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Cashing in the House 

Last weekend, a much-anticipated reunion show for Cash Money rap crew the Hot Boys — the first project of current stars Juvenile and Lil Wayne — was canceled after three people were shot outside Dream New Orleans on upper Decatur Street. Although the idea of the show, which was billed as an All-Star Game afterparty hosted by the group, had created a tremendous buzz in the world of hip-hop blogs, it was comparatively underpromoted in New Orleans. Cash Money Records, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary, had its first great success with the Hot Boys in 1999 when the album Guerilla Warfare became a million-seller and hit No. 3 on the Billboard 200. Except for the rapper Turk, who is currently serving a 10-year sentence for attempted second-degree murder of a police officer (producer Mannie Fresh was to take his place at the show), all of the original Hot Boys launched major careers off of the group. Juvenile and Lil Wayne, of course, shot straight for the stratosphere of platinum sales, and B.G., who has a new album (Real Nigga Radio) scheduled for release this week, hasn't done too badly either. Shortly after the incident, he lamented to MTV News: "It was going to be a big, historic moment. I was just saying that everybody was cool during the All-Star weekend, then they start shooting. Why'd they have to shoot up on our night? Guess that's Chopper City for ya."

MTV News also reported that at the time of the shooting — 1 a.m. Monday — none of the MCs scheduled to perform were actually there yet. There's been no word on a rescheduling of the reunion, but it seemed dubious in the first place considering the well-publicized rift between the Cash Money label and Juvenile after the star — who moved to Atlantic Records in 2006 — criticized both Lil Wayne and label owner Bryan "Baby" Williams in the press. (Mannie Fresh and B.G. also have left the label for the majors, although reports conflict over whether any bad blood was involved.) Wayne is the only Hot Boy to remain associated with Cash Money, which seems to be largely a ceremonial association at this point: the label's releases are now actually marketed and distributed by Universal Motown.

The idea of it still carries weight, as proven by Wayne's constant assertion of his allegiance to the crew in his songs. Though the Hot Boys' reunion Sunday night was a bust, Weezy played a "secret" show — promoted by MySpace — Saturday night at One Eyed Jacks, which was packed, energetic and incredibly long. The diminutive rapper took the stage in an LSU-purple shirt and ear-to-ear grin, along with about 20 of his friends, who stayed onstage throughout the performance. Some got on the mic, but most seemed to just be hanging out, filming the crowd with digital cameras or talking on cell phones. According to security at the front door, Williams' name was never checked off on the guest list, but Wayne's onstage chatter was liberally peppered with shout-outs to Williams, the Cash Money label and his own Young Money Entertainment imprint.

Last month, Williams released a new album, 5 Star Stunna, on Cash Money/Universal Motown. The singles from the album — "100 Million" and "Pop Bottles" — which have been getting a great deal of radio play, barely feature Williams at all. They are, in essence, Lil Wayne tracks, driven by his signature raspy voice and laconic, singsong rhyming style. Williams, who also is known as Birdman, has never broken out significantly as a rapper himself. As the label owner, he has a reputation as a tough guy akin to Death Row Records' Suge Knight. His success as an artist mostly comes from collaborations with Wayne, who declared him to be his adopted father and recorded the collaboration Like Father Like Son, featuring the track "Stuntin' Like My Daddy" in 2006. With Cash Money's relevance questionable except as an icon, 5 Star Stunna — which also features hot talent like Young Jeezy — is an example of Williams' canniness.

As with the formation of the Hot Boys, he's managed to assemble an all-star cast to preserve the idea of Cash Money unity and keep Cash Money's sound going. The album itself is punctuated by spoken interludes by a Mafia type from central casting, who appears to be advising Williams on how to run his empire from the point of view of a crime boss ('Junior's bringing in a lot of money. That's good. I saw you guys on the TV"). It's that voice that delivers the line that hits home most poignantly: "Loyalty. Don't forget loyalty. Money can't buy that." Money can't, but looking at Williams and Lil Wayne, apparently Cash Money can.

click to enlarge Bryan "Baby" Williams (aka Birdman) released 5 Star Stunna on the Cash Money/Universal Motown label.
  • Bryan "Baby" Williams (aka Birdman) released 5 Star Stunna on the Cash Money/Universal Motown label.
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