On April 20, 1999, B.G. released Chopper City In The Ghetto, his fourth solo LP and one of the finest installments in the Cash Money catalog. Just a year removed from putting out Juvenile's 400 Degreez (1998), Chopper City In The Ghetto would help transform a local record label with a budding following into the powerhouse it is now, featuring the likes of Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj and Drake on its roster. The album debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200, garnered first week sales of over 140,000 copies, and was certified Platinum before the end of the year; with songs like "Cash Money Is An Army" and the colossal banger "Bling Bling" burning up the airwaves—"Bling Bling" became so ubiquitous that the phrase forced its way into the Oxford English Dictionary less than five years later—the entirely Mannie Fresh-produced album was a landmark release for Cash Money owners Birdman and Slim. It was also the first major album released in the wake of Cash Money's distribution deal with Universal Records, a historic publishing and distribution contract which was estimated at the time to be worth $30 million and allowed the entrepreneurs to retain full ownership of their masters and publishing.

Fifteen years later, the album stands the test of time, though B.G. isn't free to enjoy it; the former Hot Boy was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2012 on gun possession and witness tampering charges. But the architect behind the sound of the album, legendary Cash Money producer and one-half of the Big Tymers, Mannie Fresh, is still grinding. XXL spoke to Mannie Fresh this week to discuss Chopper City In The Ghetto, its importance to the Cash Money empire and what, exactly, makes this album so timeless. Emmanuel C.M.

B.G. - Chopper City in The Ghetto

XXL: Take me back to Chopper City In The Ghetto.
Mannie Fresh: Chopper City In The Ghetto, real talk, it’s what changed Cash Money from a Bounce label to a rap label. Chopper City In The Ghetto was like the first official rap album done on the label that [led] it in the rap form. The early Cash Money, the first generation, it was all bounce artists. Then we figured out, just recording B.G., Man, this dude is a raw rapper. So just when we was doing Chopper City In The Ghetto, just the beginning of that, I would say that was the structure of Cash Money, that first album, to launch them to where they are right now. That was the first example that we did that changed the label into a hip-hop, rap [label].

What was your approach while making the album?
We kind of looked around at like everything that was going on; West Coast gangsta [rap] was opposed to [the] 8Ball & MJG sound, and it was kind of like a gumbo thing. We took a feel for everything. We took some of what Dre was doing, what 8Ball & MJG was doing, what Scarface was doing at the time. We was really like, man, we music fans of everything. How can we just make this gumbo? How can we have this one album have ingredients of everything? It could make the East Coast happy, the West Coast, the South and the North. It was really just us doing our homework of what’s going on in the world. That’s the approach I took on making it.


What was B.G. like in the studio while making this album?
All throughout his career, he's always has been a beast in the studio. When we was doing Chopper City In The Ghetto, he already had the name of what he want it to be. He wanted it to represent his block. So he went extra hard on what he was doing. A lot of stuff, the craziness is this: everything he was rapping was true to form—everything he was saying in those raps—and dude was really living that. We just took it as, Man, this dude is a brilliant rapper from the ghetto point of view. He was really telling his story. Chopper City In The Ghetto, a lot of it was B.G.'s real story.

A lot of songs would [start with] him rapping a capella first. We never really knew where dude got his songs from. It [would] just be like, “Hey man, I got this idea, I’m coming through tonight.” He would come through and start rapping a song, [and] I would just fill in the blanks. I’m like, "Okay dude, just tell me what you want to talk about." And he'd be like, "This is what the hook is going to be like, and this is going to be the first verse of it,” and from there I kind of just groomed the music around what he was staying.

Where did y’all record?
We recorded everywhere. We recorded Chopper City In The Ghetto in a house that we was living in. Two studios; I want to say one of them was around St. Charles St., one of them was around Canal St. We probably did that album in 2 weeks. That was the norm for a Cash Money album.


