I try hard not to make the mistake of assuming things that were common knowledge in the era an album was released still are today. Therefore on the chance you might not know what Young Bleed is referring to with the title of his debut album, I’d like to offer you the following clip of Al Pacino from the movie Scarface delivering one of his most memorable lines as criminal kingpin Tony Montana.
Even though as a result of this speech the official title of his album is “All I Have in This World, Are… My Balls and My Word,” I’m going to use the shorthand “My Balls and My Word” going forward. Based on the artwork on the front cover, that’s the title most people used anyway. No Limit Records album covers were certainly distinctive in their day, and arguably even endearing for how evocative of their era they are. Were they well designed? No. They range from looking like a pastiche of clip art to a parody of the tropes of gangster rap. As our protagonist ascends a golden flight of stairs to a mansion in heaven, a pair of lions draw your eyes to the larger font for “My Balls and My Word,” making the smaller text above it appear to be either an afterthought instead of part of the official name. In fact I’d like to give No Limit credit in this case that that was an intentional choice. “My Balls and My Word” is certainly much less of a mouthful to say.
“Nothin’ but balls and my word, and a Mossberg pistol grip pump on my lap at all times.” Even Bleed seems to be encouraging you to use the shorthand on his smash hit “How Ya Do Dat,” although thanks to the hook you may remember the song as “How You Do Dat Dere.” The production by Happy Perez (of “Suga Suga” fame) and KLC from Beats by the Pound is simple but effective. The percussion takes the lead, with a strong kick drum clap that carries Bleed and his guests C-Loc and Master P through their bars. The melody is almost an afterthought, having a little taste of the funk but not enough to distract you from the raps. Having multiple guest stars on his featured songs became a recurring feature of Bleed’s singles.
“Times So Hard” was even more crowded. Produced by crooner Mo B. Dick, the song also sported cameos from Percy Miller, Fiend, O’Dell and the singer himself. In contrast to the lead single’s simple rugged appeal, this one is almost overwrought with emotional angst. The piano keys weep, the chorus sounds like a prayer, and Master P wails “Dear God don’t take me!” the moment he grips the mic. In its own way the song is like No Limit’s infamous album covers — it’s completely overdone and trying too hard, but that ends up being part of the charm. Bleed is surprisingly soft spoken when he gets his turn to shine and that too is part of the track’s appeal. “Can you visualize perfection from a Section 8 crib/and a yard full of ghetto kids?” Probably not, but he’s trying, even as Master P tries to dominate the song by providing both a verse and the song’s hook.
I think that’s what frustrated me the most when listening to Glenn Clifton Jr.’s album. Rare was the moment when he was completely left on his own to shine. “Better Than the Last Time” was about as close as we’d get, but he’d still have to share the spotlight with Max Minelli over the smooth Happy Perez track. That’s not even a knock on Max — he does just fine when he comes in for the final verse — it’s just perplexing to have someone who is clearly as talented as Bleed never get to hold it down by himself. Out of 14 tracks total on “My Balls and My Word” I can only count four where he’s completely unsupported, and that’s where the Baton Rouge rapper shines the brightest. The Perez produced “Ghost Rider” proves what a truly solo Young Bleed album would’ve been fire.
I love that “Tubular Bells” sample, but this is where I must again refrain from assuming you know what it’s famous for, and point you to the 1973 horror movie The Exorcist. I’m also strongly partial to what Bleed and Perez achieved on their own mini-movie “The Day They Made Me Boss,” where he points out “I ain’t no murderahhh” but slyly notes he’s not to be crossed. I’m not saying that a vintage No Limit album doesn’t need Beats by the Pound or vice versa, but Perez and Bleed were simpatico when it came to their Southern gangster rap sound. Seeing his name on 11 of these songs in the liner notes just confirms why the sound is so consistent throughout.
Thanks to his emergence at the peak of No Limit’s prowess and how ubiquitous “How Ya Do Dat” was, the album would hit No. 1 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop charts and ultimately go gold. Curiously though he wasn’t with No Limit for the follow up in 2000 or any album since. To this day I still believe Bleed may have felt uncomfortable with how his debut was used like a compilation album to push other No Limit artists to greater visibility, though I certainly have no proof of this theory. For better or worse though his profile diminished when he was no longer associated with the Miller family, though his talent remained as strong as ever. “My Balls and My Word” is vintage No Limit Records, warts and all, but Young Bleed takes what could have been an average LP and elevates it substantially.