We On Fire: The Hot Boys' Essential Hits
Words by Andrew Barber
Tomorrow is a big day in New Orleans. Lil Wayne hosts the first annual Lil Weezyana festival in his hometown to mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The full lineup has not been announced, and considering Weezy's Young Money roster, plenty of major stars might just show up. But right now in NOLA, word on the streets is all about the Hot Boys reunion.
The textbook definition of a Hot Boy is as follows:
A paper chaser, who has their block on fire. Remaining a G, until the moment you expire. You know what it is to make nothing out of something. You handle your business, and don’t be crying or suffering.
But all jokes aside, the term Hot Boy was casual New Orleans slang for a person who was so hot that if you stood too close you might catch fire. They were in demand—either by law enforcement, females, or in this case, the rap game. The group was the brainchild of Brian “Baby” “Birdman” and Ronald “Slim” Williams, brothers and co-CEOs of the now-mammoth Cash Money Records.
In 1997, Baby and Slim decided to take the younger artists from their burgeoning roster and create a group. A boy band, if you will. A boy band that would go on to become one of the most influential and revered factions in rap music history. Juvenile, Lil Wayne, BG, and Bulletproof were the original starting four who made up the first incarnation of the Hot Boys. Bulletproof, who was a nephew of Baby and Slim, left the group shortly before their 1997 debut, and was replaced by Turk, who was signed to the label to do bounce music. Bulletproof’s poorly timed exit from the group makes him the rap game Pete Best (does that make Turk, Ringo?)
They were a quartet, made up of hard-edged teenagers from the mean streets of New Orleans (and a Juvenile who was in his early 20s.) Lil Wayne was 15 when “Get It How U Live” dropped. Turk and BG were both freshly 17. Despite their young age, they’d already incurred a lifetime’s worth of struggle. Wayne had survived a self-inflicted and accidental gunshot wound to the chest, while BG battled a nasty heroin addiction.
The foursome would go on to drop three albums with Cash Money Records: 1997’s Get it How U Live, 1999’s Guerilla Warfare and 2003’s Let ‘Em Burn. Get It How U Live was released prior to CMR’s deal with Universal, and still managed to move over 300,000 copies independently. Guerrilla Warfare was the group’s most successful endeavor, going double platinum. Let ‘Em Burn was a bunch of patched together throwaways that were never intended to heard by the public. It was a tragic cash in by Cash Money that we like to pretend never happened.
Label infighting, monetary discrepancies, and favoritism would eventually sink the group, but not before they were able to make some magical music together. Juvenile was the breakout star (his 400 Degreez is still the highest selling CMR release), but Lil Wayne would become the best rapper alive, since the best rapper * fake * retired. But, one by one, each Hot Boy would leave (or attempt to leave) Cash Money Records. Juvenile was on again off again (his current status: in a relationship), while BG and Turk fled never to return. Lil Wayne remained the most loyal to the label, but is now desperately trying to jump ship and is caught up in a nasty legal case (relationship status: it’s complicated) with his former adopted father, Birdman.
At least three of the original Hot Boys will take the stage at Champions Square on August 28. Mannie Fresh is also involved (I’m told Baby is not invited). But the reunion will be bittersweet, as BG sits in a federal prison, serving out a 14-year sentence. (Rumors that he might get a temporary furlough for the show, proceeds from which will benefit Tha Carter Fund to support good works in Weezy's hometown.) Unless he’s beamed in via satellite à la Eazy-E in the “We Want Eazy” video, the artist formerly known as Lil Doogie won’t be making an appearance.
25. Juvenile ft. Hot Boys “A Million And One Things”
In hindsight, Cash Money’s decision to rush the release of Juvenile’s Tha G-Code album as 400 Degreez was still taking off was a bad call. But all the big dogs of the era were dropping albums yearly – Jay, DMX, Master P, etc., so Juve had to follow suit.
