This Oral History of “Bling Bling” Shines a Light on Cash Money’s Early Days

New Orleans is not always mentioned when discussing the cities which have had the greatest impact on Hip-Hop culture, but the Crescent City has a claim to fame that can’t be ignored. In the 1990s and early 2000s, No Limit and Cash Money Records put one of America’s most unique cities on the Rap map by creating some of the most successful business empires and releasing equally unique material. After founding Cash Money in 1991, Bryan “Birdman” and Ronald “Slim” Williams would help lead the charge in introducing America to the talent New Orleans had to offer, a roster including Juvenile and the Hot Boys – B.G., Turk, and Lil Wayne. Now, in 2017, Lil Wayne has risen in ranks and become one of Rap’s biggest superstars, taking New Orleans Hip-Hop further than any other MC has.

In acknowledgment of his astronomical success and his often under-recognized cultural contributions, Lil Wayne is the focus of his very own week at the FADER, where since Monday, editorial content devoted to his career has been published. Today (January 11), it’s Weezy’s role in launching the “Bling Era” of Rap Music that takes center focus, by way of an expansive oral history of “Bling Bling.” The 1999 smash hit was actually B.G.’s single, but as those who were there at the time of the song’s creation explain, Wayne and others were driving forces behind its concept. Mannie Fresh, the longtime Cash Money producer who helped forge the signature New Orleans sound, recounts that Wayne “had already used the word ‘bling’ in a song prior to that but the word had already stuck to me. I don’t know exactly which song, but I know his line was, ‘Tell me what kinda nigga/ Got diamonds that’ll bling, bling ya.’ That was like, damn, that bling word could be something.”

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Slim echoes Mannie’s sentiments, saying “If I’m not mistaken, Wayne said the word ‘bling’ first,” but Turk remembers it differently. ” I believe B.G. ended up saying ‘bling bling’ and we were like, ‘Man, that’s a song.’ That’s why it’s known ‘til this day that B.G. is really the originator. But it really was our lifestyle and how we lived. We was always stuntin’ — throwing money, the jewelry, the cars,” he recalls. Regardless of the term’s genesis, one thing is unanimously agreed upon: the song’s creation came naturally and with ease. As Mannie explains, “So I’m sitting around listening to old school Hip-Hop shit one day and this song comes on and it’s got these little ‘bling, bling’ sounds and I’m like, ‘Oh shit, that’s it.’ I said, ‘We need to record that shit tonight.’ I did the beat and had everything done by the time we get to the studio. That was one of the songs that was probably a 10-minute song. No more than an hour.” He goes on to share that, though the word “bling” was something he’d first heard from Wayne, it was Mannie who wrote the hook (“Bling bling, every time I come around your city, bling bling”).

Again, Slim agrees with Mannie’s sentiments about the song’s appeal, saying we felt it was special [right away]. Fresh, and my brother [Birdman], they really was messing with the bling bling. Wayne started to bling. The word was special. It was coming together. You know the concept — when it’s on you, you bling. You got it going on, you bling.” At some point, however, Wayne’s energy in recording the song was bordering on overpowering the artist the song was for – B.G. As Mannie recounts, “the crazy thing is Wayne came in so energetic. I said, ‘Dude, wait, it’s not your song,'” adding that the song was originally intended for his duo with Birdman, Big Tymers. “B.G. was so street that we decided to give the song to him because it was like, ‘How do we get the masses to like this album?’ It was gonna be a family song on the Big Tymers album. But after I listened to B.G.’s album, I was like, ‘This shit is so heavy and dark you need at least two songs that’s completely different from any of that.'” And so, “Bling Bling” found its home on B.G.’s 1999 LP, Chopper City in the Ghetto.

Big Tigger, host of BET’s Rap City from 1999 to 2005 remembers the surge in popularity of “Bling Bling,” saying “that song blew up. I mean they named the whole era off that: the Bling Era.’ That Era and all of the success it awarded Lil Wayne continues to thrive into the 2010s. Every one of Wayne’s solo albums have peaked in the number one or two spot on Billboard charts, and for many who were around in the late ’90s chapter of his career, “Bling Bling” seemed to spell out his destiny for superstardom. Universal Records A&R man Dino Delvaille says “That song was the one that opened Lil Wayne up. People knew he was hot but everyone was really focused on Juvenile at the time,” adding “But that song, that’s the record that broke Wayne.” NOLA radio personality Uptown Angela shares a similar sentiment, saying the record “gave Wayne the confidence to open up and score from there. Me knowing him before the song came out, it’s like one minute he’s sitting on my sofa not saying anything and then the song comes out and you see him hit the stage and do it. You’re like, ‘Where did this person come from?’ To me it kinda gave him that boost to propel himself to what was coming next.”

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Also discussed in the interview are Turk’s struggle with addiction and how it affected his involvement with “Bling Bling,” the flamboyant music video, how the police helped Wayne find his $30,000 pinky ring, that time the fellas performed “Bling Bling” live in a prop helicopter, their thoughts on “bling” entering the dictionary, and much more. Read “The Complete History Of ‘Bling Bling’: The true story of one of rap’s most defining moments, from the projects of New Orleans to the pages of Merriam-Webster” at the FADER.