Is No Limit Records “old school” these days? I was chuckling as I typed that sentence, but it has been over a quarter of a century since the “I’m Bout It” soundtrack was released. Anything over 25 years old tends to be described as old school when I ask people. Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album? “Old school.” Super Nintendo games? “Old school.” Since those things are in my living memory, I can go back to when they came out and know what was “old school” to me back then. P-Funk records? “Old school.” Pong? “Old school.” It didn’t make me appreciate those things less, but they were definitely from a generation well before mine. I think by that definition No Limit is definitely “old school” now, and when I listen to this album I’m quickly transported back to a time when No Limit seemed poised to rule the world of rap music.
I’m willing to bet dollars to pesos that more people remember the soundtrack to I’m Bout It than the actual movie. The film went straight-to-video in an era where that meant VHS tapes. This was pre DVD, and there was no such things as digital distribution. If I’m being honest I don’t even remember seeing the film at all. I listened to the “I’m Bout It” soundtrack a lot though, because the clout of Master P’s label in the mid-1990’s allowed him to pull a slew of big rap names to be on it. Not only did it become the first No Limit record to hit No. 1 on any Billboard chart, the album moved 300,000 units its first week ALONE. If P didn’t throw a huge chunk of money at the film, then he made it back on the soundtrack and then some.
Master P also gave the guest artists the freedom to do things their own way, rather than forcing them to rely on Beats By the Pound or any of his other in-house producers. E-A-Ski laced his own “Faces of Death” and even bragged “my production style is too complex/music to me is sex” on the track. If that’s the case his dick game is on swoll because the song’s a certified banger. E-40 and B-Legit’s “Come On” sounds like it could have come from The Click or one of their Sick Wid It solo album, with the slow thumping “funkin’ lesson number one” done by Sam Bostic. Who blazed JT the Bigga Figga’s “Game Tight” then? You guessed it — JT himself. Having the guest stars do what they did best their own way not only created trust and respect, it reflected well on the in-house music standing right next to it.
Even on his own chart topping single “If I Could Change,” Master P shared the spotlight with West Oakland rap duo Steady Mobb’n, who would go on to release two albums with No Limit off the strength of this debut. Unfortunately their career did not go as they might have expected afterward and at least one half of the group was homeless by 2019, but that’s a story for another day. In the meantime let’s give the praise due to the slew of No Limit artists who got their turns to shine on this album — Mr. Serv-On with “Before I Die,” Fiend on “Don’t Mess Around,” Mia X on “Much Love” and Kane & Abel on “For Realz” just to name a few. You can’t say P wasn’t down for his own artists. Everybody who was loyal to the Tank wound up getting to fire a round or two from it here.
If there’s a major downside to the “I’m Bout It” soundtrack, it’s that it’s a little bloated at over 75 minutes, and there are a few songs that aren’t worthy of repeat play unless you’re listening to this project start to end. That’s arguably the best way to enjoy it anyway since it’s more like a mixtape than a soundtrack, but regardless songs like “Who’s Who” sound phoned in, with C-Loc mumbling his way through a beat that doesn’t inspire him enough to even change his vocal pitch. P tried hard to create a group called Gambino Family and launch them to stardom, but “Why They Wanna See Me Dead” doesn’t convince me they’d ever get there. The less said about Mr. Jinks “Ride 4U” the better. This song could have used some AutoTune.
If you’re looking for some “old school” No Limit though, look no further than this album. It’s by-and-large a selection of the best the label had to offer in ’97, and maybe a little of the worst too, but at least it paints a full picture of the soldiers at the peak of their prowess. P was obviously still well enough connected with the friends he made out in Cali to get them to join the fun on “I’m Bout It” and they did just that on this memorable soundtrack — one for a film which it completely overshadowed.