It’s been said that a lot can change in a few short years. Take this sentiment and apply it to music, especially a genre as fluid as hip hop, and it rings even truer.
Such was the case when James “Soulja Slim” Tapp stepped out of prison in early 2001. At the time of his incarceration in May 1998, the 20 year old rapper’s career couldn’t have been in a better position. In the span of four months Tapp had joined the biggest label in music and quickly recorded and released a 20 song album that entered the Billboard pop chart at no. 13 with no prior national exposure or airplay.
“Give It 2 ‘Em Raw” was as uncut as its title suggested. Despite having released projects locally in 1994 and 1995, respectively, his major label debut encapsulated his aggressive, rapid-fire style perfectly. By the time Soulja Slim joined No Limit Records, they were already running the rap game so the decision to enlist in Master P’s army was a no-brainer. Not only had No Limit put the city of New Orleans on the map, Slim’s mentor, KLC, was the face of the label’s multiplatinum sound – having produced some of the most recognizable beats of the 1990’s.
Even with a prison sentence abruptly halting his career, Soulja Slim’s legend continued to grow. Master P & Co. kept his buzz alive with shoutouts on various records while verses recorded before his jail stint sporadically popped up on additional No Limit projects. By mid-1999, however, the label underwent a drastic (and some would say fatal) makeover. Beats By The Pound left over a financial dispute and took their foundational sound with them.
Many soldiers soon followed and by late 2000, only a handful of original artists remained. The change was so significant that when Slim was released from custody, “No Limit Records” was essentially defunct (the label temporarily operated under Soulja Music Entertainment in the midst of negotiating a deal with Universal and rebranding as the New No Limit).
The popularity of his once-dominant label had certainly dwindled but it was evident Soulja Slim’s skills had only sharpened. Famous for proclaiming he was going to ‘hit No Limit like Pac hit Death Row’ three years before, Slim got out of jail and proceeded to do just that. The result was the southern masterpiece, The Streets Made Me, released in the fall of 2001.
The album’s “Intro” serves as a brief sequel to his (Give It 2 Em Raw) single “From What I Was Told”, with the familiar sound of a studio door slowly opening before Slim proceeds to reaffirm his position as New Orleans’ finest. “Get Cha Mind Right” serves as the first full song of the album and, to this day, remains one of his most easily identifiable cuts. Fellow Tank Doggs Krazy and X-Conn join but this is Slim’s show from beginning to end, as XL’s distinctive horns guide the chorus.
Soulja Slim’s bounce roots are on full display for the aptly-titled “Make It Bounce”, with C-Los sampling The Showboys’ New Orleans landmark, “Drag Rap.” Admittedly starting his career in his early teens as a bounce rapper, the artist formerly known as Magnolia Slim puts a nice updated spin on the sub-genre’s recent return in popularity. “Soulja 4 Life” is up next and, at first glance, would appear to be nothing more than a gritty, obligatory “soldier song” that seemed to be present on nearly every No Limit release ever. After one listen though you’ll realize this track is simply not that.
“Black man kill a black man, it’s cool – they lovin’ that
Black man kill a white man, they sentencing him to death
White man kill a black man then scream about self-defense…
Break it down to manslaughter with all of the evidence.”
“Soulja 4 Life”, for many, is the crown jewel of Soulja Slim’s rich catalogue and it’s not hard to see why. With just one song, Slim paints a picture of police corruption through the lens of thousands who would’ve otherwise not had a voice to express their own horrific experiences with law enforcement. This potent number is so accurately depicted, you’ll find yourself immediately rewinding before even considering listening to the next song. Simply put – this is the type of piece that should be studied in universities, especially in today’s racially-charged climate.
“Im’a Fool” has the impossible task of following “Soulja 4 Life” but does just well enough to draw the listener back to the overall theme of the album. This is Slim at his hardest – ‘Angola bound, Uptown…weighing a hundred-something pounds’ and unconcerned with any consequences or repercussions. Producer Suga Bear supplies the perfect backdrop. “Gun Smoke” is a bouncy, upbeat change-of-pace allowing Slim to show the versatility of his flow and remains a personal favorite. Krazy re-emerges on “Make It Happen” to bless what was already a smooth, mellowed out track. For all the problems the two eventually had, their styles were a nice contrast every time they collaborated.
