Prominent and influential labels typically owe their success to superstar talent, genre-defining albums, strong promotional techniques and/or supplying their target audience’s demands. Cash Money Records, in their 20+ year reign, managed to hit on every one of the aforementioned categories – seamlessly adapting to new styles, movements and trends. Their ascension from the sound of New Orleans to arguably the sound of mainstream hip hop is remarkable when considering how “here today and gone tomorrow” the industry is.
Sure, it wasn’t all pretty…Juvenile left in 2002, only to return in 2003, leave again and ultimately go back in the last few years. B.G.’s financial issues and “bird-feeding” of money owed are also well documented and the label’s biggest superstar, Lil Wayne, was held hostage for nearly 5 years after creative disputes with the man he affectionately calls “daddy.” Before the defection of the dynasty’s original roster though, Cash Money did sport superstar talent that dropped a number of game-changing projects.
Their rise from little known vanity label was legendary but, after inking a 30 million dollar deal with Universal, their run from 1997-2000 ranks among the best 3 year spans in hip hop history. Albums like Juvenile’s 400 Degreez, The Hot Boys’ Guerrilla Warfare and B.G.’s Chopper City In The Ghetto took the gruff and thuggish sound of the time and added some much-needed polish and humor. To put it bluntly, there was nothing else that sounded even remotely like Cash Money. Many would emulate and try their best to capitalize off the “bling era”, but there was only one group of stunnas that perfected it. Today, Newtral Groundz revisits B.G.’s biggest seller, Chopper City In The Ghetto, on it’s 20th birthday.
B. Gizzle’s Universal debut opens up with a customary Big Tymers’ Intro. This entry features Mannie and Baby boasting about buying football stadiums and putting diamond cuts in their bitches’ toes. Excessive maybe, but would you expect anything less from the #1 Stunna? Trigga Play follows with production that initially sounds a little too heavy for B.G.’s relaxed flow, but he immediately hops in the driver’s seat and puts that thought to rest. Mannie Fresh’s wailing guitars and western whistles provide a nice backdrop for Gizzle to talk that talk.
The album’s third song, and first single, is the timeless Cash Money Is An Army. Because this album acts as a semi-sequel to his regional classic, Chopper City, B.G. reworks the fan-favorite All On U into a more mainstream-accessible anthem. The result is a song that deserves to be mentioned with Juvenile’s Ha and The Hot Boys’ We On Fire when discussing songs that re-defined the Cash Money sound. If you haven’t heard this and you’re from New Orleans, spare yourself future embarrassment and familiarize yourself now:
Speaking of The Hot Boys, the whole crew shows up for the bouncy Play’n It Raw. Turk sets it off before passing it to Juvenile and Lil Wayne. If Juve’s verse is an appetizer, Wayne’s bars serve as a satisfying entree (remember, this is pre-Weezy F. Baby; him outshining the rest of The Hot Boys was a rarity in 1999). B.G. concludes with a nice 16, anchoring the back end of this standout HB’z collaboration. With Tha B.G. is another smooth number with a clever (albeit simplistic) chorus to boot:
“Fuckin’ with the B.G….Cash Money going broke, putting change on niggas brains, behind me”
Whoever said you didn’t have to skip a Baby verse during this era must’ve forgotten about this song though. Clumsily dropping the ball after two strong verses from Gizzle, Baby’s awkward delivery straddles the fence between an actual rap and aimless talking. Thankfully, Fresh concludes with a solid performance. Made Man finds Birdman redeeming himself with a highly controversial verse that many (at the time) speculated was about deceased UNLV member, Yella. Whatever the source of motivation though, he holds his own. Mannie Fresh provides a superb beat, emphasizing hollow drums accompanied by a soft Spanish guitar, while B.G. delivers an above average set of verses.
