Holla If You Hear Me: How Master P Still Influences Rap in 2016
We’re living in 1997 all over again: Bad Boy is on tour, MTV’s classic programming is making a resurgence, and Cartier gold-framed glasses are back in style. Best of all, the one who brought the latter to the forefront of hip-hop fashion, Master P, is back at the top of the music charts. Cue the shiny No Limit Records tank.
“Mouth full of fronts, look like Master P up in my Cartiers. Diamonds shinin’ in the frames, changed the game and made them say (uhh)” – A$AP Rocky, “Canal St.”
When I first heard Usher’s return to R&B with his single, “No Limit,” and accompanying “G-Mix” featuring Master P, I wasn’t really surprised. Similarly, when I discovered Master P was featured throughout Solange’s latest offering, A Seat At The Table. Why? Because Percy Miller has been secretly running rap for years, largely undetected and behind the scenes—you just haven’t been paying attention.
Long before the world knew Gucci Mane (R.I.P. to the iconic cone tat), Master P was the “Ice Cream Man,” providing the streets with realness and corporate America with the shakes since his 1990 debut with TRU, Mind Of A Psychopath. Since then, he’s served as both hip-hop’s star coach and self-made player beyond his hoops glory days. And with Ice Cream Man celebrating its 20th anniversary back in April, a new album (Louisiana Hot Sauce), biopic (2017) and video game in the works, it looks like P won’t be opting out of his contract anytime soon.
Master P created the blueprint for modern rap independence.
Unlike his signature New Orleans drawl, Percy Miller has always been quick. Studying business in college, he turned down a $1 million deal from Jimmy Iovine and set a precedent for future music deals, securing an 85/15 distribution deal with Priority Records that also allowed him to retain his masters (a rarity—especially during the ’90s), before selling an estimated 75 million records. Such success was unheard of, especially by someone with minimal radio and TV play, and no attempts to cross over sonically. And yet, Master P always maintained the same humility and connection to the streets as when he was selling music out of his trunk.
Such power moves, as well as a grounded connection to a core following, can be seen today in artists like Chance The Rapper, Joey Bada$$ and Mick Jenkins, who’ve all enjoyed success without the backing of a major label. If there’s one thing the current generation of musicians can learn from Master P, it’s the importance of ownership over your own creativity.
P taught artists and hip-hop fans alike that there’s really no limit.
Unlike his hip-hop mogul counterparts, Master P boldly chose to supply the bulk of his expenses with his own funds and cut out the middle men, financing his own marketing with his Priority deal and paying for his own movie budgets to shorten the take for major film studios (He paid the $2.5 million budget for I Got the Hook-Up, leaving film company Miramax with only a box-office percentage). As an artist and an owner, Master P arguably has also set the trend for diverse business portfolios in hip-hop, paving the way for the likes of Roc Nation Sports with No Limit Sports in 1999 and venturing into uncharted territory via rap with a real-estate firm, TV network and film company, among other businesses. It must still be working, as Forbes estimated his net worth to be nearly $350 million in 2013.
(And, if Master P had actually followed through on an alleged proposal to buy Cash Money Records long ago, who knows how much stronger his foothold on rap would be. Though the deal never happened, the fact that it was an option he reportedly declined says enough about his power.)
Now, largely thanks to Master P, it’s typical and accepted for an artist to create their own business, own a sports team, or even want to play for one.
If you like trap music, Future and gold-framed glasses, thank Master P.
Master P’s tales of the Calliope Projects were the ‘hood’s soundtrack, long before “trap music” became a Spotify category. And before Future expressed his love for daring women on DS2, Master P spoke of the same on TRU’s Tru 2 da Game. His signature off-beat rap style, tinged with hints of melody, can be found in tracks by artists like Kodak Black and 2 Chainz, who both also detail ‘hood experiences in their music. The No Limit sound has even been incorporated by Kanye West, who sampled “Down 4 My N’s” on Yeezus‘s “Blood On The Leaves.”
While artists like UGK, Three 6 Mafia, and 8Ball & MJG often get credit as the originators of trap storytelling, Master P uniquely combined those tales of street hustling with gritty vocals, and placed them on a larger scale, thanks to his big business moves. For hip-hop fans who had never seen an artist so business savvy, yet still tied to the streets, Master P served as a beacon of hope, showing the world on the big screen—both figuratively and literally—that you, too, can legalize your hustle. Whereas other artists thrived and wallowed predominantly in the “trap,” Master P transcended it.
Master P taught us generational wealth.
Not only is Master P still making major moves behind the scenes, he’s also put son Romeo Miller in a position to do the same. Aside from pursuits in acting, and relaunching No Limit Records as No Limit Forever, Romeo is also writing I Got the Hook-Up 2, helping his dad reboot No Limit Films. This teaches us all that if you’re really running the game, you should be able to easily pass the torch so your children will be set forever.