Master P - MP Da Last Don Music Album Reviews

Master P - MP Da Last Don Music Album Reviews
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit the gem of No Limit Records, one that’s as much a flex of power as it is a musical triumph.

Halfway through the 1998 direct-to-video movie MP Da Last Don, Master P inexplicably begins to speak with an Italian accent. It actually might be Cuban—it’s never made clear if it’s supposed to be a homage to The Godfather or Scarface and I’m 99 percent sure Master P wouldn’t know the answer either. Regardless, he stars (as well as co-writes and co-directs) as an aspiring basketball coach and youth mentor named Nino, who learns that his Italian-looking father and mafia boss Salvador Corleone has been killed. After learning of his father’s death, Master P acts completely normal and starts to rock banana-colored suits and chain-smoke cigars like a comic book villain. At a high-ranking mafia sit down, in a room full of Tony Montana clones, he lays out his plans to take over the seat at the head of the table. He comically asks, “What, you got a problem with that ’cause my skin is a little darker than yours?” Everyone is extremely pissed and a war for power breaks out within the family.

Master P is adamant that he only wants to be the Don so he can give back to the community and clear his father’s name of something the movie never mentions. He spends most of the 46-minute runtime making no progress toward either goal and instead murdering anyone who mildly irks him. Really, he only makes the community worse; while trying to split time between his new gig as a mafia boss and being a youth basketball coach, the entire team gets caught in the middle and they’re all assassinated except for Silkk the Shocker. Master P is broken up about this and ends up in a warehouse shootout with the family. He kills them all and wins the war, but victory isn’t sweet like he thought it would be; he breaks down in tears and is apprehended by the police. At this point, I guess, they ran out of money because the rest of the story is resolved with a title card: He gets sentenced to four consecutive life sentences in prison, but escapes on the way there. No one changed. Nothing was learned. It’s pointless. It could only come from someone as powerful as Master P was in 1998.

That year, Master P’s self-made New Orleans-based independent rap label, No Limit Records, was at a musical and promotional peak. Defined by their camouflage gear, iced-out military tank logo (including the gold-plated one that was driven onto a basketball court in the “Make ’Em Say Ugh” video), cover art designed by the Houston graphic team at Pen & Pixel, and the year-round release schedule, the No Limit roster—which included homegrown stars like Mia X and Mr. Serv-On, P’s younger brothers Silkk the Shocker and C-Murder, and high-profile free agent signings like Mystikal and Snoop Dogg—was untouchable. A mid-’90s deal P signed with Priority, which gave No Limit an unheard-of 75 percent cut of sales, allowed him to put his business plan into hyperdrive: Flood the market with albums and use each record as a vehicle to cross-promote the entire roster. Sources vary, but of the 23 albums No Limit put out in 1998, more than half either went gold or platinum. The movies were essentially advertisements. Shot in a couple of days on a shoestring budget, MP Da Last Don was a way to promote Master P’s 1998 double-disc epic of the same name.

MP Da Last Don is Master P’s best album, while simultaneously representing the astronomical heights No Limit reached and the corporate approach that contributed to the label’s sharp decline. P liked to consider himself an entrepreneur first and a rapper second, and those ideologies sometimes clashed. By 1998, No Limit was cranking out albums on an assembly line; a handful of them were written, recorded, and completed in a couple of days. (Yes, it’s rumored that Tupac made the Makaveli album in a week, but sorry, the twin brother duo Kane and Abel are not Tupac!) There was very little quality control; P compared selling albums to selling cologne, as if they were nothing more than a product to leverage into brand investments. That sentiment is unsettling, though somehow P’s albums like 1996’s Ice Cream Man and 1997’s Ghetto D never felt soulless. MP Da Last Don doesn’t either, but you can feel the shift in Master P slightly creeping in. Especially considering that Da Last Don was billed as his retirement album, which was part shameless promotion (he never actually retired) and part genuine desire to focus on turning No Limit into a conglomerate with multiple revenue streams.

