How Cash Money Records Became Hottest Label in Hip-Hop - Rolling Stone
Home Music Music Features

Cash Money’s Midnight Ride

Five years ago, the three men who run Cash Money Records were sharing a beat-up 1968 Impala. Now, thanks to Juvenile, B.G., Lil Wayne and the Hot Boys, they’ve got a fleet of Bentleys, Jags and Cadillacs. How the New Orleans label became the hottest sound in hip-hop

The Hot BoysThe Hot Boys

Alex Tehrani

This story was originally published in the June 8th, 2000 issue of Rolling Stone.

At 7 o’clock on a foggy night in New Orleans, Mannie Fresh rolls his brand-new, just-washed, platinum-colored Bentley up alongside a pair of identical cars in the parking lot outside Cash Money Records. The label’s owners recently bought seven Bentleys as gifts for their rappers, including one $375,000 deluxe model, with a convertible top and blue mink carpeting, for themselves. Puffy may have made the stuffy British car a rap status symbol, but Cash Money gave the Bentley its first ghetto makeover — mounting DVD screens to the wood-panel interior, replacing factory speakers with booming subwoofers, jacking up the suspension on twenty-inch custom rims. “We fucked up everybody by puttin’ rims on these Bentleys,” says Fresh, the label’s producer and musical mastermind, with a defiant chuckle. “We was up at Justin’s” — Puffy’s New York restaurant — “and those guys be like, ‘Man, what the fuck wrong with y’all? You don’t do that to no Bentley.’ I was like, ‘Fuck that — I bought it, I gonna put some rims on it, some TVs in that bitch.’ I had to tear that motherfucker down.”

The Cash Money crew arrived home from a Las Vegas awards show less than twenty-four hours ago; now they’re itching to hit the road again for a pleasure ride to Houston, 350 miles away. “A lot of times if we just sitting around and we don’t got shit to do, we be like — Houston!” explains Fresh, sinking low into the soft tan leather driver’s seat as he waits for the end of a song — Mary J. Blige’s “Sexy” — before shutting off the engine. “It’s a relaxed place. We got a lot of love there; we can lay back and have some fun. No stress. They’ve got a great mall down there, good clubs, and the women — wait until you see the women in Houston.”

If not for the luxury cars parked three deep in the lot it would be hard to guess you’ve arrived at the headquarters of one of the most successful labels in rap music today. There’s no sign out front, and the gray, two-story cinder-block building, tucked between a body shop and a Jacuzzi dealer, looks more like a low-rent insurance office than the home of an organization that grossed close to $70 million last year. (At the time of these interviews, Cash Money was building larger new offices nearby.) During 1999, fueled by sales of albums by Juvenile, B.G., Lil Wayne and the Hot Boys — an N.W.A-style tag team that features all three star rappers plus newcomer Turk — Cash Money sold more than 9 million albums and transformed its proudly provincial Southern style into the most explosive new sound in hip-hop.

The office windows are tinted and covered with steel grating, and the only sign of life coming from inside is the music — the thumping, booming, bass-and-synthesizer rhythm of Juvenile’s current single, “U Understand,” which bangs so loud it rattles the exterior window frames. On the other side of a heavy metal security door, the party is in full swing. A half-dozen members of the road crew, dressed in standard Cash Money garb — Girbaud jeans, oversize T-shirts, white Reeboks — lounge on a beat-up couch and across the dingy gray carpet, eating Popeye’s chicken and chugging from bottles of champagne. “This how we do it!” shouts label co-owner Bryan “Baby” Williams, 27, hoisting a Moet bottle in one hand and a drumstick in the other, his wide grin showing off a mouth full of gold and diamonds. “All the way ghetto.”

