Ghetto Fabulous
No Limit/Jive

Silkk the Shocker
Made Man
No Limit/Priority

Did you just hear that clicking sound? That was the sound of Master P switching on the reel-to-reel machine again so he can record tracks for yet another No Limit album. Master P churns out albums the same way Nabisco churns out packs of Fig Newtons. And once in a while, one of those No Limit packs has the same fulfilling enjoyment, like the two new releases P is starting off the year with from his two most high-profile artists. (Besides himself, of course.)

With his perfectly braided dreadlocks and shell-shocked vigor, Mystikal is the Sean Penn of the No Limit cartel, an intimidating, flawed madman with the soul of a tortured artist. He's probably the most charismatic, intriguing creative presence Master P has got on his whole damn label. (In terms of flow, Mystikal does appear light-years ahead of his own boss.) On Ghetto Fabulous, his third album, Mystikal once again lets listeners in on the method of his madness, inviting anyone with a strong stomach, a willing mind and balls of steel to come and enjoy the carnage. Right from the first track, the here-we-come anthem, "Round Out the Tank," the man comes out blazing like Chuck Connors at the beginning of The Rifleman. Now, as for what Mystikal's talking about, that's anybody's guess. His oral collection of vein-popping rants and spastic sound effects nearly rivals the verbal acrobatics of Busta Rhymes, who appears on the track "Whatcha Want, Whatcha Need." The snippets you do catch show Mystikal to be one ballsy character. On "There He Go," he admits that "A job well done makes my dick go hard." (To borrow a line from comedian D.L. Hughley, Mystikal needs Jesus.) The incendiary "I'm On Fire" has the rapper popping in and out of his own pyrotechnical nightmare. And on "Respect My Mind," perhaps the best track, Mystikal vehemently riffs on those who try to diminish his creative power. ("Y'all bitches can't get down like me and the Pound can / We ain't gotta bring up Soundscan.") The beats are kept on the down low to accommodate Mystikal's manic, gruff style. But even when they're not, as on the hellafied, guitar-strumming "Keep It Hype," they provide a perfectly nervy backbeat for a perfectly nervy performer. Even when he treads on the familiar rap subjects such as songs about weed ("I Smell Smoke") or the love of a good mother ("Life Ain't Cool"), you can hear the velocity and electricity in his voice. Unlike other MCs, Mystikal sounds like he's actually on. "I'm two scoops from cuckoo," Mystikal says on one of the songs. Whatever he is, his speedy rap insanity is more than welcome.

If Mystikal lays down his point of view rapidly and belligerently, then Silkk the Shocker drops his stuff in an inert, out-of-the-way manner. With an exasperated, out-of-breath tone that often has him sounding like he's trying to catch up with the rest of the music (his big brother, Master P, often does the same damn thing), Silkk is passive to Mystikal's aggressive. It shows on his third album, Made Man. Mixing mobster mythology with inner-city loyalty, Silkk tries to parlay some proficient class and smoothness into the Southern gangsta-rap game. (Don't be discouraged, fans, the guy's still a thug.)

Despite the album's excessive length and occasional lapses into wrenched-out pathos (The Commodores-sampled "End of the Road" comes from the same histrionic ilk as that now-classic rap weepie, "Gangsta Lean"), the rest of the album has him coolly balancing himself between suave stud and ghetto goodfella. "All Because of You" has Silkk taking off on the immortal Slick Rick/Doug E. Fresh number "La Di Da Di" with some help from Mia X. "Ghetto Rain" has him interpreting the art of the hustle with big bro P. He also does a follow-up of his hit "It Ain't My Fault" with Mystikal. It's not just the No Limit camp that does guest shots. Non-No-Limit artist Mya shows up and smolders on "Somebody Like Me," while another outsider, Jay-Z, teams up with Silkk and P on the extravagant "You Know What We Bout." But while Made Man is touted as Silkk's show, you can't help but notice how good the Beats By The Pound production team has gotten at injecting energetic, potent beats and rhythms into No Limit releases. Silkk may be a made man, but it helps having a crew like Beats By The Pound backing him up.

-- Craig D. Lindsey

Waco Brothers

At a time when such terms as "alternative country" and "country punk" have been bandied about so much as to become almost meaningless, the Chicago-based Waco Brothers nonetheless embody them as well as any contemporary act. And even if WacoWorld doesn't have quite as much oomph and sizzling energy as its previous releases, the title is nonetheless apropos for the way this band of latter-day outlaws and cowboys has fully defined its stylistic niche here.

The themes explored within are well represented by the postconstructivist cover, adapted from the poster art for the 1973 Michael Crichton film Westworld, where a computer-controlled Western theme park of the future goes haywire. Similarly, the songs on WacoWorld depict a booze-soaked realm rife with heartbreak, corruption, and old West-style violence and mayhem -- not a pretty place. The lyrics recast country music and Western movie themes for the premillennial era in a manner that one might not think of as poetic, yet as certainly literary if not downright cinematic. WacoWorld is, like Westworld, a place where order and reason have all but disappeared.

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