Once the gold-teeth-sporting, Rolex-flaunting embodiment of Southern rap's limitless commercial potential, Master P increasingly seems adrift. A few years ago, the No Limit name slapped onto a garish, Pen And Pixel album cover all but guaranteed platinum sales, but these days, No Limit's tank insignia mostly signifies commercial poison. Never one to bow out gracefully, P has struggled mightily to get back on top, disparaging AWOL No Limit soldier Mystikal, firing his Beats By The Pound production team, hopping on seemingly every hip-hop bandwagon, and even pimping his own son as the poor man's Lil' Bow Wow. Borrowing yet another page from the Suge Knight playbook, P has re-christened his label "The New No Limit," although his new Gameface suggests that the company's changes are purely cosmetic. Hewing to his patented formula, P's latest finds him waxing materialistic for 14 undistinguished tracks, with pit stops for the obligatory ode to fallen soldiers (the sensitively titled "Whoadie Gone") and embarrassing attempts at Southern anthems ("Ooohhwee," "Ghetto Ballin'"). A slew of up-and-comers man the boards, yet Gameface's production remains depressingly familiar as it alternates between frenetic Cash Money-style bounce and samples that run the gamut from obvious ("The Breaks") to really, really obvious ("One Nation Under A Groove"). A mercifully brief running time (less than 50 minutes) and a few scattered moments of autobiographical storytelling help make Gameface marginally less disposable than its most recent predecessors. But the disc is still dire enough to make hopelessly optimistic song titles like "Back On Top" and "Lose It And Get It Back" seem like wishful thinking. Once one of the hottest supernovas in the No Limit constellation, Mystikal fled for the more stable confines of boy-band haven Jive. It proved to be a savvy decision, as Mystikal's star has subsequently risen nearly as sharply as P's has fallen. Of course, Mystikal always had charisma to spare, but in the past, he's had difficulty channeling his presence into memorable songs, due largely to the hackwork of the producers formerly known as Beats By The Pound, whom Mystikal loyally supported even after P dumped them. Under the guise of Medicine Men, Beats By The Pound veterans pop up throughout Mystikal's new Tarantula, but like the album's star, the team suddenly possesses a sense of focus and structure largely missing from its past work. The rapper's most consistent work to date, Tarantula gets off to a strong start with "Bouncin' Back (Bumpin' Me Against The Wall)," a delirious, Neptunes-produced, New Orleans-flavored single that equates Desert Storm veteran Mystikal's resolve with that of a bruised and battered America on the rebound. "I gets meaner, badder, stronger, and ferocious," Mystikal growls on "Bouncin' Back," and the rest of the album backs up that boast. The Neptunes return on "Go 'Head," a disarmingly sweet and sincere love song, but otherwise, Mystikal's lyrical concerns begin and end with the fleeting pleasures afforded by big trucks, loose women, and good weed. A marked improvement over the lively but uneven Let's Get Ready, Tarantula suggests that the raspy-voiced rapper's run at the top of the charts won't abate any time soon.

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