Words Bayer Mack
Greatest Southern Artists of all Time
8BALL & MJG 5 ESSENTIAL 8BALL & MJG TRACKS
8Ball & MJG “Mr. Big” Comin’ Out Hard 1993 A gangsta-walk anthem and the group’s first big hit, “Mr. Big” slashed through clubs down South like a hot knife through butter. 8Ball & MJG “Lay It Down” On The Outside Looking In 1994 Although this album was tame compared to Comin Out Hard, “Lay It Down” was fightin’ music at its best. 8Ball & MJG “Space Age Pimpin’” On Top of The World 1995 8Ball & MJG’s answer to Outkast’s “Funky Ride.” Champagne, weed, and stout sistas in negligee - oh boy! 8Ball & MJG “Just Like Candy” Suave House: The Album of The Year 1996 This ode to candy-painted Chevys is a true Southern classic. Tela f/ 8Ball & MJG “Sho Nuff” Piece of Mind 1996 This is actually Tela’s single, but labemates Ball & G blaze the Jazze Pha track so hard, you’d think it was theirs.
ashville, Tennessee circa 1993: I’m in the office of Sonny Paradise, founder of Street Flavor Records (Haystack, Pistol). He’s listening to my three-song maxi single “Leave Em Alone” when suddenly he stops the tape. “I like this,” he says. “But you know how you say ‘Main?’ That’s kinda country. You might want to [work on] that.” And that was that. I didn’t get a record deal with Street Flavor, so I started my own label and got distribution from Select-O-Hits in Memphis. They had experience with “country rappers” like me. In fact, Johnny Phillips and his crew were starting to make a mint off a local group with accents as thick as molasses, beats made for the hole-in-the-wall club scene, and a keen sense of marketing. Their name was 8Ball & MJG. 8Ball & MJG had undoubtedly encountered the same type of resistance from uninitiated northerners like Paradise many times before. That’s why they named their first offering on Suave House Comin’ Out Hard. You see, coming from Tennessee with no major label, no heritage of Hip-Hop and the country music stigma firmly attached, it was mandatory that the duo make a seismic impact. They couldn’t just knock on the door. They would have to kick that motherfucker down. In many ways, 8Ball & MJG are to fellow southern rap pioneers Outkast what Richard Pryor was to Bill Cosby. While the Cos’ enjoyed the mainstream success and acceptance of Johnny Carson and Ed Sullivan, Pryor staked his claim in the “blue” comedy clubs of the Northeast and in seedy Midwest nightspots. While both comic legends inspired generations to come, more black comedians would eventually eat off of the template Pryor created than the image Cosby fostered. Similarly, Outkast’s 1994 debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik showed that a southern rapper could be just as lyrical and creative as someone from the East or West coast. 8Ball & MJG’s Comin Out Hard, released ten months earlier, 28
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proved that we didn’t have to change how we dressed, talked or acted to move units. Armed with the extraordinary marketing talents of Suave House founder Tony Draper, Comin Out Hard set a number of precedents. It introduced Pen ‘n Pixel graphics to the hip-hop world with the colorful cover art of the two MCs whizzing through downtown in a Lexus coupe. While an upstart label boss named Percy Miller was trying to downplay his southern roots by embedding himself and his fledgling No Limit Records in the Northern California music scene, Suave House was embracing the South with all the fervor of a mothball-smelling auntie at a family reunion. There were no Bloods, no Crips, no left coast or tri-state slang to speak of in a Ball & G lyric because these things didn’t exist where they lived. They spoke the language of the South. They talked about the things that went on in Memphis: pimping, robbing and dealing drugs. With both guns blazing, Suave House released its two nine millimeter boys on the public. Comin’ Out Hard was a perfect blend of the cinematic (“Armed Robbery,” “Mr. Big”) the hardcore (“Pimps,” “Niggas Like Us”) and the prophetic (“Comin Out Hard,” “Pimps In The House”). While rappers like Too $hort spoke of being a pimp, 8-Ball & MJG laid down the cold hard realities of pimpin’ in their rhymes. Far from politically correct, 8Ball & MJG loaded their debut outing with all the shock value of a Donald Goines novel while cushioning the blow with sweet soul samples like “Love TKO” from Teddy Pendergrass. One could argue that Andre and Big Boi saw how music fans in the Southeast gravitated to this “pimpology,” thus the playalistic theme of Cadillacmuzik which expertly concealed the group’s deeper creative motivations. While Outkast began their extraterrestrial flight with their second release ATLiens, 8-Ball & MJG also started to evolve. Buoyed by their independent success, the album On The Outside Looking In featured a guest appearance by then nationally-recognized rap star MC Breed – a sign
that Ball & G were reaching audiences outside the Dirty Dirty. Having nowhere near the impact of Comin’ Out Hard, their sophomore release did include the “get buck” classic “Lay It Down” and further established 8Ball & MJG’s credibility in the music industry. By far their crowning achievement, the group’s third album On Top Of The World was a sonic journey through the life of one of the South’s most influential rap teams. Debuting at Number 2 on Billboard behind the Dogg Pound’s Dogg Food was no small feat for two country playas during the G Funk Era, but Ball & G managed to pull it off. On Top Of The World revealed a more socially, spiritually and creatively sharp 8Ball & MJG. They urged listeners to avoid the evils of casual cocaine use (“Funk Mission”), to be wary of less-than-genuine associates (“Friend or Foe”) and detailed the struggle hustlers experience trying to leave the game behind (“What Can I Do?”). Social introspection aside, the boys from Orange Mound still slipped in one for the playas with “Space Age Pimpin’.” The success of On Top Of The World opened many doors for the duo, including solo projects. Though MJG’s blistering gold-certified No More Glory was largely overshadowed by Eightball’s multi-platinum triple CD Lost, it is now widelyconsidered the better of the two discs. Sadly, it is at this point the 8-Ball & MJG story takes a turn for the worse. Their thirst for mainstream hip-hop acceptance, coupled with internal disputes with Suave House, led to the group bouncing from label to label for several years. They eventually landed at Bad Boy, where they released the more commercially-driven Living Legends. Looking back now, I remember shuddering at a photo of Ball and G sporting denim jackets, gold teeth and jheri curls on Comin’ Out Hard. I thought, “These niggas gonna push us back 20 years.” Little did I know that they were ushering in today’s dominant force in music.
Ozone Mag #33 - Apr 2005