400 Degreez was quadruple platinum (and on its way to catching Jay Z’s Vol. 2 in sales), so if Juvenile was going to be a major player, he couldn’t miss a step. But between 400 Degreez, Guerilla Warfare and BG and Wayne’s major label debuts, Juve was everywhere. It was hard to keep up. In fact, he was so oversaturated, that Universal blocked the rapper from appearing in the video for his Ruff Ryders collabo with Drag-On “Down Bottom” – and that song was a big hit!
So looking back, Tha G-Code didn’t get the love or recognition it deserved. It got lost in the sauce, despite a fantastic first single “U Understand” (which many accused of being a direct bite of “Ha,” but never mind them.) And while it wasn’t the classic that 400 Degreez was, Tha G-Code produced a number of entertaining tracks, including “A Million And One Things” a somewhat introspective track that found Lil Wayne becoming the polished lyrical force we’d come to know, and great songwriting from Juve The Great.
24. Juvenile ft. Lil Wayne, Baby & Turk “Set It Off (Remix)”
Many would cite the Hot Boys/Big Tymers era as the first generation of Cash Money Records, but in fact it was the second. The label broke ground in 1991, and began dropping records by artists such as Kilo G, Pimp Daddy and Lil Slim. One of the more popular acts on the label at the time was UNLV, who broke out regionally with “Drag Em N Tha River,” a scathing diss to crosstown rival Mystikal. The beat sampled “Drag Rap” (a.k.a. Triggaman) by The Showboys, which is arguably the most sampled rap record in New Orleans history, and the prototype for bounce music.
Juvenile wanted to pay homage to UNLV and “Triggaman” with his first single from Project English, “Set It Off.” Juve’s reworking of the record was a huge success regionally, dominating radio and clubs. The people demanded a remix, so he tapped Wayne, Turk and Baby to assist. This sample never gets old, no matter the generation. A true New Orleans staple (even though the Showboys were from Queens, NY.)
23. Juvenile ft. Turk & Lil Wayne “Hide Out or Ride Out”
New Orleans was a warzone in the 90s. So it was fitting that many of its inhabitants took on military personas: No Limit Soldiers, Cash Money is an Army, Solja Rags, Soulja Slim, the Colonel Master P, etc. So the military references were thick throughout Juvenile’s Cash Money debut, Solja Rags. Hell, he was draped in fatigues and blowing up his surroundings from atop a camo Hummer on the cover. So “Hide Out or Ride Out,” which featured pubescent sounding Lil Wayne and Turk, included nothing but battlefield talk. When it’s war time, you could either go into hiding, or fight your way out: “I’m not scared, cause I’m a solider and soliders have no fuckin’ fear.” A grim reality for many in the Crescent.
22. Hot Boys “Help” (BG Solo)
Before Weezy was crowned the most lyrical of the Cash Money stable, BG was the early contender for the title. Streetwise with a distinct snarl, BG was positioned to be the voice of the streets, and the portal into the deadly corners of New Orleans 13th Ward. Disputes over finances forced BG to flee the label in 2002, leaving the loyal Lil Wayne to be the crowned prince of the empire. But BG’s legacy is in tact with sinister joints like “Help” which showcased his penchant for storytelling, gunplay and introducing the world to The Big Easy’s g-code.
21. Hot Boys “I’m A Hot Boy”
The Hot Boys were treated to some of the best, and most unique production of Mannie Fresh’s career. Sure it sounds bugged out now, but could you imagine hearing this in 1997? Only Timbaland had an equally distinct sound. This is why “Ha” shook up the world when it impacted in 98, because there was no rap that sounded like this anywhere on the map. Equally unique, were the style and slang of BG and Juvenile, who bend this track into a pretzel with their dazzling delivery and southern drawl. U understand?
20. Juvenile ft. Turk, BG & Big Tymers “Never Had Shit”
One of Cash Money’s strongest suits, was taking their hottest lines and making hot songs out of them. They did it countless times in the golden era, and still get away with it in 2015. “Never Had Shit” repurposed a classic Juve line for a great Juve song, that reflected on the humble beginnings of the boys from New Orleans.
