How Master P’s Ninth ‘Uhhhh’ in ‘I Got the Hook-Up’ Killed No Limit
After exhaustive research, I've traced the origin of No Limit Records' demise back to a single moment, and a single syllable. If you're curious, it's about one minute and 15 seconds into the song 'I Got the Hook-Up.'
In the late 1900s, Percy Robert Miller, more affectionately known as Master P, gave a master class on how you can build an incredibly strong brand around just a couple of quality products. It was a spectacular show for all those who were there to see it, and still serves as both a source of inspiration and cautionary tale in today's music industry. Looking back on the whole thing now, I'm having a really hard time believing that the golden age of No Limit Records only lasted about a year, but I've crunched the numbers and it checks out.
Now, as is the case with any fallen empire, you can usually trace the downfall back to one single moment in time -- the first domino to fall and start the chain reaction. After witnessing the entire run of No Limit Records, and casually thinking about this very thing during occasional stretches of downtime and moments of extreme mental boredom over the last 20 years -- I believe I have found the catalyst for No Limit's demise -- it is Master P's ninth "uhh" in the title track from the 'I Got the Hook-Up' soundtrack.
But First a Little History
feel free to skip ahead if you don't need the history lesson
1997 was an incredible year for No Limit Records. They broke into the mainstream like a freight train with a string of successful hits from a large roster of artists who were largely unknown in the years prior. The label, which began in 1991, had 20 releases prior to 1997. In 1997, they had 8 releases. In 1998, they had 23. So yeah, it all moved pretty fast.
The funny thing about No Limit was that, in its heyday, it seemed like every week or two you had a new album. So much so that you didn't even get to fully appreciate the songs before you moved onto the next batch. They were promoting both previous releases and upcoming ones with the packaging of their current release, which was brilliant marketing, by the way.
Their branding game was next level as well. Every album cover was different, but had that identifiable look to it. You could see the cover of record and say, "Yup, that's a No Limit joint" and you'd usually be right. There were eventually others who employed that branding style, one of them being Cash Money Records. Despite seeming like the knockoff No Limit at the time, Cash Money managed to stay relevant for much longer. You still see elements of that branding style used today in almost all the "mixtape release party" and "birthday at the club" flyers.
The label had such a large roster, that songs without features were a rarity. In fact, you had essentially the same group of eight to ten artists appearing so much on each others' albums, that it seemed like you weren't even buying a solo artist's record. If the Wu-Tang Clan put out an album every couple months, it would have been a similar phenomenon.
Almost every artist had one high-water mark album on No Limit (Yes, even Silkk the Shocker), and the best of those were released in that brief stretch between Master P's 'Ghetto D,' released in September of 1997 and Snoop Dogg's debut on the label, 'Da Game is to be Sold, Not to be Told,' released in August of 1998. There were random flashes of brilliance that occurred outside of those two bookends, but the majority of No Limit artists did their best work within that 11-month period, when everyone was firing on all cylinders.
THAT BRINGS US TO I GOT THE HOOK-UP, HOLLA IF YA HEAR ME UHHHHHHH
You could look at No Limit's books and say that ambition was their downfall. They grew too fast and started trying to do too much, and eventually -- nobody cared. While technically true, that's a pretty generic assessment. When you take a closer look, and really examine it -- you can hear the exact moment when No Limit "jumped the shark."
Master P, like many great rappers do, had a catch phrase or "calling card" if you will. Tupac had "Thug Life" and later "Westside," Snoop Dogg had "Beeyotch," and Master P had "Uhh." These catch phrases can be incredibly effective and powerful when used sparingly, but they can also become your own personal "Cash Me Ousside" when overused to the point of becoming a joke. The thing about calling cards like that is that when yours becomes a joke, so do you. Master P fell victim to this crime of association within the song 'I Got the Hook-Up.'
The song, which is meant to be the rap equivalent of love ballad, comes from the soundtrack of the awful movie (yes, they made movies too -- that's a different conversation that's too long to have in an already-too-long article) 'I Got the Hook-Up.' At this point, Master P was just coming off of HUGE success with his single 'Make 'em Say Uhh!' and, understandably, wanted to push his "signature sound" hard. He overshot it... by a lot.