Baby and his brother, Ronald “Slim” Williams, 29, founded Cash Money Records in 1992, though the label didn’t start to live up to its name until years later. The brothers are a study in contrasts: Baby is robust and excitable, with the tightly wound energy of a man who could be set off at any time; Slim is tall and gangly, with a pigeon-toed walk and an almost Buddha-like calm. Both exert a benevolent, paternal air over their brood, joking, telling stories and taking a nonstop barrage of calls on the two cell phones they each seem to carry at all times. At one point, Lil Wayne’s mother calls, wondering how her son is feeling. Wayne, who at sixteen is the label’s youngest star, has the flu, and despite his athletic stage dive during Cash Morley’s performance two nights ago, he’s in no shape to travel to Houston. “I think I been workin’ too hard,” he mumbles.

When Wayne first asked his more if he could join Cash Money, she resisted, telling her son the rappers looked like gangsters in their bandannas and low-slung jeans. She relented a year later, as long as Wayne promised not to curse in his songs. (So far, he’s cursed only once — in the mournful, angry “F*** Tha World,” about the murder of his stepfather, Rabbit.) Not long after he joined the label, Wayne accidentally shot himself in the chest with a Glock at his mother’s house. He would have bled to death had the police not heard him kicking the inside of his mom’s door. Wayne won’t talk about the incident, but he’s admitted that he was stoned at the time and distracted by a bag of cookies. “I got the munchies,” he told one reporter.

“Where I come from, temptation is a motherfucker,” Wayne says tonight in his slow, soft drawl. “But these guys picked me up, set me straight, taught me a lot — they been like fathers to me.”

Spend time around Cash Money and it’s obvious that the love and admiration its members have for one another is not manufactured. “You got to understand, bruh, we nothin’ but a big old family,” Slim says. There’s something else at work, too — a strict, unspoken hierarchy that Fresh calls “a Mafia kind of thing.” Cash Money is a tightly knit, insular organization that, in addition to Slim, Baby, Fresh and the four rappers, includes a staff of twenty that swells to forty-two on the road. The rappers are required to follow rules: Show up at the office every day; be ready to go in the studio or on the road at any time; no drugs. The latter policy is strictly enforced, particularly since B.G., a former heroin addict, got out of prison on a two-year parole that includes weekly urine tests. This is one reason friends from the old neighborhood are not allowed to hang around the office.

“We don’t condone outsiders,” says Fresh. “We went through a long time where it was hell trying to get these guys to understand that. Because they young kids, and they think everybody’s they friend and everybody’s cool with them, but we don’t know these people, and you might not really know these people, either.”

Wayne shrugs when asked about the policy. “I ain’t old, but I feel it’s too late for me to make new friends, anyway,” he says.

“Controlled chaos” is how Slim describes the Cash Money atmosphere. The undisputed chief and, at six feet eight, the most imposing member of the crew, Slim — who also answers to Sugar Slim, the Don and the Godfather — is soft-spoken and intense, with dark, sleepy eyes and long braids hanging over his FUBU jacket. Known throughout the rap industry as a shrewd businessman, Slim has an easygoing, generous manner that friends say can turn fierce when circumstances demand it. And while his more flamboyant brother, Baby, raps in his own group, the Big Tymers (a duo with Fresh), Slim stays in the background. He never appears on albums, in videos or onstage. He doesn’t drink, smoke or, to the best recollection of friends, dance. “You got to have a chief to stay on top of things — and that’s me, the Godfather,” Slim says. “A lot of people lose focus — they get the money and they forget about what made them. They party too much, lose perspective. We like to have fun, we party, but we don’t go overboard. I be right on top of everything, all the time. I be the first one to congratulate them and the first one to jump in their chest when they be doing something they ain’t got no business doing.”

It’s almost 2 a.m. by the time we finally hit the road, a surprisingly orderly procession of Cadillacs, Jags, Bentleys and a black Lamborghini 2000 VT — one of the fastest and rarest cars in the world — cruising down Veterans Boulevard to 1-10. No one travels above eighty m.p.h., and no one who’s had even a little champagne takes the wheel. In the Cadillac Escalade I’m driving, the most dangerous activity is watching Meet Joe Black on DVD. A dozen silver-plated Nokia cell phones serve as CB radios to choreograph pit stops for gas and fast food. At one point, Juvenile’s Bentley pulls up next to Baby’s and he phones. “Hey, ‘d you pack anything? What about clothes? What we gonna wear?”

