Various Artists

No Limit Greatest Hits

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Born out of a record store in Richmond, CA, and then moved to New Orleans, Master P's No Limit Records ruled the hip-hop underground in the mid-'90s by churning out a ridiculous amount of releases, each promoting upcoming titles, which was a bold marketing move at the time. Low production costs always kept the label's bottom line healthy, and soon the company was branching into the world of movies and even toys. Right about the time the Master P doll was released -- you could pull his string and make him go "ugggghhhhh!" -- things started to go south, and by 2004, the label -- which had already become nearly every hip-hop critic's favorite punching bag -- had gone bankrupt from overextending itself and signing just about anybody with a sneer. P moved on to Koch and created The New No Limit, but things were never the same, as the two-CD No Limit Greatest Hits proves. According to the credits, Master P isn't involved in the selection of these tracks, but the compiling was obviously done by some real No Limit soldiers who reach well past the big names: Master P, Snoop Dogg, Silkk the Shocker, C-Murder, and Mystikal. Hearing the forgotten Fiend's excellent, over-the-top "Mr. Whomp Whomp" is evidence that No Limit predicted the crunk craze of 2004-2005, and while ridiculous moments like "Where the Little Souljas At?" from pre-teen gangstas Lil Soldiers or the syrupy "Picture U & Me Are" from Mo B. Dick are embarrassing enough that P wouldn't have picked them, they are fun reminders of what a wacky and scrappy empire No Limit was. There's also some real heat pulled off long-lost compilations and soundtracks, and the big five's output for the label is whittled down to the most necessary tracks, although Snoop's time at the label was short and there's an argument to made that C-Murder is underrepresented. For fans of true gutter music, there are still some early albums to acquire, but the clich├ęd "the only No Limit you'll ever need" does apply for the casual hip-hop fan. Better liner notes and some photographs -- there are absolutely none included -- would have been nice, but otherwise this is a great snapshot of the label that taught everyone else how to exploit the underground and released some great gangsta music along the way.

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