I can’t remember [Laughs]. That was 20 years ago!
DX: But this is your first platinum album!
Master P: But you know what? I knew that wasn’t it for me. I always knew that this is my beginning. Maybe that last song, “My Ghetto Heroes,” I think that was it because, so at that time, you know how everybody praising Kobe Bryant now? He retiring but at that time, Michael Jordan was like the biggest basketball player in the world but I kicked that song off: “Michael Jordan ain’t no muthafuckin’ hero to me/My heroes is hustling, roll around and slang D.”
This was real. So for the average kid who was playing basketball, Michael Jordan was the hero. But for me, it was dudes who was rolling around in Cutlasses. That’s what it was; that’s what I seen. Those were the guys that motivated. And that song just poured out. I lost so many of them to the grave and to the penitentiary, right there in my own hood. All those names are people from my hood. And it’s crazy when you go listen to that [song], it’s like, ‘Damn P? So many of them people died before that record even got finished.’ And no counting how many after. That’s why I made that record, kind of like to remember them and to show people what we going through. How can we change this or figure this out? Don’t get mad at me! You know how people point the finger because of [bad music]. This is what young kids is living in. We didn’t ask to be put in the Calliope projects. We didn’t ask to grow up in the murder capital of the world; New Orleans. This is it because we poor. Families is poor. We got to make the best out of it. And that’s what I did.
DX: Let’s put it into perspective. In 1996, how big is the No Limit organization? How many people? How many…secretaries? How many A&R’s? Was it just you and your brothers?
Master P: Man, what people don’t realize, we weren’t that big! We made the best out of what we had. We had some good people. We had a good team. Me and my homeboy to this day [Anthony “Boz” Boswell] he was the vice president. It was like the people around us, the people on the corporate side, they was bout their business. When you see the office we had, it was really a studio. So I tell my artists now ‘Spend everyday in the studio until you get a hit record—and then leave.’ A lot of artists don’t do that. They think because they making records, they doing good. You not being the best.
That’s what we did 24/7. Played basketball just to keep in shape and stayed in the studio. I remember one time I saw Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and I think Charles Barkley. They had just won the Olympics. And I seen ‘em in the hotel. So they was downstairs in the gym and I’m talking this was 2 o’clock in the morning—I come in late; I was on ‘Hustleman time’—and they down there working out and you could hear them talking like “We gotta get right because them youngsters.’ I mean you know what they talking about. And that just kept me on my toes because these guy are at the top of the game in basketball and they still working. At 2 o’clock in the morning. And I think that’s the same thing in music. We have to understand that preparation is going to get us to the big records.
DX: We’re pretty sure you have personal relationships with all your albums but where does Ice Cream Man rank in your catalog?
Master P: Well, the Ice Cream Man definitely rank #1 album of all the records I made because this is the record that paved the way for the whole company, for me as a solo artists and for all the artists that came on the label. This record had to do well so back then the Walmart’s, the Target’s, the Blockbuster’s, the Best Buy’s to accept anything. If this record didn’t do well, there wouldn’t be no No Limit. We wouldn’t be able to sell 75 million records. It opened the doors for Ghetto D, Da Last Don, the T-R-U projects.
This record for me is definitely a masterpiece.