“Nah, bruh, we don’t need no clothes,” answers Baby from the backseat, with typical rowdy enthusiasm. “I got money in my pocket — we’ll buy clothes when we get there. Shit, we goin’ to the mall, ain’t we?”

It would have been impossible to predict Cash Money’s explosive success five years ago. The rap industry, long dominated by New York and Los Angeles, has been hesitant to embrace music from Philadelphia or San Francisco, let alone the South. That began to change with Master P’s No Limit Records, based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which in 1998 came out of nowhere to sell 26 million albums. But even now, Cash Money has a hard time earning the respect of its East and West Coast counterparts. Fresh remembers that one night last spring at the Tunnel, a New York hip-hop club, Cash Money was celebrating Juvenile’s first platinum record when some New York record executives approached, asking to speak to Baby. “I go, ‘That’s him, right there, dancing on that table there, whooping and hollering with a champagne bottle in his hand,’” recalls Fresh with a giggle. “These guys were like, ‘Damn, that’s your CEO, dancing on the table?’ I was like, ‘Hell, yeah!’”

“We done had to deal with all kinds of bullshit,” adds Baby. “People think we from the middle of nowhere, so they can take advantage of us. But we smart guys — we been studying this rap game. And we’ve worked harder than anyone just to earn the respect we got now.”

The Cash Money sound is minimal but melodic; the label’s rappers celebrate jewelry, sex and thug toughness. Their greatest celebration of all three, Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up,” has been lodged on Billboard’s 200 chart for seventy-eight straight weeks. The label defines the intersection of Master P’s ghetto realism and Puff Daddy’s ghetto fabulousness, and it has eclipsed both. “We wanted to create neighborhood superstars,” says Baby. “Hip-hop needs heroes you can believe in.”

That philosophy is paying off in a big way. Not only has Juvenile become one of rap’s greatest stars, selling a combined total of 5 million copies of his 1998 album, 400 Degreez, and his new release, Tha G-Code, but the Cash Money style has become the hottest thing in hip-hop —inspiring everyone from Missy Elliott, whose current single is called “Hot Boyz,” to Erykah Badu, who peppered her recent Grammy duet with jazz singer Diana Krall with the catchphrase for living the good life that Cash Money has introduced to America, “Bling, Bling.” It refers to the sparkle of wearing so many diamonds that they’re almost blinding.

Bling, bling didn’t come easy. Slim and Baby grew up in the rough, uptown Third Ward of New Orleans, in a small, neat frame house on Valence Street, where their stepmother still lives. Their own mother died when Slim was nine and Baby was seven. Their father, Johnny, who died five years ago, raised them alone while running a neighborhood grocery store and lounge, the Gladys Bar, named after their mother. “My dad was working so much to make sure we had everything that he never really had the time to spend with us,” says Slim, his knees poking up from behind the desk in his boxlike six-by-seven-foot gray office at Cash Money headquarters. Sun slants through the plastic miniblinds; cell phones ring and buzz nonstop. “I used to go and work with my dad, help clean up, and he showed me how he ran his little business. He wanted us to be our own entrepreneurs. So I learned to handle the money, the books.”

Slim and Baby launched the label with money they borrowed from their father, and — like rap impresarios from Too Short to Master P before them — started out selling cassettes from the back of their car. At the time, the New Orleans club scene was bubbling with the sound of bounce — a relentless, upbeat dance music built on layered 808 drum tracks and extended, improvised raps — and Slim and Baby had early regional success with local artists UNLV, Kilo-G, Miss Tee, Lil Slim and Pimp Daddy. They wanted to take the music to a national audience, though, and were frustrated by their artists’ lack of commitment. “We was trying to teach them the way to do this thing — as far as handling meetings, signing autographs, doing interviews, showing up on time for shows — but they wasn’t hungry enough,” says Slim. “They’d make a little money and everything would just go to the wind. They were getting into drugs, smoking weed, and it was taking away from them handling their business. I was like, man, I can’t deal with this, man. So I just woke up one morning and I told my brother, ‘You know what, bruh, I got to get rid of everybody over here and start from scratch.’” (Three of Cash Money’s original artists, Edgar “Pimp Daddy” Givens, Kilo-G and UNLV’s Albert “Yella” Thomas, have died violently since then.)

