The late summer of 1999 marked the first time in nearly 5 years that No Limit’s foundational production team, Beats By The Pound, wouldn’t be involved in one of the label’s releases.
Their departure the previous month set off a wave of soldiers gone AWOL, forever changing the makeup of the once-powerhouse dynasty. After the dust settled, all that remained were loyalists now tasked with driving the Tank into the new millennium.
One such soldier was the 9th Ward’s own – (Mr.) Magic. He’d had success with his debut, Sky’s The Limit, less than a year prior but this was also at the peak of No Limit’s run, where nearly every project was shipping 200,000 minimum. With Magic’s sophomore album already scheduled for an August release, and the abrupt departure of BBTP still very much fresh, was he capable of showing the label could thrive, or even stay afloat for that matter? This had to be a statement record and Magic was determined to make it just that. Released on August 31, 1999, Thuggin’ marked a sonic transition for the label and remains one of the more important discs in its rich catalogue.
Thuggin’ commences with Beginning, a short introduction stressing the importance of playing the game for what it is. A wailing guitar and haunting piano provide an eerie backdrop but you’re left wanting at least one verse. That’s Me is the first half-single (packaged with Ice On My Wrist as one extended video) and rightfully so. Magic already sounds more confident here than any performance on his debut – his charisma, flow and delivery are all superb as he effortlessly glides over this bouncy Mark In Da Dark beat. Ice On My Wrist immediately follows and features the colonel, Master P. As the title suggests, this is a clear effort by P to absorb Cash Money’s shine (pun intended) by boasting about his own collection of bling bling. The production is ultimately as flat as the subject matter though and ends up sounding like a Mannie Fresh throwaway.
I’m normally opposed to lengthy skits but Party Time sounds authentic enough to seamlessly segue into (arguably) the most underrated club anthem of the entire No Limit discography. Although Wobble, Wobble was later remixed as a 504 Boyz mega-collaboration, the original Mark In Da Dark version found here is far superior. This salsa-flavored number limits the guests to C-Murder and Mac and frankly, that’s more than enough to solidify this as a classic.
Soldier is the obligatory “I’m a No Limit soldier” cut and sports a Suga Bear chorus and production. This song isn’t bad per se but a tired hook and theme weigh it down; it’s unfortunate too because Magic offers some very solid 16s. If Soldier was slightly underwhelming though, the second installment of Magic’s 9th Ward series brings Thuggin’ right back to its energetic core. Mark In Da Dark bats 1.000 with thumping production best described as “Crescent City crunk”, while Mr. Mr. Maaagic passionately holds it down for the CTC.
Premeditation is another appetizer of a skit that (thankfully) leads into the murder-for-hire D.I.G. collaboration, Good Looking Out. The aforementioned No Limit rookie aptly plays the role of a young thug ready to put in work for the cause. Both Magic and D.I.G., although strikingly similar vocally, work well together – effortlessly trading bars throughout. Do You Really Want Peace? attempts to invoke a laid back, bluesy feel but the production doesn’t pack enough punch to anchor the middle of the project.
TRU Records’ own Ke’Noe lays the foundation for the C-Murder and QB-assisted Club Thang. And while chants, claps and scratches are abundant, it feels like everyone is simply trotting along with no real emotion. Puff Puff, on the other hand, is Magic in his purest form. Dedicated to his favorite stress reliever, he showcases a rapid-fire delivery over Ke’Noe’s whimpering guitar licks, making this smoker’s anthem stick like the green he’s rolling up. Mia X joins Magic for Thuggin’s finest entry, the unfeigned Thank You Lord For My Life. After losing both parents in 1999, no artist was better suited to humbly reaffirm her faith on wax than Mia. Her weakened but prevailing tone compliments Magic’s message of trust in God impeccably. He may be most remembered for songs like Down 4 My Niggaz or Can’t Be Touched, but this is the song that best represents everything Magic stood for.
Keep It Gangsta, despite its relatively cliche title, is one of the more impressive cuts on the album. This Mark In Da Dark banger is catered for the low riders with it’s sunny So-Cal sound. Silkk The Shocker slows down his signature staccato flow and Magic continues his display of a much-improved delivery. This one was a pleasant surprise. The Tank’s premier songstress, Ms. Peaches, shows up for Freaky – a sultry tale of a side piece that becomes too clingy for Magic’s liking. The production is spacey and melodic, with both artists effortlessly slipping into their respective characters.
C-Murder returns for the riotous We Gon Ride – a song that works much better for the clubs than the unconvincing Club Thang from earlier. Everyone from Mac to Krazy (who would sign to No Limit a mere 5 months later) gets a shoutout, as you picture C and Magic erratically weaving through traffic during a high speed chase. Wanna Get Away finds Magic in a much more pensive mood, reflecting on the world’s tragedies over a melancholic production with a slight oriental feel. If Thank You Lord For My Life perpetuated unwavering optimism, this song balances it with a sense of fatigue and hopelessness.
Thugs, the only contribution from BBTP holdover Carlos Stephens, features a short (but fiery) Magic verse before C-Murder concludes with a tip of the cap to his label’s first artist. Thuggin’ formally finishes shortly after with its Ending – an appreciative salute to all that made Magic’s success possible.
As a complete project, Thuggin’ delivers. It stonewalls the perception that No Limit couldn’t survive without Beats By The Pound and reflects Magic’s growth as an all-around artist. Whereas Sky’s The Limit often found him playing second fiddle to established stars, his sophomore act is a personal triumph. Sure, it has its uneven moments here and there, but Thuggin’ ends up being everything fans thought a Magic album could be and more.
Overall Vibes: 7.6