Wednesday, July 17, 2024

My favorite No Limit Records release of all time – Mac’s ‘Shell Shocked’ – just turned 25

McKinley “Mac” Phipps Jr. performs during the New Orleans Block Party on May 03, 2023 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Since hip-hop heads everywhere are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the acknowledged (and largely agreed upon) birthday of hip-hop, I’ve been going through my own crates (so to speak), pulling out CD binders full of albums I literally cannot play by artists I couldn’t get enough of, especially, from the 1990s – the entire decade. It’s fun thumbing through CD booklets with liner notes (remember those?); that’s how I first started to learn how albums were constructed and how vital each part of the process was to ensuring that I had the best listening experience possible. It’s also fun realizing what a time capsule that binders full of CDs can be. 

In the late 90s, during the nationwide run of No Limit Records, I was a college student in Atlanta. Now, No Limit had been around well before they went national, but when “Make ‘Em Say Uhh” dropped, their reign on hip-hop was undeniable across the industry as a whole. Atlanta, at that time, felt like Black Hollywood (I assume it’s still like that; I left Atlanta 22 years ago), and I vividly remember seeing folks rocking No Limit chains and even many of the rappers themselves walking through Lenox Mall at various points. No Limit was a movement, and it was palpable. 

And that palpability made me – and many, many others – purchase lots of albums under the No Limit umbrella that weren’t even a little bit good. But you know what, that’s the 90s for you. Back then, if Master P stamped the album, I probably copped it, for the South and for the culture. That’s how I happened upon the album, “Shell Shocked” by Mac, whose story is as fascinating and complicated as can be. In 1998, though, I didn’t know that. So when I went to the mall in Huntsville, Alabama, during the summer of 1998 and saw an album from a No Limit Tank representative, I picked it up. And frankly, I wasn’t ready

Mac, born McKinley Phipps, Jr., wasn’t your typical No Limit Soldier. For starters, Mac was CLEARLY a lyricist. Sure, he was rapping about the typical No Limit fare of riding on enemies and partying, New Orleans style. There was something about his drawl, New Orleans accent and his clearly lyrical talents that had his album on repeat for me going into my sophomore year at Morehouse College. In fact, I loved “Shell Shocked” so much that I would toss it into all types of conversations about great hip-hop albums, even some it didn’t belong in because, well, I wanted everybody to love Mac and this album like I did. 

I was actively following his career, and that’s why I was crestfallen when, in 2001, he was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 30 years in prison for the fatal shooting of a man in a nightclub in 2000. And it’s also why when he was released in 2021 and NPR’s “Louder than a Riot” podcast did multiple episodes on his case and David Dennis at Andscape wrote a profile of the newly released rapper and artist I was first in line to read,  listen and learn about the artist behind “Shell Shocked” and hoped for the best for him on his return home and to his artistry. 

When I listen to “Shell Shocked” now, and particularly songs like “Can I Ball?” and “My Brother,” all I hear is 1998, Atlanta and a time when No Limit ran the world…a time when a lyricist not named Lil’ Wayne out of New Orleans became one of my favorite rappers. 

It’s amazing to think 25 years has gone by, but the fact that hip-hop as a culture is 50 is also mind-boggling. Thankfully, there is so much rich music and culture involved that thumbing through CD binders can remind you just how far hip-hop has come. 

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.


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