19. Hot Boys ft. Big Tymers “Rock Ice”
Do you remember movie soundtracks? Do you remember the movie Blue Streak? Well, if you were born after 1990, the answer to both of these questions might be “no.” If you missed Blue Streak, I’m sorry to inform that you didn’t miss much. Same goes for the accompanying soundtrack. But there were a couple of bright spots on said soundtrack, including the Cash Money standout, “Rock Ice.” Hey, the movie was about a diamond heist, so it was only fitting to get the crew who had “so much ice you could skate on it” to contribute to the soundtrack.
The result is the futuristic “Rock Ice,” which was essentially “Bling Bling” part two. It’s the sequel we didn’t ask for, but gladly accepted. And as advertised, it was a real Hot Boys song, unlike the bait and switch the Violator album pulled a week earlier, pumping up a Cormega and Hot Boys song, which actually only featured a Lil Wayne hook. ☹
18. BG ft. Juvenile & Lil Wayne “Niggaz In Trouble”
First thing’s first – this beat is incredible. Monumental even. It’s so grandiose, it sounds like a wrestler’s entrance music, or the theme song to a late-90s hip hop crime drama set in Uptown New Orleans.
The Hot Boys had to always look over their shoulder – to keep an eye out for foes and the feds. But one thing you didn’t want to do was find yourself on the wrong side of a battle against one of them. Take that off your bucket list. Big trouble, little New Orleans.
17. Hot Boys “Block Burner” (Lil Wayne Solo)
In 1997, Dwayne Carter was sort of a novelty. A 15 year-old gangsta rapper who sounded like a child, but rapped about adult subject matter. He’d even survived a self-inflicted gunshot wound. It was as if he was genetically engineered by an evil record company boss, to wield influence over easily influenced teenagers. Wait, what? Never mind.
Taking cues from the Geto Boys, the Hot Boys would allocate solo songs to certain members on each album. Yeah they were a group, but Baby and Slim had to get that solo money as well. So the solo joints were a nice preview of what was to come in the near future from their burgeoning roster. One of the immediate standouts was Wayne’s solo shot from Get It How U Live, “Block Burner.” Listening to this record in 2015, it’s evident Wayne was destined to be a breakout star. It’s hard to imagine a 25 year old cutting such a clear and concise record, let alone someone who didn’t even have their learner’s permit at the time. He skated on this joint, and truly burnt the block down.
16. Project Pat ft. Hot Boys & Big Tymers “Ballers (Cash Money Remix)”
Perhaps it was too close to the release of Tear Da Club Up Thugs “Hypnotize/Cash Money,” or the label wouldn’t swing for the video, but the Cash Money remix of Project Pat’s “Ballers” was far superior to the original featuring Gangsta Boo. In fact, it might’ve been the hottest record on an album chock full of Southern-fried greatness from Patta. And they still put it last on the album and tacked on an annoying outro from DJ Paul and Juicy J. Wayne and Turk really standout here, but it’s Baby’s game-spitting verse that steals the show (as he’s been known to do.)
Yes, Mannie’s production fit the Hot Boys like a glove, but in a perfect world, we would’ve had a few more Hot Boys records over that classic Three Six production laid down by DJ Paul and Juicy J. “Them gold grill and them platinum mouth boys” both had pioneering southern sounds.
15. BG ft. Hot Boys “Knockout”
The Hot Boys were so cold they could even make a childrens song sound sinister. That’s exactly what Juvenile did on this record from BG’s Chopper City in the Ghetto. One thing Juvenile is hardly remembered for, is his ability to craft extremely strong and melodic hooks. And the one-two punch from BG and Juve is something we’ll always remember fondly from early era Hot Boys. This album cut was a true knockout and one of the stronger joints from BG’s major label debut. Good luck Googling this song, however, as you’ll only draw results for Eazy-E’s former protégé, BG Knoccout.
