Back when I was an aspiring music theater performer, I took voice lessons once a week at the University of Hartford's Hartt School of Music. I started before I had a driver's license, but once I got access to a car that weekly trip became one the perpetual highlights of my week. I liked voice lessons enough, though the real thrill for me was the drive itself. The trip to Hartt was close enough to be convenient but just far enough away to really tuck into an album (generally, it was about a half hour of car time). The route also afforded me a handful of fast food outlets where I could treat myself, strange enough traffic patterns that would allow me plausible deniability should I disappear for longer than usual, and one glorious record store.
I'm pretty sure the shop was an outpost of a local chain called Record Express (there was another one within walking distance of my summer job at a bank in downtown Hartford), though it's possible it was just a Musicland or a Sam Goody. Either way, it was a very fine compact disc emporium with an exceptionally large retail footprint tucked between a Boston Market and a liquor store. I spent an insane amount of time and money in that place, and thinking back I'm amazed at its selection. That was the store where I found a lot of indie rock releases and a handful of new albums by forgotten bands (I distinctly remember the thrill of finding Crash Test Dummies' 1999 magnum opus Give Yourself a Hand, which I could not find anywhere else because nobody cared about Crash Test Dummies), but they also stocked a ton of hip-hop, and that is the place where I got a lot of my rap music education. A lot of the new rap was sold at a deeper discount than anything else, so I felt free to take flyers on a handful of big-selling but radio-unfriendly MCs.
In 1999, that meant brushing up against Master P's No Limit roster, and on the ride home from a voice lesson one night I traded a couple of bucks in my wallet for a copy of Silkk the Shocker's chart-topping album Made Man. Silkk had what I assume was an accidentally inventive flow, full of staccato hiccups and illogical shifts in speed and cadence. But he was a commercial force because he was Master P-adjacent (in fact, Silkk is P's younger brother), and Made Man debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 despite not having a big crossover single to break it in. I thought about 75 percent of Made Man was junk, though I did start to develop an appreciation for the minimalist bombast No Limit's Beats by the Pound production crew, and "It Takes More" is a great example of that: gangster movie strings, Miami bass thump, rickety snares, and a paranoid piano loop. It's a spartan masterpiece that I found unrefined in '99 but now wish was still the in sound of the moment.