Monday, December 1, 2008

No Limit Throwback Monday - "Final Ride"

Silkk and C-Murder - definitely better than Kanye.

Today our No Limit Throwback is 'Final Ride,' the six-minute final track on the Miller Bros.' unjustly forgotten double album classic, Tru 2 Da Game. (Regional classic, I mean. I'm not crazy.) In all seriousness, T2DG maintains a way higher level of consistency than double players like Wu-Tang Forever or that overly long Pac album with the name I forget (seriously, I had to look it up), though, to be sure, there is no 'Triumph' here. But there is a 'No Limit Soldiers' and a 'Final Ride,' and that's good enough for me. If you've never heard the song, please listen to it first because I wouldn't want to ruin it for you. It's that good. Now, continue on.

As anyone so steeped in 90s rap as to waste their time reading this blog will recall, on the greatest rap album of all time, The Infamous, Prodigy famously disses rappers who kick "that crazy-ass space shit that don't even make no sense." The idea being, not that there's something gay about rapping about outer space and how much you get high (although Prodigy would certainly say that reality rap's more masculine and whatnot), but that space shit is divorced from reality. And it's on just this note that Master P, a guy who has way, way more in common with Mobb Deep than you might think, begins 'Final Ride.' On 'Break Em Off Somethin,' another classic track off his solo album from a year prior, P brags, in one of his typical lazy name-drops, that he's "space-age pimpin but not Eightball." (He also says on the same album that he's not Dre but wants nothing but chronic, warns listeners who dare to fuck with the tank that they'll get screwed up like DJ Screw, etc.) But here, P says:

Niggas that want a space age hustle, catch that rocket to the fuckin moon
That be your final ship, nigga, 'cause your ass is doomed
Ain't no comin back livin in the dope game...

That is, there is no such thing as a space age hustle, all hustles are fraught with risk and inextricably bound up with the realities of the very real spaces (New Orleans, Richmond California, 3rd Ward, 9th Ward, 10th Ward, St. Bernard Projects, Calliope Projects, and that's just the first verse) they take place in. Unlike Prodigy, though, who dismisses spacy rappers as punks, P just thinks they're deluded. Indeed, Silkk name-checks 8Ball and MJG in his verse as rappers he looks up to. P goes on, talks about the horrors of his environment (there's a particularly poignant episode where a baby gets shot by a bunch of dudes in ski masks - onlookers thought it was a clown show), and then offers a solution - getting out of the dope game and into the rap game, and through that, teaching others the game. But it's a very partial solution that only addresses the needs of his family, as he tacitly admits, and it doesn't even necessarily save him:

Tupac gone, what rapper gone be next
I hope it ain't me who get cashed like a bad check*

At just this moment, the flute line in the beat, which up to now had been pretty, if a little somber, hits this screechingly shrill note, and the producer starts jamming on the upper end of his piano.

Then Silkk comes in. His verse is probably the least interesting of the three, but it's remarkably poignant. With the curiosity and simplicity of a child, he speculates on whether there "really is another side," and where his cousin went when he died. Then he pivots to listing all the rappers whose cars he'd like to live to drive in - drive a rock candy painted Cadillac like Outkast, get front and back and side to side like UGK, drive a convertible Lexus like 8Ball and MJG, drive another like "my brother, Master P," and, as simple as it sounds, it's incredibly touching because it's just so honest, because he admits that he's really at this point in his career just a very young fan of other rappers (including his big brother), listening to their shit and hoping he can live the lives they talk about in their songs. Then he goes, "I'ma shock the world if I live to 23," and it takes things to another level, because his famous stupid catchphrase, "shock the world," usually a promise that he'd shock the world with his daffy flow and killer lyrics, is now used in an admission that it'll be a shock if he even lives to the age when most people graduate from college. As fun as the ultra-animated, ultra-full-of-shit Silkk is, one wishes he had done more work in this vein.

Then C-Murder goes in. His verse begins quite inauspiciously:

I done seen mo crime than a crime lord

Sometimes I sit back and think I seen more death than God

but he ends up stealing the whole song. His next two lines are:

Just last week a nigga got shot up and burned

But me I take heed to shit like that, and I learned

Then the drums drop out, and it's the content of that learning that will drive the rest of the song.** His initial response is to ask how he can avoid a similar fate, and the verse looks like it's headed in the wrong direction. But then he goes, in the most earnest, un-self-conscious moment of the whole song:

I hope you feel me cause I feel the pain of others
I feel for every nigga that got to go on without they brother

(The Millers, of course, lost a brother, Kevin, to drug-related violence.) Then he warns fellow killers that the very next week, they could go from breaking families' hearts to mourning deaths in their own families. Then something really interesting happens. Throughout the album and No Limit releases during this period in general (and you could probably find analogies on Jay's early albums, think 'Dope Man'), there's this weird tension where, sometimes on the very same song, P or someone will brag about being a dealer/killer, while bitterly complaining that "they" call him one. (See especially 'What They Call Us?'.) It's hard to grapple with, and the most charitable spin I can put on it is that, while P or Silkk or C admit to being dealers, they object to being reduced to that, to being labeled as "just dealers." But here, C takes responsibility for his actions and admits that he simply is whatever people say he is:

In the hood, I'm known for peelin caps, so I'm a cap peela

The police know me for sellin drugs, so I'm a drug deala

Given that realization, and the fact that "there ain't no love [in courts of law] for a black man," he promises to "reverse the game," which I take to mean getting out of the game, though it's certainly ambiguous. Finally, he offers some parting wisdom to those who choose to stay in, advising that:

It's a never ending game, do or die
So if you kill, be prepared for that final ride

It's a staggering moment. Then P does the outro honors, shouting out various dead rappers and comrades, including Eazy-E, and, as is fitting on a song and record so haunted by the ghosts of fallen rappers, wraps up the whole album by saying "we gon' see yall fools at the crossroads."

