Master P: Ghetto D

Master P
Ghetto D
No Limit Records

NEW ORLEANS IS pretty safe in the daytime, and when I lived there a few years ago I'd walk around the neighborhoods and talk to people like the folks in the projects on Calliope where Master P grew up. One day, I wore a Seagram T-shirt on my walkabout. Now, readers who aren't gangsta rap fans may not know who Seagram is. I sure didn't: The tee was a freebie from the Rap-A-Lot label, and I liked the logo on the back. But everywhere I went, ghetto kids would come up and ask, "Where'd you get that? That's a smooth album." As it turns out, Seagram Miller was the nastiest gangsta rapper imaginable. When the Oakland star was gunned down last summer, ahead of Tupac and Biggie, there were no Village Voice tributes or Vibe cover stories. But I bet those kids in New Orleans took pause.

I thought of this last month when Master P (born Percy Miller) suddenly and rudely shoved Oasis aside on the top 10 of the Billboard album charts with a record whose success seemed the ultimate triumph of low-concept rap over high-concept rock. And with its cover's garish computer graphics, Ghetto D looks like something you'd buy out of someone's trunk. The title cut is a buoyant, funky-as-hell primer on crack slinging ("one gram of soda for every gram of coke," P advises). And whether or not it's the classic I think it is, it's pure street product nonetheless. Fans of "real" hip hop who've denigrated P's mic skills miss a crucial point. It doesn't matter that P can't rap; he's a good enough producer to make everything buzz and flow, bringing in talented guest-stars C-Murder and Mystikal, while mixing "full-body Cali g-funk," with the electro textures of New Orleans "bounce," a local variant of bass.

As a former-crack-dealer-turned-music-entrepreneur, P knows what street fans everywhere want to hear: good beats and catchy choruses. And the chants P pimps are as cheap and addictive as the rock he formerly pedaled. So it should be noted that where big labels have failed to properly market Crescent City gangstas Gregory D and Mystikal, Master P has succeeded in building a multimedia empire out of Southern hustler talent. His New Orleans movie, I'm Bout It, is blowing up the video market, and a promising new Mystikal disc is due out on P's No Limit label. So, go ahead--call him the "Southern Puffy." I'm sure he won't take it as an insult.

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