There's a Heaven Up There For Real G's: On Grief, Master P, and sixteen years of Ghetto D
In college, for some reason, I was having a conversation with my friend Liz, regarding Master P’s 1997 magnum opus Ghetto D.
“Ghetto Dope, you mean?” Liz said.
“No. I think it’s just called Ghetto D,” I replied.
To which she responded, “No Kevin I’m pretty sure my copy of it was called Ghetto Dope.”
The first song on Ghetto D is the title track, and it explains how to make crack. Like I am not kidding. C-Murder’s opening verse goes over, step by step, what you would do to make crack. The hook of the song is “Make Make Make Make Crack Like This.”
In the fall of 1997, I did not actively listen to rap music. But I was more than aware of Master P and his No Limit Records empire. The video for the asinine yet catchy single, “Make ‘Em Say Ugh,” saw quite a bit of airplay on MTV—the video itself involves: a basketball game, a giant golden tank rolling out onto the court, cheerleaders, people jumping up and down emphatically, and lots and lots of lighting. And how could anybody ignore the garish packaging to any No Limit release? The terribly designed “pen & pixel” artwork, and in the instance of Ghetto D, a flimsy, yet eye-catching, bright orange case.
Why would I even think about an album like this, that is sixteen years old this year?
Because of grief.
Grief does funny things to you. Not like “good times funny,” but it makes you think about things you normally wouldn’t give second thought to. Specifically, the passing of my best friend last April made me start to think about every song ever written that could be applied to how I was feeling. And eventually, I remembered the Master P song, “I Miss My Homies.”
Dubbed by some as a poor man’s “Crossroads,” “I Miss My Homies,” is a hot mess—but so is the entirety of Ghetto D. “I Miss My Homies,” at its core, is a tribute to Master P’s deceased brother, Kevin Miller. It’s also about the drug game, life in the hood, and about how it’s hard to be strong when your main homey is gone (this last part here being the part I most identified with.) Though heavily flawed, and almost a caricature of rap music (but so is the entirety of Ghetto D) “I Miss My Homies” has a lot of heart to it, and I guess that is what struck me the most about it, listening to it now as an adult who is working through grief and loss.
After listening, I decided that I may as well give all of Ghetto D a chance, and see what I had missed out on during the late 90s.
So I’m not kidding when I said before that Ghetto D is a hot mess. It’s sold over three million copies, and this was the number one album in the country at some point after its release. Which, after listening to it many times, is difficult for me to grasp. It is difficult for me to grasp a world in which this happened.
A majority of Ghetto D is dedicated to rhymes about the drug game—specifically the crack game. Because you know sometimes the rap game reminds me of the crack game. Along with the crack game, of course, come the countless references to shooting people, and gun totin’. And not so much a thesis statement, but the song “Weed and Money” does pretty clear up any questions the listener may have about what the rest of Ghetto D is about—“Ya’ll live for bitches and blunts. We live for weed and money.” Which is almost kind of the same thing. Almost. Kind of.
And throughout the nearly 80 minutes, many of those minutes are reserved for P to yell out “UGH!” Yelling “Ugh” is one of the weirder aspects of Ghetto D. It became P’s trademark, to an extent. But why? Master P yelling “Ugh” is a horrible sound and I wince every time it happens throughout Ghetto D. Except on the song “Make ‘Em Say Ugh.” Because well, on that song, you’d expect it.
Other puzzling aspects of Ghetto D:
- On one of the more obnoxious tracks, “Let’s Get ‘Em,” P drops the line, “Pac and Biggie taught me a lesson. Never leave without your Smith and Wesson.” Come on now. That’s just insensitive. Similarly, on many songs, P delivers his lines in a lower register, like on "Only Time Will Tell," in a half-assed effort to ape the vocal delivery of Tupac Shakur.
- There’s the Star Trek-referencing “Captain Kirk,” which really has nothing at all to do with Star Trek, and has everything to do with the irritating refrain of “Captain Kirk can you save me? Captain Kirk, I wanna have your baby.” Which is weird.
- And lastly, how the juxtaposition of inaccessibility versus accessible pop hooks runs throughout the duration of the album. As much of this album initially rubs you the wrong way, there’s no way to resist how catchy the songs are at times—E.G. “Stop Hatin’,” with the chorus of “Look at all these haters, surrounding me every day. Hatin on a baller but they can't stop my pay,” is memorable enough that my wife was walking around the house singing it after I left this c.d. in the car.
Like every No Limit album during the heyday, Ghetto D is weighed down heavily by guest appearances from pretty much everyone else on the label, and then the one exception being Pimp C (R.I.P) popping up on “I Miss My Homies.” Two of the other performers on the label’s roster are Master P’s brothers—like literally blood relatives. Both C-Murder (who is now in prison for murder. Yikes.) and Silkk The Shocker—Silkk appearing on 11 of the 19 tracks on Ghetto D. And there is Mystikal—who had a late career hit with the song “Shake Yo Ass”—first gained traction on No Limit, quickly rapping and pretty much screaming on every song he is featured on.
Sixteen years later, Ghetto D is pretty silly. It’s pretty tough to take any of it seriously when you know that the man behind it was later on a Nickelodeon-produced television show where he played a fictionalized version of himself, co-starring with his son, Lil Romeo. Ghetto D is an emotional rollercoaster (not really.) It will you laugh, it will maybe make you cry, it will make you sing along, cringe, scratch your head, and it will probably make you say “ugh.”