So, in 1995, Slim and Baby cleaned house. They dropped Cash Money’s entire roster — except for B.G., a twelve-year-old heroin addict whose father had been shot and killed in a robbery a year earlier. Much as they’ve done with Lil Wayne, Slim and Baby helped raise B.G. (whose real name is Christopher Dorsey) like a son, housing him, schooling him and teaching him about hip-hop. “B.G. had his problems,” says Slim, “and he was young, but he was hungry. You know, I learned that I’d rather deal with somebody that was about their business and was less talented than somebody that was talented and wasn’t about their business. So we started working with him, showing him different styles, teaching him how to handle himself, and he was willing to learn.” “

Those were lean times for Cash Money. “Ain’t nothin’ was shakin’,” remembers “Fresh, who had come aboard as Cash Money’s house producer three years earlier and has produced every track the label has released since. “It was just me and Slim and Baby trying to come up with a plan. I had an old ‘68 Impala, and we used to share that car. I used to bring my old lady to work, then I’d come home, give them the car, they go to the studio, bring the car back at night. Times was rough. We was at zero, man.”

Fresh had a wife and a baby daughter to feed. So he went looking for extra income — stealing cars. “Anything by GM: Cutlasses, Regals, Monte Carlos, super-easy to steal,” he says. “When things get bad, that’s the first thing you introduced to in the hood. If you not going to sell drugs, then that’s the first thing you goin’ to do. Somebody goin’ put a screwdriver in your hand and show you how to do it, just like that.”

At one point, Fresh kept an AK-47 in the studio in case someone whose car he’d stolen came after him. “I was living foul, always in fear,” he says. He remembers the moment he knew it was time to stop. “I had this Regal Grand National, it was the hottest car at the time, and I used to love that car — really love it. One day a lady ran a stop sign and tore the whole front end off it. The car was ruined, and that kind of changed my whole way of thinking, ‘cause I was sad for, like, two months, literally crying behind that car.

“The funny thing about it was that there were so many cars I had to steal from to really get this car the way I wanted it — I had parts from probably every other car in the city. But I remembered something somebody told me once: ‘Everything you get the wrong way, you going to lose.’ And sho nuff, I did. You know how stuff happens to you and you think, ‘Why me?’ Well, I reflected upon that, and then I thought, like, ‘Why not me?’ So I decided it was time to change my ways.”

In 1996, Cash Money Records released B.G.’s Chopper City. It marked a major change in direction for the label, mixing New Orleans bounce with hardcore, gangsta-style rhymes, and introduced the melodic synth-and-guitar party sound that has become Fresh’s trademark. Though only sixteen at the time, B.G. is a forceful presence, alternating vivid, nervy raps that celebrate Cash Money’s holy trinity — cars, women and diamonds — with more vulnerable narratives about drugs, death and a haunted childhood. In “So Much Death,” a letter to his father, B.C. raps, “All he wanted me to do, be cool, stay in school/But the dudes I hang with rearranged the whole attitude/When he died, I started hustling to get paid/I did the opposite, I know you turning in your grave.” B.C. might be the first rapper ever to talk about his own heroin addiction, and Chopper City announced a new sound emerging from New Orleans.

“When we was doing into it, I ain’t lying, people was kind of scared,” says Fresh. “’Cause this was a new thing, and we were always known as a bounce label. But when it hit the street, it was like the new craze. It left all the other cats that was doing bounce, like, five years behind.”