But Master P is, in fact, the type of businessman that you only hear about at the movies. The stories sound like folklore, and they could be since so many have been shaped by P’s self-mythology: In the days before the Priority deal, Jimmy Iovine offered P a million dollars to sign with Interscope, and he walked away from it. When Jive told him that No Limit couldn’t sign red-hot New Orleans rapper Mystikal because he was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, Master P busted out his checkbook on the spot. That time when P sat down with Suge Knight at Mule Creek prison and negotiated the multi-million dollar buyout of Snoop Dogg. He added a couple hundred thousand just to make Suge happy.

Long before Master P established himself as the ultimate rap salesman, he was Percy Miller, born and raised in New Orleans’ Calliope Projects. In interviews, he describes his upbringing as so poor that he slept on the floor and some days only ate corn flakes and water. Around 1989, Percy, his wife Sonya, and son Romeo relocated from Calliope to Richmond, California in the Bay Area. There, using $10,000 from an insurance payout—the result of a medical malpractice incident in which his grandfather died after receiving another patient’s medicine—he opened a record store called No Limit.

At the record store, he sold gangsta rap records by local Bay Area stars like E-40, JT the Bigga Figga, and Spice 1, and soaked up their hustle. Soon enough, at a Jack in the Box in Richmond, he ran into his childhood friend King George. Good news: They both wanted in on the rap game. Few in the Bay respected P as a rapper, though. This was years before André Benjamin graced the stage of the 1995 Source Awards and declared “The South got something to say!” to a symphony of boos, so, of course P blames the bad reaction on his Southern drawl. That probably has some truth, but also his early records sound like cheap N.W.A. and Ice-T demos. He didn’t hit a stride until 1994’s The Ghettos Tryin to Kill Me!, an album P and George hustled $6,000 to make. The album cut of the same name is the record’s signature track; over a soothing G-Funk beat, P in his bluesiest melody coos, “Sellin’ dope is the only thing I know how to doooo.” In his verses he raps about a common thread in his work: Reality-based reflections on the street hustling that trapped him every time he tried to escape.

Out of the trunk of his car, Master P sold tens of thousands of copies of The Ghettos Tryin To Kill Me! Using that money, he recorded the two albums that led to his monumental deal with Priority: a Bay Area compilation tape called West Coast Bad Boyz and his 1995 album 99 Ways to Die. The next era of No Limit commenced as relationships in California deteriorated (he fell out with King George) and Master P reconnected with his Southern roots.

Back in New Orleans, Master P recorded a 30-second commercial on a beat that he brought back to Richmond and fleshed out into the legendary track “I’m Bout It, Bout It.” Produced by KLC, a DJ turned producer who was a favorite of P’s No Limit recruits Mia X and Mr. Serv-On, the sped-up synths of the instrumental were dark and grimy, unlike the laid-back West Coast funk P was comfortable with. Meanwhile, he ran into his lost cousin Mo. B Dick, a producer and slick crooner, in a club in Dallas. At the time, Mo. B was making music in Morgan City, Louisiana with a clique called Critical Condition. P sent for Mo. B Dick to come out to Cali. Then, after some pushing from Mia, he sent for KLC as well. He rented out an apartment for everyone in Hayward, California that they called “Three niggas and a broad.” It was there that KLC and Mo. B Dick formed Beats by the Pound, the not-so-secret weapon of No Limit that shaped the next era of the label’s sound.

By 1998, Beats by the Pound grew to include Craig B, O’Dell, and Carlos Stephens. The production collective were the masterminds behind nearly every hot No Limit album that hit the streets between 1996 and 1998, for example P’s Ice Cream Man, punctuated by a revamped club-ready version of “Bout It, Bout It,” and instant classics like 1997’s Tru 2 Da Game by TRU (Master P, Silkk, and C-Murder) and Mac’s Shell Shocked in 1998, the best rapping to ever land on a tape stamped by No Limit. Their sound was versatile yet consistent, centered around thick basslines, steely synths, and punishing 808s; they could easily go from R&B grooves to New Orleans bounce to an early iteration of Southern trap.

Beats by the Pound are the catalysts of MP Da Last Don. Because Master P has never exactly been ’94 Nas or Scarface on the mic, the beats have to be immaculate, and they are. There’s a Mafia-movie theme to the record, though the funk of the Pound’s instrumentals makes me recall Blaxploitation gangster movies—a world filled with pimps, prostitutes, and the type of majestic furs Yaphet Kotto wore in Truck Turner.

