Timing is everything, especially in the unpredictable landscape of music. The burgeoning Cash Money Records had a clear sense of this when they inked their lucrative distribution deal with Universal in 1998. Juvenile’s 400 Degreez changed hip hop in the south as we know it but, more importantly, planted the flag for the CMR dynasty. B.G.’s Chopper City In The Ghetto followed and proved to be another immensely successful project that built further interest in the roster and Mannie Fresh’s exciting new style of production.
When Baby and Slim Williams announced the label’s next release would be the Hot Boys’ anticipated sophomore album, it again came down to perfect timing. Juvenile and B.G.’s celebrity was well established and the release of the supergroup’s Guerrilla Warfare could serve as a stepping stone for the careers of lesser known members, Lil Wayne and Turk. It also didn’t hurt that the sound of the city was ripe for the taking, with rival No Limit Records’ popularity eroding at a rapid rate. Debuting in stores 20 years ago today, Guerrilla Warfare was Cash Money’s hat trick and remains an important piece of hip hop history a full two decades later.
The album begins with a Hot & Spicy intro courtesy of the maestro, Mannie Fresh. The production is full of his trademark bounce with a jazzy saxophone mixed in. It’s one of the better-produced Tymer introductions but is nothing more than a brief hors d’oeuvre. The Hot Boys waste no time setting the tone of Guerrilla Warfare with a remake of their underground anthem, We On Fire. As memorable as 1997’s original was, it’s an afterthought after listening to this updated, and upgraded, version. Everything from the concept (a call-and-response theme similar to Juvenile’s Ha) to Fresh’s instrumentation is flawless. Alternating members every two bars creates a tightly knit, cohesive feel that highlights just how in sync CMR was at their peak. This is a classic in every sense, and one of the most important singles in New Orleans’ celebrated music scene.
Lil Wayne kicks off Respect My Mind with an impressive performance still very much relishing in his “I’m the youngest of the group” role – even giggling throughout his verse. All four members contribute but Juvenile and B.G. ultimately anchor this one (which, in ‘99, was still pretty much the norm). The first solo entry is B.G.’s Help, a perfectly woven cut that could’ve easily made his Chopper City In The Ghetto album. The song is most notable though for being an overt shot at No Limit Records. Prior to the release of Guerrilla Warfare, Master P (in true P fashion) decided to capitalize on Cash Money’s buzz by producing a movie called Hot Boyz, without so much as crediting the originators. Doogie doesn’t hold back:
“We on another level, y’all stuck on the same shit…
CMB came through, now we done rearranged shit…
We got the game locked, these wannabe soldiers ain’t shit…
Y’all ain’t from Uptown, can’t come on Valence and Magnolia, bitch…
We don’t wear the suit – we wear tees, bauds and Ree’s…”
And what’s a Cash Money album without a signature “mask on, creep silent” song? Ridin provides that fix with its dreary, desperate mood. Comparatively, it’s very similar to U.P.T. from Juvenile’s 400 Degreez with all four Hot Boys assembling for war. Hood politics take over Off Tha Porch, an unnecessary skit that briefly halts the momentum of Guerrilla Warfare. Get Out Tha Way continues the forbidding start to the album, making no attempt at stuntin’ or flossin’. And while Lil Wayne does manage to sneak in his famous “drop it like it’s hot” tagline, it’s armed robbery – not wobbly wobbly. Clear Tha Set, Wayne’s solo number, feels more Get It How U Live! than Guerrilla Warfare, but remains an enjoyable number nonetheless. Weezy’s lyricism is still fairly limited, but his confidence masks any shortcomings on the mic.
Cash Money were masters at taking a simple phrase and building entire songs around them, often venturing into pop territory in the process. I Feel is the latest example, with the title being repeated in nearly every bar of the song. It somehow never feels tiresome or monotonous though and, in this case, provides B.G. another opportunity to call out No Limit for biting:
“I feel like we taking over the industry, fa sho…
I feel these bitin’ wannabe soldiers already know…”
Mannie Fresh takes a minimalist approach with Boys At War, a barebones bounce record that clocks in at nearly six minutes. The song becomes a little tedious after a while and probably would’ve worked best at half its running time. You Dig features a strong performance by Juvenile, but this is a rare miss on Mannie’s end. The production feels noisy and disjointed, with drum patterns that resemble Queen’s We Will Rock You a little too closely. Next up is I Need A Hot Girl, the Hot Boys’ highest charting single and a seminal twerk track that secured heavy spins in strip clubs nationwide. Ironically, Mr. Back That Azz Up is nowhere to be found but the song still slaps; Baby even makes room for yet another quick jab at No Limit (“Fuck a thug girl, them hoes can only suck my dick…”).
Tuesday & Thursday is a cool concept (highlighting the hottest days for raids and sweeps in the projects) but musically, it’s missing something – especially when compared to the highs of Guerrilla Warfare thus far. For as talented as Turk was, he always seemed relegated to the background. Why? Your guess is as good as mine but it’s telling that each member released a combined 10 solo albums for the label before Turk dropped his debut. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t for lack of skill. Bout Whatever is the Magnolia MC’s solo spot (for the most part at least; Wayne shares hook duties) and delivers arguably the best cut on the entire album. Fresh’s glossy instrumental is sonically superior to this day.
Sick Uncle is another sloppy skit that aims to keep the album entrenched in the projects but isn’t needed – the music’s already achieved that. Paparue returns for the Caribbean-flavored Shoot 1st, a much more pop oriented number than its title would suggest. It’s surprising this wasn’t formally rolled out as a single because it has crossover written all over it. Too Hot closes out Guerrilla Warfare on the same note it began, with all four members showcasing their unique styles over Fresh production that feels cinematic in spots.
As was the case with TRU, the Hot Boys never released another album as a unit after 1999 (2003’s Let Em Burn was more of a compilation of lost tapes the label threw together). The difference between the two, and the depressing aspect in Cash Money’s case, is that this particular group of stunnas truly were on top of the world at the time. Guerrilla Warfare ended up moving 1.5 million units but the music itself is priceless. And although the term “Hot Boy summer” is the popular new wave in 2019, it’s important we remember who had the hottest summer of them all in 1999.
Overall Vibes: 9.4/10