14. Hot Boys “Tuesday & Thursday”
A common misconception about the Cash Money roster was that they only rapped about diamonds, money and cars. Wrong. The Hot Boys were for the people, and on “Tuesday & Thursday” they made it their civic duty to warn hustlers worldwide about the sweeps law enforcement would conduct each and every Tuesday and Thursday. Two of the hottest days of the week.
13. Hot Boys ft. Bun B “I’m Com’n”
From Big Mike to ESG, a handful of New Orleans artists would migrate west for greener industry pastures in Houston. And after Katrina, many would make Houston their permanent residence (see: Mannie Fresh.) It was a somewhat short drive between the two southern hubs, and music was an important commodity.
Time has proven that Bun B was a visionary – an early adopter on many fronts. He was the first nationally known artist to give Cash Money a stamp of approval, by guesting on many of their pre-Universal releases. Bun had the same “country cousins” relationship with No Limit Records, having appeared on P-related projects dating back to 1995.
Bun was the only non-Cash Money rapper featured on 1997’s Get It How U Live, and he made sure to make his mark, washing the entire Hot Boys crew (no easy feat) with one of his strongest guest verses to date. He wasn’t a seasoned vet at the time, but his experience showed here.
12. Hot Boys “I Feel”
The Hot Boys had some feelings to get off their chest after the success of 400 Degreez. They had industry acceptance and platinum records, but they weren’t satisfied. They wanted the crown in their city, and were sick of the No Limit comparisons. Both camps were throwing thinly veiled shots back and forth, but throughout “I Feel” BG made it pretty clear who he was taking aim at: “I feel we taking over the industry fa sho, I feel like these biting wannabe soldiers already know.”
It was guerrilla warfare for real, and the cold war was being waged at home in New Orleans. There could only be one, and the stakes were high. Some 16 years later we know how this battle played out, but at the time, it was extremely touchy.
11. BG ft. Juvenile & Lil Wayne “Ride or Die”
There was a time when BG was to be the marquee act on Cash Money Records. The future of the label, if you will. There was also time when BG was in a group called BG’z, which also included a 12-year-old Lil Wayne.
In ’97, the label began cleaning house, giving the first generation CMR roster their walking papers to make way for what would become the golden era for the label: BG, Juvenile, Lil Wayne, Turk, and Mannie Fresh.
BG received a strong push early on, and impressed with his menacing street tales, which for a teenager, were way beyond his years. His It’s All On U Vol. 1 album was so successful, that the label rushed out a second edition, which included the breezy “Ride or Die,” featuring an early incarnation of the Hot Boys. “Ride or Die” found Mannie at his best behind the boards, lacing BG with a rugged yet tropical instrumental typical of the vibe you get just being in New Orleans.
10. Hot Boys “We On Fire” [Part 1 & 2]
The Hot Boys kicked off their first two albums with a track titled “We On Fire.” Both feature bouncy backdrops from Mannie Fresh, and showcase the foursome trading bars and attacking back and forth throughout. So no, Run DMC and Jadakiss and Styles P weren’t the only rappers to flawlessly execute this technique.
For the revamped 1999 edition, which was the lead off single for Guerrilla Warfare, the quartet flaunted their distinct New Orleans style: camouflage bandanas, Girbaud jeans, Reeboks, white tees and tanks or simply shirtless. Yeah were country, but they made country cool. And they showed a different side of New Orleans than they’re Versace-clad counterparts across town. The jiggy shit was dead.
For some reason, they didn’t keep the “We On Fire” tradition going on their third album. Let ‘Em Burn, but we like to pretend that album never happened, so we’ll leave that there.