The Sharpstown Mall, on Houston’s southwest side, is a fading monument to Sixties suburban expansion. Most of the premium boutiques have relocated to the newer, posher Galleria, and Sharpstown is now a blue-collar destination, home to discount department stores and urban-clothing outlets.

“Hey, Mannie Fresh, is that you?” screams a large woman holding a baby, less than thirty seconds after we walk through the maws massive entryway. This is not an uncommon occurrence: Fresh, whose round face and narrow eyes make him look something like a cuddly turtle, is very much a star in the South. Everywhere we go — the bank, the car wash, the gas station, 7-Eleven — people want to get close to Mannie.

“Hey, baby mama, whassup?” he says.

“Mannie Fresh, I been lovin’ you forever. You come over here and give me a kiss.”

“You look good, baby, but I’m taken.”

“Mannie Fresh, you come over here.”

“Meet me at the Foot Locker, baby.”

“I try to stay in the background, man, but it’s hard these days,” says Fresh, whose real name is Byron Thomas, as we navigate through the crowds toward the shoe store. Fresh grew up watching his father, a New Orleans DJ, spin soul and jazz records at neighborhood house parties, and he got his own start cutting tracks in Los Angeles for rappers including Tupac and for famed Chicago house producer Steve “Silk” Hurley. He lives with his wife of ten years and their two daughters, ages eight and five, in a wooded lakefront suburb east of New Orleans. He’s the most likely Cash Money member to go straight home after a concert, and even in Houston he checks in with his family every few hours. He complains that he can’t go to the supermarket in his neighborhood without getting mobbed. A few weeks ago, he tried to take his daughters to see Rugrats at a New Orleans cineplex, but the crowd got so rowdy that the usher refunded his money and asked him to leave.

Inside the store, Fresh tries on a pair of size-eight Timberlands, tan leather with green canvas patches. “I been wearing boots all my life,” he says. “When I was a kid, it was Walmart boots — little nine-dollar ones — and now I got these Timberlands. I love boots.”

Fresh settles on two pairs for himself and several more for the bodyguards and hangers-on who shadow him through the mall. “I look out for my friends,” he says, pulling out a wad of hundreds. “You can’t take it with you. But,” he adds, looking around, “I just hope y’all show up for my funeral or my arraignment, or if I just need a friend.”

Word spreads fast that Cash Money’s in the mall, and by the time the group gathers upstairs at Monarch Jewelers, there are at least fifty kids buzzing around. Slim, flanked by two bodyguards, removes his jewels — a gold-and-diamond-caged Cartier watch, bracelets, rings and a Cash Money pendant loaded with diamonds so big Fresh calls them “boogers made of ice” — and hands them to the clerk to get cleaned. Juvenile, leaning against a counter with his arm around a girlfriend, seems exasperated. “It’s almost Christmas, and I can’t even go shopping,” he says. “Them won’t let me.” Still, he doesn’t hesitate to sign autographs for a persistent group of girls.

One of them, a fourteen-year-old named Kitasha, asks Fresh to sign her purse. “I ain’t gon’ sign your handbag,” he responds. “I don’t want your mama after me. Go get some paper.”

“They’re my favorite group,” Kitasha says later. “Their music is so fun, and it’s so, you know, real.” Asked what she means by “real,” Kitasha rolls her eyes. “Look around,” she says. “Shopping at Sharpstown — how much more real can you get?”

In the early nineties, New Orleans had the highest murder rate in the U.S., and the Magnolia Housing Project was, according to a 1995 article in the local Times-Picayune, “the most likely place to be killed in New Orleans.” You wouldn’t know it from a drive around the maze of bunker-like brown brick buildings surrounded by patches of equally brown grass. On a hazy winter afternoon, laundry hangs out second-floor windows and kids play football in a parking lot. On Ferrett Street, in front of the building where Juvenile grew up, a group of old men sit on the stoop playing cards, and a dog in a FUBU T-shirt runs in circles.