Following Made Man is the undeniably influential Bling Bling, a CMR posse cut dedicated to sparkling ice and diamonds. The song was so popular, from its millennium-era production to its coining of the term “bling”, that it ultimately found its way into Webster’s Dictionary. Unfortunately, it sounds a bit dated all these years later but one has to salute Cash Money for ushering in hip hop’s flossin’ era with this monster crossover of a single.
Knock Out marks the halfway point of the album and features a few guest spots by Turk, complete with a chorus by Mr. 400 Degreez, Juvenile. It’s not lackluster by any stretch, but is missing something. The production is average, by Fresh’s standards, and both B.G. and Turk offer nothing that hasn’t been said in a more entertaining manner on some of their better records. Chopper City ln The Ghetto gets back to B.G.’s roots with Real Niggaz. He can talk money, cars and clothes with the best of them, but what made B.G. so appealing was how authentic his tales of growing up on Valence & Magnolia were. Real Niggaz is dedicated to his closest comrades and really hits home with lines like:
“If he on a murder charge, I make sure he has no witness…
You know without a witness, no way he can get convicted
While he’s down, I handle business for him
My nigga real, he want me to fuck his bitches for him”
Dog Ass follows with that signature Cash Money bounce, and finds Juve and Gizzle trading stories about dogging their side pieces and all of her friends. The beat is slightly disorienting (in a good way) and makes for a lighthearted ode to pimping at the highest level. Next up is Cash Money Roll – a song so laid back, it’s hard to imagine anyone but B.G. lacing it with his effortlessly cool demeanor. Baby returns for a boastful outro, but you’ll find yourself returning to Doogie’s flawless performance 9 times out of 10.
Niggaz In Trouble (not to be confused with the song of the same title on the classic Chopper City) is another lengthy Hot Boys collaboration. It succeeds in returning CMR to its bounce origins, switches tempo multiple times throughout and ultimately leaves fans pissed that a supergroup of this caliber only managed to drop three albums. I mentioned earlier that B.G. shines brightest when fully immersing himself in uncut thuggishness and the aptly-titled Thug’n is a prime example. It may have not been released as a single but ask any fan of the “#1 original Hot Boy” what their favorite B.G. songs are and this will be mentioned more often than not. Thug’n is backed by a drum-heavy, bleak backdrop and Doogie doesn’t disappoint:
“I be thuggin’ and it ain’t no secret – I run game so when it’s ran on me, I can peep it…I represent to the fullest, what you bout, I’m bout/
Freedom or jail, I’m gon’ always be thugged out, thugged out…”
B.G. keeps the moment of Thug’n going with Hard Times, another street-oriented cut with production reminiscent of Beats By The Pound’s heyday. He utilizes his trademark melodic, sing-a-long delivery and it works perfectly. Uptown My Home is another revamping of original Chopper City material, with B.G. flipping Uptown Thang in a way subtle enough to avoid it being tagged as a remix or outright remake. This remains my personal favorite on the album; he even drops his legendary “as I proceed to hit the motherfuckin’ weed” line to remind listeners where it all really started for Cash Money Records. Bout My Paper wraps up Chopper City In The Ghetto and is another consistent solo number, with B.G. proudly proclaiming that him and Baby are “like Suge and Pac.” Mannie’s simple, but effective, piano loop shapes the vibe of the song and ends the project on a high note.
Following 400 Degreez was a tough task but B.G., who’s long remained Cash Money’s most consistent artist, more than delivered with 1999’s Chopper City In The Ghetto. It proved that the success of songs like Ha and Back That Azz Up wasn’t limited to the gravely drawl of Juvenile. Ironically enough, this is one of Gizzle’s least favorite albums and he confirmed this years later:
“A minute after that was Chopper City In The Ghetto…I could’ve came harder, I kept it a little mellow.”
That much may be true; it certainly lacked the straightforwardness and uncut feel of Checkmate and the original Chopper City. CCITG is his most successful album for a reason though – it balanced polished, crossover material with B.G.’s signature street sound. And for that reason, this album stands as a pillar in the Cash Money discography and one of the most important albums the label ever released.
Overall Vibes: 8.8/10