by Thom Powell
In the moment, things seem to make sense. Pogs? They were pretty rad at the time. H.R. Pufnstuf? Quality, wholesome entertainment for America’s children. Ten years from now, we may look back at the rise of brostep and wonder what we were thinking, but for now, Skrillex continues to make people rage all across this nation’s college campuses. The here and now often blinds us to how ridiculous trends can be. However, while the trends and aesthetics of a particular era often mask their true nature, some things are just lame from the outset. It may have sold over one million copies upon its release in 1997, but I can’t imagine a world where Master P’s infamous posse cut “Make ‘Em Say Uhh” was taken seriously at any point in time.
In the spirit of fairness, I wasn’t really old enough to hear the song upon its release, so I don’t have the proper context for that period of rap music. Still, some things just can’t be rationalized, regardless of consolations. “Make ‘Em Say Uhh” is bad. Really, really bad. When I listen to it, I often wonder what each rapper involved thought of the final product. Were they pleased? Relieved? Anxious? How many high-fives were exchanged? I’ve run these scenarios through my head a number of times and I just can’t picture anyone involved listening to the final product and thinking, “Yup. Nailed it. This is exactly what we were going for.”
It’s hard to pick a starting point with an unmitigated disaster of a track like this, so I’ll forgo musical analysis for a bit. Let’s take a look at its music video first. Make some popcorn, get comfortable, and we’ll meet back in five minutes.
Yikes. Where to start with this one? The tank? Yeah, let’s start with the “platinum” tank. What is it doing there? Or better yet, why is it a thing at all? If Master P was willing to shell out “millions” to make a solid “platinum” and “gold” tank, couldn’t he have at least gotten one that didn’t look like a prop from a Sci-Fi channel original movie? The crazy thing about the tank — aside from, you know, everything else about it — is that it’s referenced in the actual song. I guess Master P just assumed everybody would watch the music video, because making the tank a recurring theme in the verses (it’s referenced in four of the song’s five) is kind of a head-scratcher. Maybe he meant for it to be emblematic of the excess and avarice running rampant in the rap game at the time, because by the end of the video the tank has fired at and hit both of the basketball court’s backboards and caused a full-on stampede, as the spectators try to escape the tank’s Travis Bickle-esque violent outburst. It’s either a subtle commentary on the gilded age of rap music, or it’s just dumb. My money’s on the latter.
Outside of his career as a rapper, Master P was a pretty good basketball player, which makes the actual basketball on display in the video a bit confusing. The guy played semi-pro basketball in the now defunct Continental Basketball Association, and measures an impressive 6’3″. Why, then, are he and everyone else playing on what is clearly an eight-and-a-half foot rim? I mean, sure, I’ve played games on rims that high. It’s fun to be able to dunk, and it lets me forget about my vertical leap, which is more reminiscent of Bill Laimbeer than Michael Jordan. Here’s the thing, though: I DON’T FILM MY EXPLOITS. Do you know why, Master P? Because it’s embarrassing. If you were Lil Wayne-sized you’d have an excuse, but you’re nine inches taller than the average American man! If you’re going to show us some cool basketball highlights, at least give us the real thing! This slap in the face is rendered even more insulting by a Shaquille O’Neal cameo, who reacts to the on-court action like Dikembe Mutombo at the dunk contest. What a sham. And don’t even get me started on the freaking No Limit Gorilla, mainly because Shutdown Fullback already covered that particular angle in detail.
OK, that was a fun distraction, but let’s get to the actual meat of this failure stew. It’s time to discuss the music. Master P’s verse is pretty militaristic, which is hardly surprising considering the ridiculous tank that the song is built around. He bellows about “calling in strikes,” refers to himself as both a “colonel” and ”commander in chief,” and egregiously mispronounces the word “dossier,” which is fine, I guess. It was a nice effort, and to be fair to Master P, it’s one of those words you read a lot more than you hear. I’m nothing if not evenhanded. He closes by making a generic reference to the streets being a place where “anything goes,” which is about as close to a justification of the tank as the guy is willing to offer. P’s verse is the song’s shortest and probably its least eventful, so now is as good a time as any to talk about this song’s hook. It seriously might be the worst chorus in rap history — worse than Soulja Boy’s “Yahhh,” (apologies, Sean Highkin) and possibly even worse than The Black Eye Peas’ “My Humps.” Was there no one in place to tell Master P that cacophonous moaning doesn’t qualify as a chorus? And what’s making ‘em say “uhh?” The sweet dunks on the kiddie hoop or the impossibly cheap looking tank? The most obvious answer is the song itself, but that seems a bit too meta for Percy Miller.
The next two verses aren’t particularly notable. They’re by Fiend and Silkk the Shocker, respectively (the only proper response to those two names is “who?”) and both offer reasonably competent, if boring, contributions. Fiend gives off sort of a low-rent Petey Pablo vibe. He’s a little shlubbier, and lacks Petey’s resplendent Canadian tuxedo or memorable chorus gimmick. Silkk’s verse sort of goes off the rails about halfway through, but that’s mostly overshadowed by the two verses still to come.
Mia X’s verse is a ray of sunlight in a song otherwise darkened by ironic detachment and a paucity of talent. I honestly can’t even be sarcastic about this verse. The “unladylike diva” goes so hard on this track, to the point that I even like her reference to the video’s stupid tank. Her flow is solid, she doesn’t go off the rails trying to speed rap, and the lyrics are reasonably clever. Mia’s presence is absolutely necessary to keep “Make ‘Em Say Uhh” on the interesting end of the bad song spectrum. If you’ve seen Tommy Wiseau’s epic disasterpiecce “The Room,” there’s a point about halfway through the movie where he finally stops inundating his audience with scarring, unwatchable sex scenes. The presence of these scenes is vital — they’re just one component of what makes it arguably the best bad film ever made — but at a certain point, they need to stop in order to keep the audience from leaving, so they can enjoy the benignly terrible climax and denouement of the movie. Mia X offers a similar respite for listeners. Without her competence, we would grow increasingly disillusioned with Master P’s tank-driven nonsense, which would be a shame, because that would mean missing out on one of the most unintentionally hilarious verses in rap history.
Let me preface this next paragraph by saying that I have nothing against Mystikal. I’m not entirely fond of him as a person (google his legal troubles if you want to know why), but as a musician, he’s released some pretty solid hip-hop. For the most part. Mystikal closes out “Make ‘Em Say Uhh,” and he chooses to do so by setting fire to the entire song and snorting its ashes. The guy has never really been restrained as a rapper, but here he sounds like James Brown doing a karaoke version of something out of Twista’s catalogue before giving up and just yelling nonsense words. Calling Mystikal unintelligible here is like saying Two And A Half Men can sometimes be unsubtle. I can’t make out 80 percent of what he’s saying, and what is discernible is total nonsense. By the end, Mystikal has slowed down considerably, appears to be out of breath, and is babbling about being “true soldiers” before completely losing steam and letting out an exhausted “nah nah, nah nah,” which proves to be the perfect cherry on top of… well, whatever this is. By traditional standards, his verse isn’t “good,” but I can think of few appearances in hip-hop that delight me quite like this one.
Unlike Brutus in Julius Caeser, I come not to bury “Make ‘Em Say Uhh,” but to recommend it. Liking things ironically can get a bit tiresome, but “Uhh” is the rare bad song that is both entirely listenable and raucously entertaining. Its replay value is surprisingly high and the unintentional comedy on display — especially when supplemented with the video — puts artists like Lil B to shame. Master P’s attempt at a posse cut shouldn’t be considered “good” in any era, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun, notable, or important.