These days, No Limit Records largely exists as a curiosity, largely kept alive in the memory thanks to their record covers made by Pen & Pixel. Those covers are the deserving stuff of derision. Gaudy, ugly, over-designed and all unintentionally hilarious. They may not have been the only record company to use them (they made their mark on a number of other Southern acts in the period), but they are the one most closely associated with the company and Pen & Pixel did exist as their in-house cover designers at one point. If it isn’t their covers, it’s the quantity of the releases in a short period of time from the label each filled with a large number of tracks of questionable at best quality and loaded with features from other No Limit artists.
Still, it’s easy to forget that for a period of time, they were also a successful and notable force in the industry. It was a bad time for the empire. Master P founded the label in 1990 in Richmond, California, but it wasn’t until it shifted its focus to New Orleans rappers that the label started to take off in the mid to late 1990s. Featuring artists such as Mystikal (who despite going platinum with the label would have his biggest success after leaving No Limit and then ruin it all by becoming a sex offender and “alleged” rapist), Soulja Slim (RIP who trivia wise can be mentioned in the same sentence as Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, Jim Croce, John Lennon, and Biggie), TRU (Master P, C-Murder, and Silkk the Shocker), Mia X, and a post-Death Row Records Snoop Dogg, they were able to achieve some mainstream success in music. Master P parlayed that success into movies such as I’m Bout It, I Got the Hook Up, Foolish, and the laughably named Hot Boyz (which even more hilariously started a feud with fellow Southern record company Cash Money Records over the name of it since it shared one being used by a group featuring Lil Wayne, Juvenile, Turk, and B.G.) and even attempted to be a sports agent.
Silkk the Shocker was one of No Limit’s most prominent artists releasing four albums between 1996 and 2001 for the label and even sticking with them as they went bankrupt and Master P was forced to found The New No Limit Records. Following his debut album, The Shocker (recorded as Silkk), from 1996, he released today’s album in 1997 which managed to reach #1 on R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and #3 on the Billboard 200 on its way to being certified platinum. His next album (1999’s Made Man) was actually an even bigger hit, reaching #1 on both charts and was certified platinum before Charge It 2 da Game reached that milestone. 2001’s My World, My Way would be less successful, but it did go on to be certified gold at a time when the company around him was falling apart. 2004’s Based on a True Story and last year’s It Will All Make Sense Later were progressively less successful. He also made plenty of the requisite appearances of other No Limit tracks (his most famous appearance perhaps being on Montell Jordan’s “Let’s Ride“) and film appearances including lead roles in Corrupt and the aforementioned Hot Boyz.
Before we talk about anything else, let’s discuss what is on everyone’s mind; the cover. It’s got plenty of the Pen & Pixel standards with the bling effects on his ring and his name (twice!) which has been emblazoned in a gaudy font to make it look like jewelry. He’s standing in front of some ornate sculptures and architecture (or more likely an image of such) with cigar in hand though surprisingly not an overwhelming amount of jewelry on his person. The perspective may very well be correct, but something about it just looks off with the way he’s handing his trademark credit card, and to me it appears to be a giant disembodied hand reaching out to break the fourth wall.
The credit card itself has no limit on it so it’s good to see that banks (or I guess No Limit Records is the intended issuer) respect Silkk’s fiscal responsibility, but it looks more like one of those credit cards they include with toy cash registers for kids and the picture of him included on the front is clearly of him in the very same clothes but a different pose which either means that in the No Limit Universe you get credit cards the same way us regulars get drivers licenses, or when he got back his credit card, he changed into the same clothes he was wearing when the picture was taken. My favorite part however is the album name. Everything else would be ridiculous, but you know what, I could abide by what he was going for. The album name however is inexplicably printed in what appears to be Times New Roman or some similar, decidedly non-baller font. It stands so starkly out from the rest of the image as if it was just a temporary inclusion for the designers to remind them of the intended name and location, but they forgot to but in something that would mention the aesthetic.
