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NGZ 20 Year Anniversary Series: TRU – Da Crime Family [Album Review]

When TRU exploded on the scene in early 1997, the only person that didn’t find their newfound superstardom surprising was likely Master P himself. The group had already been established for six years by the time 97’s TRU 2 Da Game hit stores, but this incarnation found the unit stripped down to just P and his two brothers, Silkk The Shocker and C-Murder. What started out as a widespread collective of Bay Area players such as Rally Ral, Spoonie and Cali G gradually transitioned into a southern-based family affair that allowed P to focus on furthering the careers of his younger siblings.

TRU 2 Da Game, driven by the anthemic No Limit Soldiers, sold an impressive two million copies and set the stage for No Limit’s unprecedented run in 1998. The music was delightfully simple, unapologetically blunt and satisfied the cravings of many fans longing for gangster rap in its purest form. In the two years since it’s release though, criticism of the label had mounted quickly. Accusations of biting and oversaturation ran rampant and the Tank was beginning to lose significant steam. TRU 2 Da Game’s follow-up, originally titled TRU Niggaz, was rechristened as Da Crime Family – Master P’s statement that No Limit Records was still the top label in hip hop. At least that’s what he’d hoped…

Da Crime Family begins with TRU: The Beginning, a gloomy, longwinded monologue (although Silkk does rap to kick this off) for P to take shots at all of his critics. He’s noticeably upset but with who isn’t clear after this average introduction. Hoody Hooo is the album’s first single and delivers in a major way, with its infectious drums and sampling of the eerie Halloween theme. The only indictment of this track, and yet another source of ammunition for No Limit’s naysayers, is that it blatantly snatched the title of OutKast’s 1994 regional hit, Hootie Hoo. The video worked well enough (incorporating elements of The Matrix) but it almost didn’t matter to the general public – the perception was that P was just trying to capitalize on yet another trend.

Fiend and Da Hound join Silkk on Dangerous In My City, an uptempo O’Dell number that’s enjoyable but abruptly cuts off around the 2 minute mark. Miller Boyz samples The Show Boys’ Drag Rap, giving it much more of a bounce feel. C-Murder and Holloway, of the Ghetto Commission, are the tru[e] (pun intended) stars of this track, ensuring it stays in rotation. Da Crime Family’s second single, the aptly-titled TRU Homies is a surprising and welcomed change of direction for the Miller family. For as many “dead homies” and “I love my mama” songs as No Limit produced over the years, it’s a wonder they never once made a song about their bond as brothers. O’Dell recreates The Spinners’ I’ll Be Around (also providing the chorus) as P, C and Silkk profess their brotherly love for each other.

Don’t Judge Me sports a subpar performance by Silkk (the hook is too 2Pac-ish) but is redemptive in that it serves as the formal introduction of new No Limit Soldier, Popeye. Popeye has long-remained a fan favorite amongst No Limit enthusiasts and it’s not hard to see why. His unique voice and delivery save what would otherwise be a dud of a filler track. The Tank Goes On interpolates The Whispers’ And The Beat Goes On, but abandons it’s upbeat nature, and falls face-first in the process. The production is bland and P sounds incredibly bored fumbling through his verse. Fiend returns for Hard N’s, a pounding Kenoe-helmed track, reminiscent of Beats By The Pound’s best work. A classic No Limit feel solidifies this one as an album standout.

Stay Real plays on the concept of songs like The Firm’s Phone Tap, by having Silkk rap as if he were conversing about a potential rat in the family’s organization. It feels clunky at times, and doesn’t deliver as smoothly as its predecessors, but isn’t a total miss. Suppose To Be My Friend, featuring Snoop Dogg and Charlie Wilson, is a melodic, relaxed number that probably would’ve sounded better without Master P’s overly-animated contribution. Instead of finessing the beat (in the vein of Tryin’ 2 Do Something or Gangstas Need Love), he sounds out of place yelling all over the first verse. O’Dell knocks another one out of the park with The Ghetto Is A Struggle. The subject matter is fairly simplistic but the song has incredible replay value thanks to O’Dell’s bouncy bass riffs.

Run Away Slaves is a Mo B. Dick-produced solo by the Colonel. This is undoubtedly P’s best performance thus far because he’s touching on themes that he, better than anyone, can speak to: independence and black ownership. He says it best in the song’s outro:

“No Limit…we runaways, from the whole record industry. Cause we ain’t bout having 15%; we bout having 100. We bout teaching other niggas how to get theirs, cause we going to get ours. Y’all get yours and stop hating.”

Livin Like Hustlers is unfortunately nothing more than fluff to fill out this sprawling double disc release. Mo B. Dick delivers a smooth hook, but everyone else sounds like they’re merely going through the motions. No Limit Army is the first song produced by eventual BBTP-replacement, Sugar Bear. And even though P shamelessly rips the chorus of B.G.’s Cash Money Is An Army, this is one of the better songs in TRU’s catalogue. Mac and Pheno both deliver exceptional verses before C-Murder brings it home with (arguably) the best verse of the entire first disc.

