Last week’s bonus round of “No Two Things Are Alike” shed some light on today’s scheduled post. I mentioned producer/rapper Mannie Fresh, the stage name of Byron Thomas, and turn-of-the-century rap. Past entries in the series have also decried the evolution of hip-hop into success music; a collection of back-slapping self-congratulatory anthems about conspicuous consumption. Given that rap is literally losing its luster due to today’s economy, it is only fitting the apotheosis of materialistic rap in 1999 correlates with the acme of the dotcom boom. It was this year that the independent New Orleans, LA rap label Cash Money Records released “Bling Bling,” a song attributed to its then flagship artist Christopher Dorsey, known on stage as BG.
Cash Money was the roi du soleil of late ’90s rap, “Bling Bling” their Versailles. The video is filled with candelabra, cash, boats, helicopters, and the like. Even its title is audacious. At the time few unfamiliar with the hip-hop world knew to what “bling” referred. The titular ideophone eventually became so popular it was included in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2003, though. The single served as a launch pad for Cash Money’s meteoric rise and its self-described millionaires (later billionaires): Juvenile (nomme de guerre of Terius Gray), Baby (a.k.a. Birdman a.k.a. Bryan Williams), Mannie Fresh himself, and the now critically acclaimed Lil’ Wayne (né Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr.). Though bling may be disappearing from rappers’ necks during this recession, this group of gentlemen made an indelible mark on hip-hop.
I cannot stand this song. The only reason I am discussing it today is because of its importance in introducing Cash Money onto the scene. The consortium later brought us better variations on the common theme of ballin’, such as “Still Fly,” “#1 Stunna,” and “100 Million,” not to mention the genius of the littlest Wayne. Mannie Fresh seems to just be getting his bearings, because the beat relies too heavily on insufferable synthesizer stabs that would not be replicated until Soulja Boy Tell ’em’s current ringtone rap genre. Additionally, Mr. Fresh emphasizes high-hat drums and symbols a great deal, giving “Bling Bling” a sharp, cutting tone. A few components of the hook, particularly the intermittently repeated five chord sequence display the promising future Mannie would have when he shifted to deeper bass and more horn-like synths. Much of Cash Money’s success is thanks to Fresh, in fact, who came up with all the beats without sampling and thus avoiding paying royalties.
I won’t offer much in terms of lyrical analysis here because frankly there’s very little to analyze. The introduction is boilerplate. The CEO of Cash Money, Baby, introduces the group whilst enumerating his possessions. I have to admit that I do enjoy Birdman’s explanation of the Cash Money device, “The Cash Money motto [is] to drink ’til we throw up.” (Should this be the case, many more undergraduates and Britons are rappers than meets the eye.) The has-been Lil’ Turk, no relation to either Lil’ Wayne or Atatürk seeing as his name is Tab Virgil, Jr., offers a second verse about partying yet reminding us that hard work is better than cocaine.
Lil’ Wayne gives us a chorus, each line ending in “bling bling.” Mannie, like Turk, brings a social message to the third verse, advocating safe sex as well as the importance of putting rims on your private airplane. Juvenile lets us know he’s from New Orleans and drives nice cars, but fails to use his gravelly voice to impress anyone like he later would in the breakout hit “Back that Azz up.” Lastly, since the track is attributed to him, BG raps the anchor verse. He just repeats the others, though, mentioning a luxury car, diamonds, and chains.
There you have it, a field guide to the song that started it all. As important as this was, I hope to profile something with a little more artistic heft next time.
-Michael E. van Landingham