How did “Cash Money Is An Army” come together?
That song came about because we had all of these record beefs and small little record companies that was coming up in New Orleans that was challenging Cash Money on a lot of stuff. So B.G. felt like, you know what, I’m going to put an end to it and let them know this is our stamp on it. At the time, even then, Cash Money was that record company. So we had a couple of record companies that was coming up under us and they felt they way to get on is, "I’ll take a jab at Cash Money." So B.G. felt like, I’m going to shut all of that down.

From him doing the hook, I already knew how it had to sound. It got to have some kind of cool melodic sound to it that's just going to make you bop your head. [B.G.] has this flow about him that was kind of slur-ish, but I’m like, "You got to understand everything that he says." So it was vital that the tempo was right there and the music was right there. It had to be a marriage, because what he was saying, I was like, “I want everybody to hear every word that he’s saying.”


How about a song like “Bling Bling”?
Funny story with that one; “Bling Bling” was a Big Tymers song. What happened with that one was, after we analyzed B.G.'s album, we was like, Man, it has all the street elements in the world, but how do we sell it? We got to figure out some kind of way to get this to the masses. The streets buy records, but they don’t really buy records in incredible numbers. So we were thinking, how do we get him to go platinum status? So we took the “Bling Bling” song from the Big Tymers—and that happened a lot on Cash Money—[and] it catapulted his sales and gave him that record that nobody can deny, that one record.

Where did you first hear the term "bling"?
Wayne had this song, way back in Cash Money, when he mentioned the word bling on a song. And nobody thought it was relevant. I always thought, Man, that’s something major. So when I wrote the hook to “Bling Bling” —because originally it was a Big Tymers song—whenever we played it in the studio, people would say, "That’s the one." So I always knew it was going to be something incredible. I promise, five people would agree with me on exactly how I just told it, because we had times where B.G. had said, "Mannie wrote it," and Wayne had said he wrote it. Wayne did use the word bling in a song before the phrase “Bling Bling,” but he did not say it like that. I just thought that word was genius, the whole hook of “Bling Bling.” I wrote it the same the way it goes, and all that.


What's your take on the album as a whole?
Overall, that album is just one of those albums that I can go back and just listen to it, listen to my production, listen to him and it brings me back to where I need to be at. This album defined what Cash Money is right now. Like I said, the first generation was based on bounce. Then all of the sudden we come up to The B.G.'z, which was Wayne and B.G. What happened was, Wayne got in trouble with his grades and his mom took him out of the group. So it was left to just B.G. And the songs he was turning in, I was like, this not bounce music no more, this dude can really rap.

Where do you think Chopper City In The Ghetto stacks up?
It’s timeless. I feel, would we ever have other albums like this? That’s scary to me. Listening to hip-hop right now, would we ever have something that we'd be celebrating 15 years from now that we talking about today? Would music ever feel like that again? Certain rap albums are timeless. OutKast, they have timeless albums. People like 8Ball And MJG, Dr. Dre, those are things things that this generation, somebody who’s nine years old, you can hear the story and by the time you of age you pop that in and be like, "Oh I get it, I see why everybody was jamming to this.” So I think in that era, the music that he did was timeless. It defined a moment. When that was going on, that was the last stages of us having categories of rap. What I mean is, you still had gangsta rap, you still had pro-black Public Enemy, you still had the storyteller Slick Rick. And now it's just one-dimensional.

This album is not apologetic. It is what it is; you either you like me or you don’t. I miss that about music. Everybody wants to tip-toe. People say you can't say this or that to this person, but you do have an opinion, and music was an outlet for that. That album was not apologetic at all; it was raw in your face.


Previously: B.G. Pens Letter To Fans From Prison
B.G. Talks 14-Year Prison Sentence: “I Shouldn’t Have Had a Firearm”
26 Of The Longest Prison Bids In Hip-Hop History
Mannie Fresh Has Hot Boys, Mos Def And Wiz Khalifa Projects Coming Up