The production for the album was handled by Beats by the Pound and while they may not be as well-known as other production teams, they were certainly prolific if nothing else. KLC, Mo B. Dick (Shorty Shitstain finally has some competition), Craig B, and O’Dell (in addition to others such as Carlos Stephens who contributed two tracks here) served as the in-house production team for No Limit from 1995 to 1999 even if the most famous track any of them ever did came after they left the label (KLC’s work on Ludacris’ “Move Bitch“).
The first track is a massive posse cut with nine features and ten verses. “I’m a Soldier” is a high energy song filled with fast rapping over a simplistic if layered beat, however, it makes the mistake of loading up the most compelling (and best at handling the rapid pace) rappers early. By the end, as we start getting into people like Lil’ Gotti Gambino who (even aside from his name that feels like a parody of mafioso rappers) just feel lost at the mic. “Give Me the World” opens with a terrible Godfather parody before transitioning to the first solo track, a stumbling one over some synthesizer beat that feels like a pack in labeled “Scarface”. Snoop makes his one appearance on “Throw Yo Hood Up“, trading verses with Silkk and while he has his trademark laid back charm at times, it definitely throws me for a lurch when he too starts spitting much faster than I’d expect. It fits more with the tone of the album and his talent is very much appreciated, but it creates a feeling of something being off. Master P also shows up to interject occasionally and to handle the outro, but his contribution is a joke to say the least.
In what I’m sure is probably the highlight of Beyoncé’s career, “Just Be Straight With Me” has her harmonize with the rest of Destiny’s Child for a chorus as Silkk and Master P rap generic verses about their wealth. There’s nothing here that gives any of the personality of Destiny’s Child and it could have been recorded by any of R&B group. Then again, at the time, they were just that and coincidentally, this album was actually released on the same day as Destiny’s Child debut (which certainly explains how the hell this appearance could have happened) so feel free to enjoy a far better song from that album. This was the first single off Charge It 2 da Game and what a way to sell the album. It’s a shame there’s the occasional talking from Master P going on throughout “If I Don’t Gotta” that does nothing but distract and throw off the flow because I actually quite like beat. Silkk’s “unique” style seems to shine here when he slows down, the chorus is absolutely something I can jam to, and Fiend’s verses inject some actual quality here. It’s a nice chill track and one of the best on the album. “Spotaggin” is a complete nothing of a skit but at least it gets out of the way quick as all skits should do.
“We Can Dance” is a largely unremarkable solo track, but besides the feeling that there’s just way too many tracks, the length of each of these tracks (this one over five minutes long) really starts kicking in around this point. There’s no reason it needs to be that long. It took until “Mama Always Told Me” for a track to really stick out in a negative way and oh god. The intro sounds like it is desperately trying to ape Tupac while the rest of the song is a lackluster as well with some twinkling over the ever-present thudding bass of this album and some unmemorable rapping. It may just be perception, but Silkk’s rapping starts to become even less interesting as the album goes on. Yet, it’s the chorus that really pulls “You Ain’t Gotta Lie to Kick It” down. You can’t just repeat any phrase fast and expect it to be hot. Mia X (the only person to throw up a decent late verse on “I’m a Soldier”) gets an unremarkable verse before Big Ed the Assassin closes it out with a painfully dull one.
“Thug ‘N’ Me” does it again with that Tupac shit in the intro (no relation to this song as far as I know) and a couple times throughout (“GIRL FEEL ME”) before someone (supposedly Master P based on the lyric sites but I’m guessing Mo B. Dick or O’Dell) tries and fails to do the stereotypical ’90s R&B singer thing. Ginuwine they are not. Silkk’s rapping continues to deteriorate along with any sense of flow. A staple of rap music is the song meant to show off just how cool you are, but Silkk’s entry “All Night” utterly fails in that regard, merely crafting an utterly forgettable song. Another lame knockoff mafioso intro sets up “Who Can I Trust?” which wouldn’t be too terrible if it wasn’t for that lame beat going on which makes it impossible to focus on anything else.