You don't even make it a full second into the song before you hear P spout his then-famous "uhh." Actually, you get four of them, right out of the gate. Looking back on it now, these were definitely the worst uhhs he had committed to a record at this point. They were long, bellow-y, off-time, a little pitch-y... just as bad as you could imagine. He was really letting the quality control slide on these ones, and it shows.
Anyway, you get through the first round of those uhhs in about 20 seconds, and you're kind of like "Okay, that happened. I get it -- you're the 'uhh' guy. Cool, get on with the song." And he does. I don't think anyone was expecting this verse to be P's finest hour, but it's alright. He's got some chops. It's when you get to the second chorus, around the 1 minute mark, that you realize that there is a serious problem.
The chorus starts, again, with one of his "I just got stabbed in the gut" uhhhhhhs. By the time the second one hits, you start to wonder if he recorded the hook once and it's looped, or if he recorded each one live. I still have no idea, because each time it sounds worse, but that might be a side-effect of PT-UHHHHHHS-D or something. It's at this point that you realize he's not joking. This guy is going to "uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh" all the way through this f---ing song, and there's still over 3 minutes of it left.
It's right then, when you understand what you're in for, that he decides to break you. The fifth "uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh" in that chorus (ninth overall) at around 1:15 is the longest and pitchiest one yet. He almost runs it into where the next one would be had he not skipped that bar. All told, it's lasts probably a second, but feels like 45 minutes. In that second, Master P achieves peak "uhhhhhhhhhhh," and every one that comes after drives the nail a little further into the coffin of both his success, and No Limit's. That exact moment is when Master P jumped the shark.
Unfortunately, the song does not end there. There's one more verse provided by Sons of Funk, but by the two-minute mark, it's all uhh territory for the duration. Something unusual does happen at the 2:30 mark, where the song kind of stalls like it's going to segue into some kind of bridge or a third verse, but the beat picks right back up and goes into the chorus again. It's almost like he was supposed to freestyle, but pussed out at the last minute. However, this isn't a live band we're talking about. They didn't improvise that -- it was planned. What?
In case you are wondering, Master P says at least 19 more uhhs after the ninth (and fatal) one, for a grand total of 28, give or take.
I like to imagine him in the studio, recording this song. Those uhhs are clearly overdubbed, like a guitarist would do with a solo. I wonder how many takes he did? Was it all one take? Were there any outtakes? Was there a take with even more uhhs? Who was producing this that was like "Yo, P. That's the one!" I would legit watch a two hour 'Behind the Music' on just this song.
You might be thinking, "So that one song flopped so hard that No Limit collapsed right there?" Hell no it didn't. Quite the opposite, actually. It was the lead single from the soundtrack, which debuted at #3 on the album charts and went platinum in just two months. The song itself matched Master P's highest charting single, which was.... wait for it... 'Make 'em Say Uhh.' Both reached #16 on the Billboard charts (and #1 on the rap charts). However, those two remain his highest charting singles.
No Limit and Master P both had success following that ninth uhh on 'I Got the Hook-Up,' but he inceptioned his audience at that very moment. From there, it was just a matter of time. Believe it or not, he actually pounded those nails in a little further with 'Make 'em Say Uhh Part 2' on his next album -- 'Da Last Don.' That song features an egregious amount of uhhs in all different forms -- prolonged, moan-y, rapid fire. It was an all out war on people's nerves and common sense at that point.
'Da Last Don,' released in June of 1998, was supposed to be his last solo album. I think that, in a moment of clarity, he recognized his shark jumpery, and conceded that he was saturating the market with both himself and uhhs. It would've been a good time to step back, and carefully plot his next move. Instead, in true No Limit fashion, he quickly tossed that idea aside, cranked out follow-up solo albums the next three consecutive years, made five more movies, started a clothing line, joined the WCW as a wrestler, tried out for a few NBA teams, switched distributors and changed the name to New No Limit, and filed for bankruptcy all by 2003.
It might have all been prevented had he just dialed back those uhhs on 'I Got the Hook-Up,' but that's a story we'll never know... Holla if ya hear me.