Suga Bear returns to the boards for “Slim Pimpin”, providing an eerie, piano-driven West Coast vibe for Soulja Slim to represent for all the “boss bitches” of the world. Every Clyde needs a Bonnie, right? The next song, “Bout Dis Shit”, is musically similar to “Slim Pimpin” but (unlike ‘Pimpin’) finds Slim narrating his own, personal come-up with bars like ‘89 goin’ into ‘90, had the game down pat…mama couldn’t find me, ya baby boy’s flippin’ crack.’
The smoker’s anthem “Smoked Out” begins with (the criminally-underrated) Ms. Peaches asking to hit Slim’s blunt before he emphatically denies her with his infamous line – ‘No bitch, no. Ya undastand? Ya can’t hit this hea. Ya undastand? You is no. Fuck ya.’ The equally-unsung female MC, Traci (RIP), goes verse-for-verse with Slim on “Talk Now.” It’s simplistic chorus is bolstered by both artists’ impressive 16s.
Soulja Slim takes a slightly different approach stylistically with “Bossman”, dedicating it to longtime friend and fellow New Orleans artist, Bossman Superior (check “I Gotchu” from Lil Soulja Slim’s Soulja Slim Reincarnated project for a glimpse of Bossman Superior on the mic). The cadence with which Slim spits on this track is reminiscent of Tupac Shakur and doesn’t disappoint. XL makes his 3rd contribution to the album with “Let It Go.” The song is enjoyable but fails to separate itself from the stellar output throughout the first half of the album.
Former TRU Records artist, Wango, shows up for the album’s “Skit”, a short exchange between he and Slim about hitting the club for some hoes. “That’s My Hoe” actually finds Slim at the club chastising all Captain Save-a-Hoes over a slightly Caribbean-flavored number by Bass Heavy. “Straight 2 The Dance Floor”, much like “Make It Bounce” earlier, was clearly aimed at the radio with Soulja Slim’s Cutthroat Comitty providing additional vocals. “Ya Heard Me” follows the tradition of New Orleans classics “Ha” and “Solja Rags” by ending every bar with a question:
‘You a Hot Boy, no I’m not boy, I’m a convicted felon, ya heard me?
Three time loser eligible for the triple bellin’, ya heard me?’
His flow is impeccable on this highlight, perfectly timing the delivery of every line – coming across as raw but equally polished. 17 tracks in and it’s almost as if Slim suddenly felt the need to make this album harder than it already was. 12 A’Klok and Tre-Nitty return for “What You Came Fo” to lace what might be the best Cutthroat Comitty collective ever put together while “My Jacket” again showcases why there can only be one Magnolia Slim. I could quote this entire song word-for-word but I’d rather leave it right here and let you judge for yourself.
“Where They At” is another upbeat album cut that probably doesn’t get as much love as it should. This song serves more as a Cutthroat Comitty/TRU Records roll call, with the entire entourage chanting in the background. “Can’t Touch Us” concludes the album and (thankfully) marks the first and only appearance of Master P and his New No Limit roster. The production itself is superb but I think most would agree when I say this would’ve been better off as a solo effort by Soulja Slim (Afficial always lacked a distinctive sound and Master P had clearly lost it artistically by 2001). Nevertheless, Slim’s closing verse coupled with Krazy’s hook redeem lukewarm efforts by the aforementioned P and Afficial.
Looking back at this project, James Tapp could’ve very well come out of prison, put his feet up and enjoyed his newfound freedom. It would’ve been understandable. Instead, with the urgency of someone sensing tomorrow wasn’t promised, he attacked the studio and crafted his magnum opus – a masterful illustration of life in the Magnolia Projects, absent of unnecessary features and mainstream influence. Peers such as Juvenile and Master P might’ve been selling more at the time but THIS is the definitive piece of early 2000’s hip hop in the Crescent City. Do yourself a favor and add this to your collection; you won’t be disappointed.
Overall Vibes: 10/10