9. Lil Wayne ft. Hot Boys & Big Tymers “Loud Pipes”
For those of you who think Lil Wayne just became a good rapper in 2006, I’m hear to deliver you some bad news: he’s always been dope. At 17 years old he spit this verse:
Whoa, whoa, whoa Now I'm shinin' beamin' glossin' Big Tymin' stuntin' and flossin' Lamborghini sitting on broaders With two more in my garages Plus a blue and black ferrari With Nintendo and Atari Man I swear the car is awesome Vroom! Sorry, we lost 'em I'm back I pull up smelling like dime sacks and cognac I leave in the Hummer Hour later I'm flying back Whoosh, private jet's about to land The women fall out when I let them touch my hand I get out the plane into a Mercedes Benz van TVs all over with chrome 20-inch fans, damn Goddamn, man, I am L-I-L, Weezy, off the heezy But still in awe, ice floodin' on my watch And in my grill and all Porshe Box', front blocks Skrrt! Peeling off, me and Slim in the Rover Beatrice brick holder, Cash Money young soldier
And that’s all I have to say about “Loud Pipes.”
8. BG ft. Hot Boys “Play’n It Raw”
It’s rumored that Baby and Slim made the Hot Boys run laps and sprints while reciting their raps. It helped with their breath control, and prepared them for performances. It could purely be urban legend, but after listening to “Play’n It Raw,” it doesn’t seem far-fetched. Listen to their delivery here. The chemistry. Turk, Wayne and BG were all teenagers at the time – but sounded more polished than most industry vets. That’s what made them special, sure the world thought they blew up overnight, but Baby and Slim invested a lot of time and money into making these kids sound light years beyond anyone else in their age bracket. The way they bob and weave throughout this Mannie-produced track is something most 30 year old rappers couldn’t tackle in 2015.
7. Tear Da Club Up Thugs ft. Hot Boys & Big Tymers “Hypnotize/Cash Money”
What most don’t know is that the Cash Money family had a strong relationship with Tennessee. In fact, some of their early works were recorded in the state. Rumor has it, many of the flashy and flamboyantly colored cars used in Juvenile’s “Ha” video were on loan from some big time hustlers from Memphis (that Universal check hadn’t cleared yet).
So a collaboration with Three Six Mafia was inevitable. The Hypnotize Minds camp were early supporters of the Cash Money brothers, and some of the first industry cats to put their stamp on the NOLA faction. They solidified this relationship on the Triple Six side project, Tear Da Club Up Thugs, and gave the world the first “Hypnotize/Cash Money” collabo. It’s vintage Hot Boys, and even delivered one of the best videos from that era. Seriously, the video is every bit as good as “Ha.”
6. Big Tymers ft. Hot Boys “Project Bitch” (Video Version)
If you were a rap label in the year 2000 and you didn’t have a movie, then you weren’t really doing it. Baller Blockin’ was Cash Money’s answer to I’m Bout It -- a bird’s eye view into treacherous streets of New Orleans. And what’s a straight-to-VHS movie without an accompanying soundtrack? Taking a page right out of Percy Miller’s playbook, Cash Money unloaded a star-studded soundtrack that included Nas, UGK and Eightball & MJG.
The first single, “Baller Blockin” with E-40 was geared more for the streets as many of their first singles did (“Cash Money is an Army,” “We On Fire,” etc.), but the true crown jewel of the soundtrack was “Project Bitch.” Initially a Big Tymers song with Juvenile and Lil Wayne, the song had to be re-recorded for the video, as label infighting kept Juvenile from appearing in the video. BG took his place, and helped make “Project Bitch” one of the most successful releases from the CMR catalog. Sure, it’s a 10 on the misogyny scale, but damn if it didn’t turn out to be a nationwide hit that even females sang along to. That’s how catchy it was, plus you couldn’t help but laugh at Baby’s list of chicks that he had – way more entertaining than Jay’s “Girls, Girls, Girls.”
5. Hot Boys ft. Big Tymers “I Need A Hot Girl”
400 Degreez dropped in November of 1998, and by July 1999, the label dropped three certified hits: “Ha,” “Back That Azz Up” and “Bling Bling.” They were in their groove, and their confidence was monstrous. Not to mention each of these tracks were produced by one man, Mannie Fresh. Their formula was flourishing.
The collective kept the train rolling with “I Need A Hot Girl” – the big single from the Hot Boys major label debut, Guerrilla Warfare. The song featured the whole Cash Money Millionaire squad sans Juve, and solidified their spot as the new rulers of New Orleans. Baby even took a subliminal shot at Master P and No Limit Records, as their tank began to run out of gas.