I’m not gonna lie, I picked this album in no small part because this next song is genuinely fantastic. You can say a lot about Mystikal (and I already have about him as a person), but he’s also got that rare thing of an unmistakable style of his own. He infuses such energy into the music and unlike Silkk, makes the off-kilter flow feel natural. His music isn’t exactly deep nor his style all that varied, but when he has a proper outlet for it and a good beat, it’s just a lot of fun with his James Brown influenced style. I’ll give credit on “It Ain’t My Fault” to Craig B. for laying a simple, solid beat and then letting Mystikal go wild over it. Silkk mostly just follows in Mystikal’s shadow with a lesser imitation of the style as you can hear the latter almost willing him along and about to go mad in the process. It’s delightful. It may not have anything to do with this album, but I just want an excuse to post a link to this awesomely terrible video for the sequel song from Made Man.
“What Gangstas Do“‘s chorus is a variation of the classic “What People Do for Money” except robbing it of any of its appeal with Silkk’s rapping decaying even further. By the end of the song it’s become practically incoherent gibberish. Kane & Abel show up to try and spice up the track, but the only thing biblical about their verses is how old and tired they are. I’m not even going to comment on or link to the second skit. Let me sum up “Let Me Hit It” by saying it ends with “Chorus x17”. We return to the duo of “It Ain’t My Fault” however the order of rappers is switched up and Silkk’s attempts to mimic Mystikal’s style have become even more pronounced and desperate sounding. Sadly, this time Mystikal wasn’t able to come in and save the track in large part due to KLC’s overbearing production and the endlessly repeated “Let Me Hit Me”, but he does his damnedest to at least give it some energy. Remember how when I was talking about “Conditioner” and about how I was glad to have GZA come on to save track. That I’m being reduced to saying the same kind of thing about Mystikal is starting to make me question where I went wrong.
I’m not saying “How Many…? is a good song, but it’s respectable posse cut with even Silkk not really messing things up (though it’s here that the effects throughout start to be a bit much as if they were trying to distract me from listening too close). Master P and C-Murder are fine enough while Mystikal and Mia X come in to do their things and add more color, but mostly I’m just appreciative for how well it compares to most of the tracks that surround it. The production of “Who I Be?” is a six-lane pileup with Silkk and Master P having to shout (and obnoxiously moan) over it and each other in an attempt to overwhelm the senses. The moans return in reduced form here for “Tell Me” by TRU, but I can just feel my brain cells rotting as I listen to it. While Silkk’s one take on a serious song (with some “help” from Master P) is an improvement over the past couple songs, “Me And You” does so by rising to merely bland and devoid of any sense of personality. I mentioned before that Silkk’s rapping worked better when it slowed down but that was before the nearly seventy-eight minutes of this album (not counting the fact that I listened to each song at least twice because I take this shit seriously) broke me down.
Charge It 2 da Game was a chore to get through, but it is a fascinating look at an album that despite selling very well, it’s hard to say had any lasting influence or impact on the mainstream. It’s not completely devoid of quality as “It Ain’t My Fault” justifies its existence and there’s a few others that rub right up against being something real good like “I’m a Soldier” and “If I Don’t Gotta”. There’s just so much filler here that it is unbearable. It’s not like Tical 2000 where I’m going to pretend like we could chop out the filler and have a good album, it’d just be more tolerable. The production is uninspired at best and there’s a pattern of adding unnecessary sound effects, moans, and whatever else catches the producers fancy to songs.
I wanted to stick up for Silkk and defend his work as underrated, but I just can’t. Southern hip hop gets a bad rap, some of it deserved, but the region generally knows how to craft fun music if nothing else and there’s a place for that. Charge It 2 da Game certainly has the tone of something not to be taken seriously, but even with your brain turned off (there’s a reason I avoided talk of the lyrics for the most part) it doesn’t offer enough to be worth a listen.