Silkk the Shocker
By Keith Harris
Like so many antisocial punks before him, from Iggy to Ice Cube, New Orleans hustler Percy Miller had a dream: to invent the ugliest music imaginable. Under the vaguely sadomasochistic nom de guerre Master P, he devised a virulent, no-budget strain of hip-hop that finally gave people who still thought rap wasn't "real music" the grunting, slobbering, crotch-grabbing sociopaths and tinny drum-machine drone they'd been vilifying for two decades. Still, ineptitude thwarted his ambition: he couldn't quite push past common mediocrity to reach the exhilarating depths of truly bad taste. Luther Campbell he wasn't. So he revised his vision slightly: if he couldn't create the absolute worst music, he would at least release more bad music than anyone else.
Nothing succeeds like excess, and with all quality control eliminated and production sped up to wartime rates, Master P's No Limit label released a slew of stunningly successful albums, beginning with P's own late-'97 smash, Ghetto D. In just over a year its bankroll and roster have ballooned to incorporate enough interchangeable No Limit "soldiers" to guard Fort Knox. No Limit's real estate, sports management, and phone sex divisions are up and running, the Miller-owned Bout It jeans are on the racks, and the label's cranking out two releases a month.
The latest of these comes from Silkk the Shocker, who, if you don't count Cali refugee Snoop Dogg, is the label's current flagship G. (P himself "retired" as a solo artist last year to warm the bench for the Continental Basketball Association's Fort Wayne Fury.) On 1998's Charge It 2 da Game, Silkk sounded like your standard-issue gangsta: he glamorized dealing, threatened his foes, tallied his assets. But as it turned out, he wasn't just your average bloodthirsty, money-hungry thug. He was a bloodthirsty, money-hungry thug determined to explain what made him that way, and his new Made Man is a document of his muddled street-corner sociology, drawled in a 73-minute-long manipulative sob.
Ever since Schoolly D first glimpsed reality through the crosshairs, apologists have tried to justify the gangsta-rap phenomenon something like this: ghetto-bred homicidal insanity is an implicit critique of economically institutionalized racism. Like all half-truths, this one is most convincing when you don't explicate it too thoroughly--a proposition apparently lost on Silkk, who wonders if classy chicks can "get serious wit'...somebody like me" while a piano tinkles melodramatically in the distance, muses on the difficulties of staying true to one's ho, ponders the fragility of life to the tune of the Commodores' "Easy," and then concludes, "Any man that hustle 'cause he like to, he's a fool / Any man that hustle 'cause he got to feed his family, that's a real man." So what's a man who keeps rapping about hustling long after the need for hustling is past?
Made Man is at its most listenable when the heavy thoughts are eclipsed by heavy beats. The No Limit production crew, Beats by the Pound, has honed its klutzy signature sound--a metronomic hi-hat augmented by a few off-kilter keyboard twitters and desultory bass pumps--into a boisterous kind of minimalism, and occasionally they get inspired to give Silkk a kick in the ass.
Unfortunately, there's only one No Limit MC capable of terrifying the producers into performing up to their potential full-time--Mystikal--and he only guests on Made Man for two tracks. Fortunately, he's got his own new album out on the label.
Anyone committed to charting the vagaries of popular music must have faith that the many profitable lapses in mass taste he witnesses will eventually yield some vital contribution to the culture. Mystikal is proof. Possessed by the sheer joy of unchecked hatred, he transforms even "Microphone check, check one, check two" into a declaration of war: "I'm the round out the tank," he boasts on the lead cut off his latest slugfest, Ghetto Fabulous. He's gone mad in the bell tower, slobbering lyrical shrapnel and lobbing deranged nonsense with giddy imprecision. He takes the world as a personal affront, and in his song of himself he splutters with a rage he never once pauses to justify.
But though he comes off like a force of nature, Mystikal eventually reveals a very human dimension, including an expansive and absurd sense of humor that gaudily colors in his cartoonish persona. On 1997's Unpredictable, he bitterly eulogized his murdered sister. On Ghetto Fabulous, he recounts how he was kicked out of school, and on the Mother's Day card "Life Ain't Cool," as producer P cribs diligently from old Tupac tracks and guest star Silkk's voice drops to the obligatory sob, Mystikal slips in a few notes of genuine filial affection without ever altering his belligerent bark.
I can't deprecate the deep pleasure Master P's fans take in his senseless "uungh"s, caveman grunts as playfully defiant as an armpit fart from the back of the classroom. But it's more challenging to transform that fart into the ultimate barbaric yawp.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Silk the Shocker photo and album cover; Mystikal photo and album cover.