For a moment—nothing. Earlier this spring, just after "Back That Azz Up" had finally waned from radio playlists, we had a brief, mercifully bounce-free spell

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Uncivil war

For a moment—nothing. Earlier this spring, just after "Back That Azz Up" had finally waned from radio playlists, we had a brief, mercifully bounce-free spell up in these parts: no "Bling, Bling"; no "It Ain't My Fault"; no "Tha Block Is Hot"; no "Bout It, Bout It." Make no mistake, bounce has become mainstream hip-hop's most vital form these past couple of years, more sonically and viscerally interesting than nearly anything the two coasts have had to offer. And it's not like bounce died—down South they were still blinging—but for the first time in recent memory, it was quiet on the mainstream front. No Limit have long since outlived their relevance, and Cash Money was beginning to look more and more like a two- or three-trick pony.

Suddenly, though, the Southern armies are on the rise again, just as their day may well have come and gone. Considering, or more likely because of, how much beef they have with each other, it is ironic that the Cash Money and No Limit camps chose the same month to reemerge with new "supergroup" albums. For No Limit, the 504 Boyz have been on the burner for years: Ads for their album Goodfellas have been appearing on album inserts ever since Snoop joined the label (though he was meant to be a group member, he's relegated only to a guest appearance). In the Cash Money arena, every album is an advertisement for the whole family; certainly with the Big Tymers, who can barely hold down a worthwhile flow, guests become essential.

Naturally, both album covers bling. For 504, it's a gaudy name piece. For the Big Tymers, it's an understated Pen & Pixel affair, with an ice-encrusted Bentley grill resting on a sea of $20s and $50s. Make no mistake, these boys still see their fetti, but after listening to both records, you know for certain there's no meat with that cheese.

Take the 504 folks: If you don't know, 504 is the Louisiana area code where these hot boys make their beds at night. No Limit, to their credit, have waged a diligent fight to find a Tupac of their very own. He's the aural model for nearly all of their groans, and every Miller brother has taken their swipe at sounding like the big man. On the opening skit to Goodfellas, Master P's son asks him if Pac's really dead, because he heard No Limit had a rapper who sounded just like him.

It'd all be wildly ironic and self-aware if it wasn't true. But it is true. Frighteningly so. Krazy, the newest No Limit associate, has the Pac thing down cold, everything from the grain of the voice right down to the way Pac used to drag out the last syllable of any word that ended in "ease."

Of course, that's just the problem with No Limit—no irony anywhere!!! Between dissing Cash Money ("Ain't no block too hot/ me and my niggas bout to open up shop"), developing stupid catch phrases ("Wobble, wobble!"), and wildly rejiggering R&B ballads by singing them hopelessly off-key (Deneice Williams' "Free"), there's no time to step outside the project and have a good laugh at just how silly it is. As the group warns on one of the many imaginatively titled tracks on the album, "Life Is Serious."

For the Big Tymers, though, it's anything but. For every dirge coming out of the No Limit camp, there's a material-goods-and-ass paean from the Cash Money brethren—so many that to enumerate them would be a space-consuming affair. Suffice it to say that expensive cars get tricked out with 20-inch rims and PlayStations, women get rampantly abused, and many, many shots get licked in the name of property. In an advance for the cash-money-hoes nexus, Baby promises throughout the album to "dip the hoe in platinum." On the introduction Mannie Fresh, who understands his partner's pain, concurs: "You gonna do the hoe something good," he replies.

Apart from their politics, the Cash Money calling card is beats, and maybe if they lived up to their reputation here, their misogyny and materialism wouldn't ring quite so reprehensible. But bad politics in hip-hop are much like good politics: If it ain't no fun, then the people won't want none.

Honorable mention: Life's not all poorly executed at the No Limit compound. Stuck in the middle of Goodfellas is "Beefing," a solo track by NL soldier Mac. A moving tale of a rivalry born of misunderstanding, Mac delivers his pain in an expressive bass: "If I thought we could work it out we would meet/But as long as you with them niggas I'll be with the heat/And that's deep/cause I made a promise to your momma when we was only 12/I'd deliver you from evil and keep you alive and well/Guess I gotta disappoint her, but you leave me no choice/Calling my crib with this 'murda, murda' tone in your voice." Even through the threats, the protagonist's love is clear, making this that most eerie of things: an elegy for the not-yet-dead.

 
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