The Magnolia — whose official name was changed to the C.J. Peete Public Housing Complex in 1981 — was founded in 1941 as one of New Orleans’ first housing projects and originally provided low-income apartments primarily for African-American veterans coming home from World War II. It is currently home to 1,800 residents, almost all of them black, most unemployed, with an average annual income below $7,000. The Magnolia is ground zero for Cash Money. Though most members of the crew now live in luxury subdivisions miles from here, this is the place they still call home, and they make frequent trips to the local Key Food Center and London’s barbershop. Juvenile, who filmed videos for his hits “Ha” and “Back That Azz Up” here, says he thinks up most of his songs walking around the Magnolia. “I like to talk about my people, how we doing, how we enjoying ourselves,” says Juvenile, 24, whose real name is Terius Gray. It’s early morning in New Orleans, and Juvenile is sitting in his taxicab-yellow Cadillac SUV, fast-forwarding through The Terminator on a new DVD system with three screens and a 500-watt amplifier. Last night, after flying in from Vegas, he planned to go home to see his daughter but ended up at the House of Blues instead. He hasn’t gone to sleep yet, and he complains that he’s still wearing the same jeans and FUBU jersey he wore to the Billboard Awards two nights ago.

“We not the kind of people that forget about where we come from,” he says in a cracked, raspy drawl. “That’s the whole thing about success —you could have all the money in the world, but if you don’t have peace of mind, and if you’re not enjoying your life, then what you got it for? You only got one chance to live. My people — where I come from — all my people are struggling, and I’m, like, the only one from back there that’s a major success. So I think about that shit, and I try to do what’s right for my people and myself.”

Locals say it’s not uncommon for the Cash Money crew to come through the Magnolia with a truck full of bikes for the kids or to throw a spontaneous Sunday barbecue. Last Thanksgiving, Slim says, Cash Money gave away 500 turkeys. Currently, the label is working with the city to build a computer center and is investigating the possibility of buying the entire Magnolia complex — because, as Slim has suggested, he could do a better job of running it than the local government.

“We give back,” says Wayne. “It’s just the right thing to do. I don’t fault nobody for not doing it. If they have a hundred katrillion dollars and don’t give one back, I ain’t mad at ya. You don’t have to do nothing. It’s just that we ain’t those type of people.”

In 1998, Cash Money signed a three-year, $30 million distribution deal with mammoth Universal Records. The funds allowed Cash Money to distribute its records nationwide for the first time and gave the label the marketing, publicity and radio-promotion muscle it needed to reach a national audience. Slim and Baby retained full ownership and control of Cash Money’s recordings, in exchange for a percentage of all future profits. “[Universal] gave us the chance to make the decisions we need to make, to run our company, to be creative, and it’s working,” says Slim.

“We knew it would be hard to break these guys from New Orleans on a national level,” says Dino Delvaille, the Universal A&R rep who signed Cash Money. “So we wanted to give them the proper setup and do it right for the long haul. They have $30 million to pick from to do their videos, advertise and market their records, do tour support and recording. But the thing just took off, and now they’re selling, like, 500,000 records a month, every month, with very little overhead. That amounts to a lot of money for them and for us. Whatever money we gave them initially, within a year they made it all back. Now we’re giving them a check every month that’s in the millions.”

For Fresh, the breakthrough is a vindication for New Orleans. “I always had people telling me, ‘You got to do a West Coast track, you got to make an East Coast track,’ and in the beginning I kind of fell into that mentality. But my dad, who’s always been, like, the Number One person behind me, he said, ‘Don’t change your stuff. Show them what your town sounds like.’ So I thought, if we gonna be accepted, let’s be accepted for something that no one else is already doing.”