It was flamboyant, it was offensive, and it helped push Guerrilla Warfare to platinum status. The single itself went on to move over two million copies, and further cemented the Hot Boys as the hot shots of the rap game.
4. Hot Boys “Neighborhood Superstar”
If you were up on the Hot Boys in 1997, you were truly a pioneer. Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas were all up on the New Orleans phenoms, but chances are unless you lived in or around these areas, you didn’t even know they existed. They were raking in cash money on the indie circuit, but weren’t yet splurging on Source Magazine ads, or big budget videos for BET.
But as their music slowly migrated north and west (the old fashioned way), DJs began to pickup on their movement, and “Neighborhood Superstar” was a mixtape staple. It embodied everything Cash Money represented at the time: local stars who had the money, the chicks, the cars and the clout. They might not have been major (not yet at least), but they were the neighborhood guys all the kids looked up to and wanted to be. This was the true definition of a Hot Boy.
After 400 Degreez was released and became an instant hit, Universal released their back catalog, and Get It How U Live finally got national distribution. This record continued to grow legs, despite never being a recognized single. It was a true neighborhood superstar.
3. BG ft. Hot Boys & Big Tymers “Bling Bling”
Cash Money was more than an army. More than a navy. At the turn of the century, they were a family. It was them against the world. They made a splash with Juvenile’s “Ha” and “Back That Azz Up,” but they really became media darlings when BG’s major label debut impacted and “Bling Bling” became their next big hit. It was spring 1999 (“I’m a 1999 driver”), and they couldn’t miss. Everything the Hot Boys touched caught fire – pun intended. “Bling Bling” blew up, became an everyday slang term and ended up landing in the Oxford English Dictionary. Hell, in 2015 Drake just dropped a hit with “Bling” in the title, proving the Hot Boys influence and presence continues to loom.
They took the industry by storm, and proved they were worth every penny of the $30 mill they were given by Universal. They could deliver hits as well as moments that truly shifted the culture. At this moment in time, they were the talk of the industry – and rightfully so.
2. Juvenile ft. Turk. Lil Wayne & Paparue “Rich Niggaz”
“Loud pipes, big rims, n**** that’s my life.” With classic boasts like that, it’s no surprise Weezy F Baby rose from a Cash Money bench player to the biggest rapper in the world. “Rich Niggaz,” appeared on Juvenile’s seminal major label debut, 400 Degreez, and was most of the world’s introduction to the Hot Boys. Sure, some knew of the quartet below the Mason Dixon, but the rest of the country hadn’t caught wind of the Bayou super group yet.
Their major unveiling on 400 Degreez was important because Cash Money had a lot to prove at that moment. They had to prove they were as good if not better than the other game in town, No Limit Records. They had to prove the south had actual spitters. And they had to prove they were worth that $30 million dollar investment Universal sunk into them. A lot was on the line, and they delivered. They were ready for the world.
1. Lil Wayne ft. Hot Boys “Shine”
“Yellow Viper, yellow Hummer, yellow Benz, yellow PT Cruiser, yellow ‘Lac on rims.” This is quite possibly the greatest opening line ever. Juve The Great, for real. What started off as just an album cut tacked on to Lil Wayne’s sophomore album, “Shine” became an instant cult favorite. “Get Off The Corner” was dope, and a solid choice for first single, but “Shine” was for the people.
You heard it at parties, DJs played it in the clubs. It caught fire and forced Cash Money’s hand to release it as a single. But there was trouble in paradise. By the time “Shine” got the single treatment in 2001, cracks were forming in the CMR foundation. Juvenile had all but gone AWOL, leaving the label to have to drop a video for the “Shine (Remix),” which was nice, but inferior to the original. Mack 10 and Mikkey Halsted did their thing, but there was nothing like that Hot Boys chemistry – even if this was the beginning of the end for the group.