If you're anything like me - and I pray that you're not - Cash Money Records was an influential part of your high school years. With nary more than a crude synthesizer and a couple of Technic 1200's, producer Mannie Fresh created some of the most basic, poorly looped beats that the hip hop industry has ever heard. Known for a litany of simple sounds built-in to a My First Sony, Mannie perfectly encapsulated the New Orleans sound of the 90's, conveying the struggle of pre-Katrina Magnolia Projects and its inhabitants onto some of my favourite records.
As is with much of hip hop, especially that which was made prior to the inevitable death of actual hip hop, and the incarnation of the current version that is absolutely fucking garbage, the music was as much about the sounds as it was the image. No label better captured the times then Cash Money Records. Their album covers were a smorgasbord of pixelated images, hood iconography and desirable luxury items, photoshopped together with no respect for perspective, depth and the horizon line.
Without further ado, I present to you a collection of some of the most intriguing, if not accidentally influential album art the rap music industry has ever seen.
BALLER BLOCKIN (2000) - Cash Money Records
Baller Blockin was a film released in 2000 and was subsequently followed by the above star-studded release. While being a little thin in terms of quality tracks, the album was a statement of sorts with regards to Cash Money's place in the record industry. I own this film, both on VHS and DVD. The slow-spoken narration of Juvenile's character highlights a film that perfectly captures the struggles of the downtrodden while identifying many of the issues that plague the hood. The album cover is noteworthy for featuring all four members of the Hot Boys (Juvenile, Lil' Wayne, Young Turk and B.G.), Mannie Fresh and Birdman not once, but inexplicably twice. It also appears as if they're knee deep in a pile of blatantly fake diamond watches and are holding flashlights in the shape of handguns.
CHOPPER CITY IN THE GHETTO (1999) - B.G.
This record is fucking dope as fuck. The first volume of many, Chopper City In The Ghetto was ripe with B.G.'s laconic, syruppy flow and thuggish references. Few things say luxury like a miniature Rolls Royce on a desk, adjacent to a knocked-over bottle of Hot Boys (1997). Believe you me, 1997 was an amazing year for sparkling wines from the Magnolia Projects, and it seems the other unopened bottle is B.G.'s acknowledgment that one bottle is simply not enough. Nothing says "you've made it" like a portrait of yourself amongst a fiery inferno. B.G. knows this and has absolutely no problem with it.
LET 'EM BURN (2003) - Hot Boys
Despite being a collective of three extremely talented rappers and the aforementioned Young Turk, the Hot Boys never reached their potential as the voice of the 9th Ward. This record is a perfect example of brief moments of utter excellence strewn among piles of steaming hot dog shit. As far as the album art is concerned, it seems Weezy was the only one prepared for the electric chair, as studies show that a soaking wet bandana is far more conducive to an immediate death versus a backwards fitted cap. Just look in the eyes of B.G. - that is the look of years of pre-adult heroin use and tampered hypodermic needles.
IT'S ALL ON U vol. 1 (1997) - B.G.
Guess what happens when you have 5 images of electric chair clipart? You use the fifth one on the cover of B.G.'s often forgotten 1997 release. Besides the chair, this album cover features a comically large microphone, a hood-certified early-model Lexus, several lit blunts and a skeletal B.G. pointing invisible guns at the homeless person commissioned to take the picture. This album is a festering mound of decaying corpses and comparatively, so is the album cover.
HOW YOU LUV THAT vol. 2 (1998) - Big Tymers
In terms of album cover art, How You Luv That vol. 2 might be the best example of Cash Money stellar efforts. Mannie Fresh and Birdman are pictured seated at a table littered with fake luxury watches, cell phones and pagers. In the background, several high-end automobiles are found on pedestals, photoshopped with such brazen disregard for realism that it's worth a bevy of laughs. Without reason, the same images from the cover of B.G.'s Chopper City In The Ghetto are featured in a the background, watching over the brains behind Cash Money Records as they conceive another hair-brain scheme for world domination.
400 DEGREEZ (1998) - Juvenile
Finally, the generation's best album, Juvie's 400 Degreez. What's hotter than 400 degrees? 400 degrees spelled with a Z. In addition to the seminal track Ha - which, as a sidebar, is the best rap video of all time - the record features a slew of bangers like Ha (Remix feat. Jay-Z) and Ha (Remix feat. Hot Boys) among other noteworthy songs. Certified 4x platinum, the album is the best-selling release by Cash Money Records and is to this day, one of my favourite albums ever. Juvenile is pictured with hands of flame casting luxury items and money, while a gigantic Juvie bust looms overhead, symbolizing the leadership and fatherly responsibility of Cash Money's flagship artist. All the while, some of the Magnolia Project's finest women of the night stand in compromising positions amongst a library filled with all the books the Hot Boys never read.
Keep reading Sidespin for more thoughtful analysis of things you've never thought about. Thanks for reading.