Young Bleed rose to national prominence as an MC briefly on Master P's No Limit Records during its mid- to late-'90s heyday. Back when I was growing up in Tampa, my friends and I devoured every disc that came off the New Orleans-based No Limits assembly line (and that's the right term for the homogenized way the company packaged and marketed its wares). We had an affinity for the No Limit sound not only because we too were Gulf Coast Southerners, but also because the sound stood out and apart from all that was dominating our tape decks and CD players at the time. It was different because it was us.
I haven't thought about Young Bleed's music in a long time. So, when during a recent trip to Vegas a friend of mine played Young Bleed's debut disc, My Balls & My Word, I felt a little ashamed. Of course, Vegas is in part to blame for my shame; in such a permissive environment, it's hard not to sweat your soul. But, more to the point, because the music had meant so much to us--we'd played it on loop, along with Goodie Mob and Outkast--I couldn't help but feel that I'd failed my younger self. I lost my high school yearbook during one of my many moves and I didn't care. But by forgetting Young Bleed, I'd discarded a crucial piece of my past. You know how it is: the memory of the music is as important as the memories it conjures up--the contextual ghosts rattle their chains to the beat.
I made my buddy play it over and over again. And what I realized was simple: Young Bleed's My Balls & My Word
, however forgotten by most if it were ever remembered at all, is a top-flight example of Southern hip-hop.
It's got the southernplayalistic playfulness of Outkast's debut, a quality most present (and most recognizable) in Young Bleed's hit single "How Ya Do Dat." Although, generally, the production and Young Bleed's delivery are far more languid than Outkast's, they do share a commitment to soul and blues music. Outkast's hyperactivity is owed to its Atlanta roots. In that heated mega 'burb of exit ramps and traffic jams, going fast is natural. Whereas Young Bleed's calm and patience reflects his Baton Rogue roots--the placidity of the swamp.The title for Young Bleed's album comes from a line in
This is also the most obvious difference between Young Bleed and Master P, who, as was customary on all No Limit releases at the time, "Uhhhs" and grunts all over the disc. (Lil John owes him a debt of gratitude.) It's not as big a bother as, say, DJ Khaled erupting like a geyser in between verses (somebody has got to stop that guy). But Master P's delivery nevertheless serves as a severe contrast to his artist's: P spits out his lyrics as if he held them in contempt, while Young Bleed lets them slide off the tongue as if he were actually enjoying himself.
You can hear this in the writing from "How You Do Dat": "Nigga say who that? Heard they want do that/Run up if you will, get yo ass whipped blue black/My nigga my nerve, fresh out the curb/Jelly jam and preserve, nothin' but balls and my word." Even though he's puffing out his chest and talking shit, Young Bleed still finds the time to have fun and reference fruit spread. Gotta love it. Even more startling is the fact that, while the "balls and my word" line and album title comes from Scarface
(a book will one day be written about the film's influence on hip-hop culture), Young Bleed opts instead to loop clips from Young Guns
, for which Bon Jovi scored the screechy-preachy "Blaze of Glory." So instead of Al Pacino snarling "Say hello to my little friend," we get Emilio Estevez cackling "Put your hands high" in between songs.
My Balls & My Word uses excerpts from
My two favorite songs on the album reflect the movie's pop-Western sensibility and its infusion with Southern style. "The Day They Make Me Boss" both lyrically and thematically mirrors Estevez's Billy the Kid's apotheosis from lost boy to gang leader: "See me ridin' cool as glide/With my thang right by my side/Suggesting ya'll put down your pride/Cause only playa hatas die/And ain't no love for the other side/So ain't no way I'ma let it ride/I...oh I oh I."
The chorus has a sing-song quality found in the work of other Southern MCs, most notably Cee-Lo, while the beat could function as the score for a showdown in Young Guns
, such is its plotting build-up. "Ghost Rider," too, has the feel of a soundtrack--only it's that of Michael Myers stalking a victim, not Billy the Kid taunting one. Again, Young Bleed talks tough, but it's done with virtually no scenery-chewing--he's subdued even when he's scary. Call it Southern Gothic.
Tracks such as "Da Last Outlaw" and "Better Than Last Time" maintain the album's lackidasical, but never lazy, tidal flow, and, while I haven't listened to any of Young Bleed's new discs (yeah, I'm soaked in shame) critic Tom Breihan
found much to like in his '07 release. I'm glad Young Bleed is still around. It's nice to be in the drift of an artist comfortable with, and reflective of, the bayou on which he was born.