If you attended high school during in the ’90s, you’ll undoubtedly remember when No Limit single-handedly kept record stores in business during the later portion of the decade. Between releases from extended family members and the army of fatigue-wearing rappers signed to his label during its heyday, Master P ended up putting 46 albums on shelves between the years of 1997-1999. Yet, despite many of them seeing relative success, most of the artists and their projects never saw daylight beyond that introductory run of thick, plastic jewel-cases.
Yes, for every Silkk The Shocker-esque success story that came out of The Tank, there were 10 times as many artists that didn’t get the benefit of the doubt. Instead, many saw their debut albums hit shelves, then couldn’t capitalize beyond the initial look. After all, Percy Miller had his own career to worry about, so the artists’ responsibilities fell square on their own shoulders – an approach that’s common practice for record executives, nowadays. But, back before YouTube and the Internet made self-promotion a cake walk, this self-sustaining stipulation was a double-edged sword for most of P’s acts. At the time, the No Limit brand was in such high demand that if you were signed and couldn’t secure singles with the label’s heavy hitters, then fans didn’t give a damn and moved on to whomever did.
But, with Mac, it was different.
See, Mac was part of the initial wave of artists to sign with No Limit when they caught their distribution deal with Priority and began recruiting. Hailing from New Orleans, the 3rd Ward rapper was actually one of the first people to put out rap music in the NO period, as he had released an unheralded album with Mannie Fresh when he was 13, called The Lyrical Midget. By the time he was 20, he had inked a contract with Master P and was primed to release his major label debut, Shell Shocked. Although the album didn’t have one hit record, it featured every prominent player from the booming label, which helped the project debut at #17 on the Billboard 200 – a task practically unheard of from an artist without a successful single in today’s market.
But, just like almost every other one of his fellow TRU Tank Dogs, Mac’s brief boom came to an end before it really even started. After Shell Shocked stopped selling beyond the initial run and the signing of Snoop Dogg began to take No Limit’s focus from local to global, Mac’s solo career basically got placed on the back-burner. And, although the Louisiana MC did end up dropping an underwhelming follow-up called World War III and was eventually fit into the 504 Boyz group, his 1998 No Limit debut was by far the highlight of his brief tenure in the spotlight.
Now, almost 15 years removed from the release of Shell Shocked, Mac is locked up on a 30-year bid for manslaughter, while his debut dime is keeping his name in rotation and actually fetching a pretty penny along the way. On Amazon, new copies of the once-acclaimed album are fetching upwards of $80 while pre-owned discs are going for almost 30. At my local FYE establishment, it would’ve cost me damn near $40 to place that used copy from the picture above into my car’s disc-changer. The reasoning? Master P delivered on his word of putting out albums for each of his initial signees, but when they stopped selling, he moved on to the next and didn’t replenish the racks. So, now, well beyond even Master P’s run, those albums are still fetching top dollar, based on their rarity alone. That said, did I buy this causality of war? Hell no I didn’t, because with Christmas on the horizon, my funds are accounted for and buying decade-old CDs is a bad investment.
But, the gaudy price tag did remind me of a time when albums didn’t simply sell on the steam of a single. They sold on the reputation of the company who released them. Whether it was Death Row, Bad Boy or No Limit, during the ’90s, people believed in their brands enough to buy anything they put out. While that seems lemming-like in today’s stingy marketplace, the mass marketing behind each of their movements is remarkable. However, in hindsight, it’s easy to see why a label like No Limit specifically couldn’t last.
No matter how successful your label is, putting out 50 projects over a three-year span would oversaturate an ocean. And, aside from fans getting sick of spending money on watered-down versions of Ghetto D, it doesn’t help when the label’s head gives up on his team, yet still attempts to earn MVP. After a while, Percy simply stopped tending to every one of his artists, not just Mac. Hell, by the time 2002 hit, if your last name wasn’t Miller, you were either shelved or had already re-established your career elsewhere. But, for most members of the once prestigious No Limit tank, their dreams had been already pillaged and their window come and gone. Unfortunately for Mac though, much more was lost from that broken chain of command than just a career.
So, for all you rappers out there with water behind your ears, considering taking up a deal that places your dreams ahead of reality, take this story of Mac and the No Limit enterprise with a grain of salt. Otherwise, the only way you’ll will ever end up seeing longevity, is if your distribution run has ended and the few remaining copies of your could’ve-been break-out album carry enough nostalgia to earn a heavy price tag and a few years of taking up shelf-space in the used department. Then again, that’s only if you’re lucky enough to get a hard-copy, retail release in 2012.