Check “Get Your Paper,” where Master P brings the Bay Area back into the fold by trading “Uggggh” ad-libs with E-40: The Pound’s beat goes from a mind-melting electronic intro to classic G-Funk bounce. It sounds like it should backdrop a strip club on the moon. On “Welcome to My City,” the electric guitar riff has an effect that resembles the wah-wah pedal you could find on the Shaft theme, blended with rattling hi-hats and P and Mac on top of their game. The funk is out of control on “Black and White” as well, that plucking of the bass strings is hypnotic—too bad it’s consumed by Master P shouting some afterschool-special struggle raps.

Master P’s more introspective side is the glaring flaw of Da Last Don; he’s not a good enough lyricist to make his fairly general thoughts about social and world politics compelling. “Dear Mr President,” where he pens a letter to POTUS about the conditions in the hood, is probably the worst one. His heart is in the right place, but the verse is bad. “One nation in God we trust/But then you say Saddam ain’t gon’ fuck with us,” he raps like he just watched an episode of 60 Minutes. It’s confusing why Master P even made “Dear Mr President” or “Black and White.” The only reasonable explanation was that they were the songs intended to straighten up his image for future No Limit brand ventures.

It’s not to say that Master P can’t get deep. There’s been a dark vulnerability to his music since the days of The Ghettos Tryin to Kill Me! It’s just more effective when it’s told through personal stories; his bellowing voice can convey such pain and paranoia. On the opening lines of “More 2 Life” he sounds exasperated as he shouts, “Jealous niggas wanna see me dead, hoes wanna steal my bread,” over a KLC beat so smooth it’s therapeutic. His vignettes are vivid on “Ghetto Life,” lifting traumatic memories from his past: the death-fearing nightmares that kept him up at night, the cramped project apartment, and the idea of suffering while society moves along. It’s some of the clearest and most evocative writing of his career.

But this is Master P. The dude who made “I’m Bout It, Bout It” and “Make ’Em Say Ugh.” What really takes Da Last Don to new heights are the records where he and his No Limit crew turn up over thudding Pound beats. “War Wounds” belongs on the No Limit posse cut shortlist. Fiend sounds like he could crack a coconut with his fist; Silkk’s mouth is moving faster than his brain and he’s never been sharper; Mystikal’s verse is unhinged. And P pierces through the swirling beat with his trademark ad-libs that sound like he has phlegm in his throat.

Of the softer tracks, “Ghetto Love” is the most memorable. It’s produced by the most soulful member of the Pound, Mo. B Dick, who flexes his sampling chops and drops in a mesmerizing Nate Dogg-style sensitive gangster hook. The P verse is solid, but Mia X’s is even better as she claims she’s so loyal to her man that it doesn’t even matter if he cheats or goes broke. And you can’t talk about Da Last Don without mentioning the Master P and Snoop records: Their shining moment together, “Soldiers, Riders, & G’s,” opens with Snoop smooth-talking (“Greeting niggas and niggetts”) and Master P punching through the Pound’s thunderous funk.

No Limit never again had a year like 1998. To be fair, has anyone? MP Da Last Don went four times platinum and, led by Master P’s relentless approach, the label sold almost 15 million records that year. But the art couldn’t keep up with the business. Beats by the Pound were burnt out, churning out beats at an unsustainable pace. Coupled with financial disputes and a growing feeling that they weren’t getting the credit they earned, the crew, minus Carlos Stephens, bounced in 1999. The soul of No Limit was gone—it was now the corporation Master P always hoped it would be.

MP Da Last Don may not certainly be the greatest No Limit album, but it’s surely the most definitive: A long, sprawling, and flawed record that’s as much a flex of power as it is a musical triumph. It’s a snapshot of a moment, one in which Master P the CEO landed on a Forbes list between the Rolling Stones and Robin Williams, and simultaneously Master P the rapper was filming low-budget gangster movies where he got a blowjob and two characters killed within the span of minutes. Not even Master P could make that up.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Master P - MP Da Last Don Music Album Reviews Master P - MP Da Last Don Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on November 28, 2021 Rating: 5


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