*P in this period is obsessed with Pac's death and a ton of his work can be read as a response to that event, especially the constant promises that he'd "never rap about another nigga on a record" and claims that those who do so are hoes.
** Mobb Deep fans, of course, will recall that when it came to pulling drums out of a beat at a key moment, no one did it better than Havoc. And that the first single off their first bad album was called 'The Learning (Burn).' Thinking of No Limit at its height as a somewhat dumber, more exploitative, Southern/West Coast version of Mobb Deep, instead of a ripoff of N.W.A. or The Chronic or Pac's corpus, really isn't a bad way to approach their records. They share the same fatalism, the same emphasis on their neighborhoods' hellishness, something of the same mixture of guilt over and pride in their criminality, the same obsession with Reality with a capital r, even somewhat similar production styles.


Badmon3333 said...

I sold my copy of this album to CD Warehouse, so it's been a long time since I've heard it, but no way it holds up to 'All Eyez on Me,' if that's the 2Pac double-CD you're referring to (there was the posthumous B-side/bootleg double-disc, too, the one that had "Changes" on it).

The most generic Death Row beat Soopafly ever tossed off when he was bored can still compete with most of the greatest ideas anyone at Beats By the Pound came up with, "Captain Kirk" notwithstanding (full disclosure: Soopafly is the slept-on treasure of Death Row Records, I wish I knew what he was up to now, if anything).

I'll even grant you T2TG's superiority over 'Wu-Tang Forever,' if we can agree that, pared down to a single album, it would have blown both T2TG and 'All Eyez on Me' out of the water (even though it's pretty bloated, I don't really subscribe to the whole 'RZA started producing shit for white kids' theory).

Badmon3333 said...

Alright so I think I was a little overly harsh re: my opinion of Beats by the Pound.

Your footnote re: P's obsession with 2Pac's death got me thinking... you're definitely right... in fact, the whole 'MP Da Last Don' film/soundtrack can almost be seen as P recasting himself as a metaphorical 2Pac.

It's also the greatest Pen & Pixel cover of all time, with the amazing "P moves the cross a quarter-inch to the left" shifter case.

tray said...

Yeah, my No Limit obsession stops at their movies. Back when I was a Dipset fanatic I watched the movie Cam did, and that shit wasn't even funny. Save yourself the agony and watch the youtube highlights. So I never watched a rapper's straight-to-video film again. And never will. And that includes movies that didn't go straight to video like State Property, Belly, Idlewild, ATL, anything Pac was in, etc. Though it does not include big studio movies that Luda shows up in, as he can act and carried Crash for 10 minutes before the stupidity of the script manifested itself.

I hate Pac, but, granting that they had good production over there, I still think BBTP was awfully good, check out the flute on this song, and other classic beats like Ice Cream Man, Bout It Bout It, No Limit Soldiers, 1/2 On A Bag of Dank, etc. It's, granted, a super-cheap aesthetic, but not in the way that, like, cheap synth beats on Koch albums are cheap. Of course, a ton of it's quite generic, but I still think Ice Cream Man stacks up very well to, say, Dogg Food.

Jesus Shuttlesworth said...

you really should see Belly. i own the special edition dvd. it's got so much more going for it than Killa Season, although that one is great when drunk.

Badmon3333 said...

Outside of 'Big Pimpin,' I was never real big on Tha Dogg Pound.

To be clear, I've never seen 'MP Da Last Don,' just the preview. That was enough.

I'm with Jesus on the film recommendation. 'Belly' is a great guilty pleasure, Louie Rankin is badass as a Jamaican crime lord, PLUS it's got DMX's priceless "Argument Against Knowledge" which culminates with the greatest exchange of all time:

NAS: "When's the last time you read anything?"

DMX: "Never, motherfucker! Fuck a book! You need to start thinkin' about your seed, son... 'cause Shorty can't eat no books."

tray said...

I saw Belly on BET once, part of it. From the way it was shot, I thought it was a D'Angelo video. Thought that for four minutes, until I noticed that D'Angelo just wasn't showing up. Then Nas and X did some incredibly bad acting in a car, and there was a dude on the sidewalk eating a banana. Like not only did they suck on a level I didn't realize was possible, they were so poorly matched up. Nas is in this perpetual state of stoner chill and X is in full-on Tourettes mode. It's crazy.

Badmon3333 said...

Poor Tyrin Turner... from Caine in 'Menace II Society' to a permed-out, Dusty Springfield banana-eatin' motherfucker...

Jesus Shuttlesworth said...

if you thought nas and x were bad, did you see t-boz's part? hoooly crap.

yea, and "get money, fuck a book."

tray said...

So does anyone want to comment on this wonderful song I've attempted to introduce you to? Because you're not persuading me to watch Belly.