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Shock Treatment

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For Silkk, though, trying to escape from his brother's rather impressive shadow and carve a niche for himself was sometimes difficult, which is understandable considering the scale of P's achievements. (In 1998, P was named by Forbes magazine as the tenth-top-grossing entertainer in America, with earnings of $56.5 million.) Though Silkk has unquestionably benefited from being P's little brother, sibling relationships alone do not ensure record sales--just ask LaToya Jackson.

Fortunately for Silkk, he had the skills to back up his status. His first release, 1996's The Shocker, went gold. His second, last year's Charge It 2 Da Game, with the club hit "It Ain't My Fault," went platinum. And his latest, Made Man, opened up at number one on the Billboard charts. The disc produced a surprise radio and video hit with its pairing of Silkk and R&B singer Mya on "Somebody Like Me," which addresses the phenomenon of "good" girls falling for "ghetto" boys. On paper, the combination seems unwieldy, but Mya's smooth R&B style both contrasts with and complements that of Silkk and his rugged raps.

Made Man shows Silkk further trying to establish his own voice. The title and the intro skit--with its beyond-cliche Mafia connotations--even suggest that Silkk has earned his high rank in the No Limit empire. To put the accent on "solo," Silkk limited the number of guest appearances; the standout tracks, though, are those that prominently feature other artists. Over a dark, sinuous bounce beat provided by Craig B. of Beats by the Pound, Silkk and labelmate Mystikal weave raps in and out of a call-and-response flow on "It Ain't My Fault 2." The cut ranks as one of No Limit's best, but Mystikal's distinctive Deep South growl tends to overshadow Silkk, juxtaposing one MC with a very distinct voice and one still trying to establish a signature sound.

To his credit, Man reflects a more diverse Silkk this time around. There are still plenty of songs for the hustlers and ballers ("It Takes More," "If I Don't Make $," "South Side Niggas") and party anthems ("Get It Up," with Snoop), but strong R&B-inflected raps are also present, including "I Want to Be With You," a classic male/female battle with Mia X backed by a human beatbox, and a Southern-flavored acoustic rap/rock cut, "It's Going Around Outside."

Lyrically, the disc peaks with the laid-back rap "Ghetto Rain," in which Silkk peels away the facade of the young ghetto superstar ("You ever felt like you were a swimmer and you were drowning?/Am I happy/Am I smiling or am I just camouflaging"). Throughout the song, P and Silkk reference their brother Kevin's death, an event with a clear impact on Silkk's life. "He just got caught up in the streets, when his friends got jealous of what he had--that's basically what happened," he says. "Ghetto Rain" is one of a few cuts that display a vulnerability and sensitivity that the gangsta-ridden tracks dominating the album attempt to mask. The tendency to place a lyrical focus on ghetto topics has led some critics to charge that the majority of No Limit's artists do nothing but promote a gangster lifestyle. Silkk disagrees.

"I think whatever you see is what you're going to rap about. I basically just seen New Orleans and rapped about it," Silkk says, arguing that people connect with the words of the No Limit crew because of the reality of their own lives. "Everybody else was going through the same thing we were going through, because a ghetto is a ghetto. There is ghettos all over, and if you just speak in the real, I think everybody will feel that, as long as it isn't out of proportion," he says. Ultimately, part of No Limit's success lies in its ability to recycle a proven formula, and gangster rap is a part of that equation--so don't expect Master P to take calls from C. DeLores Tucker anytime soon.

Instead, the brothers will continue to explore the life of Da Crime Family, their third release under the guise of Tru; the grouping is one of several projects planned for the coming year. And Silkk, who is an occasional actor, is slated to star in Hot Boyz, a movie directed by P that features Snoop Dogg, Mystikal and, of all people, Gary Busey. He's also working on a new album, tentatively scheduled for a March 2000 release. But the project highest on the current priority list is the No Limit Army Tour, with Master P and Snoop Dogg as headliners and the majority of the No Limit roster as featured artists.

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James Mayo

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