Bounce kicks off the second half of the album in an unimaginable way. This one is aimed at the clubs but feels lazy and uninspired. A video was also produced but failed to garner any buzz for the song and it’s easy to see why.

You’ll Never Change continues the rightful push of songstress Ms. Peaches, but the material here is dull and the production certainly doesn’t help. New recruit D.I.G. offers the best verse, but even that’s by default. The ultra-talented Mac recycles a 16 used to much greater effect on his World War III album, while P sleepwalks through another verse. Hail Mary is essentially a C-Murder solo (despite Magic showing up for a quick 12 bars) that feels better suited for his Bossalinie album. Ke’Noe’s guitar riffs are a nice touch, but it’s hard to overlook the theft of Pac’s song of the same name (C even repeats the chorus in the same cadence).

Mark After Dark supplies a barebones West Coast groove for I Don’t Want You No More, a relatively light song about dodging possessive groupies. Unfortunately, this is Mr. Serv-On’s last appearance on a No Limit release and he does not end on a high note, momentarily derailing the track with a slightly offbeat delivery. Soldier Till I Die is the first truly enjoyable song of the second disc, with rookie D.I.G. again bringing the right amount of energy and hunger. P uses this song to salute his allies in the rap game which by ‘99, were few and far between. Even Cash Money gets a shoutout, despite B.G. calling out the Tank for biting their Hot Boyz moniker.

The conspicuously-absent BBTP frontman, KLC, brings his signature sound to Buss That – a sparse war number shrouded with gunshots. This production will never not satisfy No Limit purists, but this particular song is too short and doesn’t suit Silkk’s staccato style. Where’s Mystikal when you need him?

All three Miller brothers return for Don’t Fuck With TRU, a not-so-subtle message to both Pastor Troy and Death Row. C-Murder shines brightest on these songs; his anger seeping through his whispery, slurred delivery. This is vintage No Limit. P then swaps his brothers for his cousins (Baby Soulja and Reginelli of the Gambino Family) on Never – a two minute teaser whose only apparent purpose is to pad out the 2nd disc. O’Dell, one of the few to consistently shine on this uneven project, resumes production and hook duties on R.I.P. Kevin. Unfortunately, the latest dedication to the Millers’ fallen brother doesn’t feel as organic as I Miss My Homies or I Remember, despite O’Dell’s best efforts.

Big Ed, a legacy soldier in his own right, makes his final appearance for the label on Bounce To This (wasn’t there already a “bounce” song on this disc?), another stellar O’Dell contribution. The only complaint here is that it’s yet another song that doesn’t feature the group. Snoop Dogg proves his remarkable return to form on No Limit Top Dogg was no fluke with It’s A Beautiful Thing. His chemistry with C-Murder is on full display as the two confidently reaffirm that life on the Tank is yup, you guessed it…a beautiful thing. The World Is Yours is a solid Silkk solo offering but it’s ultimately hampered by its abrupt ending in the middle of his third verse. We Riders, another C solo mission, feels like an extension of his underground classic, Life Or Death. Its menacing feel and “ready for war” tone are a nice change of pace.

I want to preface my thoughts on Prayer For A G by reiterating that I’ve always appreciated Silkk The Shocker as an artist. Sure, his flow isn’t for everyone but you can’t deny that he has some phenomenal records in his catalogue. Prayer For A G is not that. In fact, I’ll venture to say that this awkward effort should have never left the studio. His “conversation with God” approach is admirable but the execution simply isn’t there. Da Crime Family, after a fairly exhaustive 91 minute run, concludes with a radio edit of TRU Homies. This probably could’ve been left off in favor of extending some of the better songs that ended too quickly. It’s merely a censored version and not a single redone for radio (i.e. I Ain’t Mad At Cha), so what’s the point?

Double albums are always a tough feat to pull off. I appreciate the artist’s’ desire to give fans more music but the quality of the product is almost always diluted. And if his overall performance is any indication, Master P was still clearly feelings the effects of leaving the hip hop world behind for the NBA (and World Championship Wrestling, on occasion) when he hit the studio for Da Crime Family. He no longer sounded confident and only appeared sporadically throughout.

Another reason the initial feeling towards this album is that of disappointment is because, all in all, TRU only shared 8 songs on the entire album. This disconnect results in more of a compilation feel than a proper follow up to TRU 2 Da Game. It’s not that Da Crime Family is a bad project, it’s that you know it could’ve been so much better if a more collaborative approach took place. And, finally, the most damning factor is that this was TRU’s last album. P later dropped a New No Limit compilation under the TRU brand, but C-Murder’s murder conviction (combined with turmoil and disagreements between P and C) spelled an end to one of the finest groups of the 1990’s. Da Crime Family will always be worth a spin, but only because it’s TRU’s swan song – not because it’s one of their best.

Overall Vibes: 6.1/10

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