You can hear that bold sound on Juvenile’s 400 Degreez — a high-energy collage of guitars and percussion over which Juvenile raps in his offbeat street style. The first single from that album, “Ha,” is a celebration of ghetto slang in which Juvenile spits a series of questions punctuated by the word ha. Lump, who runs the street-marketing firm On the Level Promotions and has worked with Cash Money since 1994, says the song was conceived in Cash Money’s typically free-form style: “We went down to Nashville to record, and Juve told me, ‘Lump, I got an idea for a song. The whole song is a question.’ I said, ‘What, the whole song’s gonna be a question?’ And he’s like, ‘The whole damn song’s a question.’ I went to Applebees to get something to eat and came back. Mannie did the beat in about twenty minutes, and Jure just came in — ‘That’s you with that badass Benz, ha/That’s you that can’t keep yo’ old lady ’cause you keep fuckin’ her friends, ha/…You keep your body clean, ha…’ And it was a hit. You just knew it right then.”

Cash Money prides itself on working fast and cheap. Delvaille estimates that most of the label’s albums take less than a week and cost under $50,000 to make, compared with the $800,000 or $1 million Jay-Z or Puffy might spend. Fresh says speed is not a strategy to save money. “I work better fast,” he says. “A lot of people are afraid to take a chance on the first thing that pops in their head. They looking for a gimmick. But if you looking for a hit, you less likely to get one than if you just let it come to you. People sit there wracking their brains; I let it come naturally.”

Fresh plays the drum breaks himself, plus most of the guitars, the bass and some of the keyboards. He never uses samples. “You gotta feel art —you can’t just program it,” he says. “That don’t work. People always come and ask me, ‘What kind of equipment do you use? Do you have the new JB-whatever?’ I’m like, ‘No, I use the same old shit I’ve used for ten years. The noisy shit.’”

He says he grew up listening mostly to soul — “My dad playing Marvin Gaye, very loud, early in the morning” — but finds inspiration in all kinds of music. The plucked opening strings in “Back That Azz Up,” he says, were inspired by a Mozart requiem; the guitar riff running through the Hot Boys’ “You Dig” was lifted from Rush’s “Tom Sawyer.” “I heard that song on The Waterboy soundtrack, and I was just like, ‘I could do something with that,’” he says. “So rather than sampling it, I just flip it my own way.”

At midnight, after a dinner of Dungeness crab and nuclear-green frozen cocktails at Joe’s Crab Shack, Fresh and a small group retire to the producer’s junior suite at the Houston Marriott before heading back out to the clubs. Three young women, one in tight jeans and the others in brightly colored minidresses, sit on the king-size bed doing their makeup while members of the Cash Money road crew come in and out with beers, gin and cranberry juice. Fresh’s friend Bearwolfe, a Houston gospel musician who plays keyboards on most Cash Money records, is nursing a gin and juice, talking with Fresh about upcoming projects.

“Usually I play in church, so when I get with Fresh I try to bring that same feeling — I can’t help it,” says Bearwolfe, dressed all in white, with square, gold-frame glasses in the style once favored by Hammer. “The R&B and gospel’s gonna come out, you know.”

“Let me tell you what really makes this dude important: He’s human,” kicks in Fresh. “When we leave the studio, we don’t talk about music, we talk about life. We have fun. And that carries over to the music.

“You know, we try to give people a whole experience when they listen to our records,” he adds. “Most albums these days have, like, one or two good songs, and the rest is filler. I want them to have a whole experience with the music. That’s how I listen to music, so that’s the way I want my records to be heard. It can’t be just throwaway.”

Bearwolfe asks Fresh whether he’s going to put on his jewels when he goes out later tonight. Fresh points to his Rolex and says he doesn’t like to wear the rest of his considerable gold and diamond accouterments. “It’s a little tacky to wear all that stuff,” he says. “That’s just me.”

He pours a drink, flips on MTV and lies back on the crowded bed. “You know,” he goes on, “it’s easy to get caught up in this money, but we ain’t really like that — the money’s just a cool extra thing. I don’t feel comfortable unless I’m doing music. The cars is nice, but I could survive off DJ’ing parties and stuff — it’s a joy to me to do what I really want to do. I want to be able to go home when all this is over and still have New Orleans behind me. That’s the thing you keep — not the money.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he says. “The Cristal and the ice — that’s nice. But if everything fall apart, I’d rather have my city.”


Powered by
Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.