Untouchable Records was one of the many New Orleans rap labels that sprang up in the early nineties after the advent of bounce. A small label with a roster of musicians that, for the most part, came and went as they pleased, they nonetheless featured some of New Orleans’ biggest, most notable talents. It was started by Al “Rock” Capone; he also handled some of the production of the mostly downtown roster. Most of their production was handled by Gary “Ozone” McKee, as well as the Tombstone-associated Merrill “Real Roc” Robinson, and even Cash Money’s prolific genius, Mannie Fresh.
The first release on the label was Raw II Survive‘s West Syde Gz, produced by Merrill “Real Roc” Robinson, L.O.G. and Swift. With titles like “Crippin’ in da Darkness” and “West Syde Gz,” you might assume that it has a west coast sound. Rest assured, it’s unmistakably New Orleans. It’s also solid but not especially memorable, perhaps hampered by its very low budget sound.
Also released in 1994, 9th ward rapper Pimp Dogg‘s Forever Loaded (produced by Double O, San Quin and L.O.G.) is the winner of the two. I’m not sure who influenced who, but it’s got a gangsta bounce sound at times very similar to Fila Phil with the dynamics of Mr. Ivan and 6-shot.
211’s Hustlin’ Pays the Bills was produced by Ozone with several tracks by Mannie Fresh and T-Bone. It’s mostly gangsta bounce with some straight up West Coast sounding tracks. Meanwhile, Pimp Dogg already took off, releasing his next record (Who’s That Aggin) on Hollygrove Records.
In 1997, one of the greatest rappers, 9th Ward’s Fila Phil followed up his classic debut at Slaughterhouse with Da Hustla Returns on Untouchable. The result, produced by Ozone, Real Roc, Carlos Stephens (of Beats By the Pound fame), Mannie Fresh and Sean “Solo” Jemison and the result is another classic. Another 9th ward (CTC) rapper (and former member of The Bally Boyz with Fila Phil), L.O.G. released Camoflaged Down. It’s another good record, mostly produced by Ozone and Real Roc with contributions from Al “Rock” Capone, XL, T-Bone and Mista Sinista. Ms. Tee was formerly responsible for singing a lot of the hooks at Cash Money, where she also released solo albums. After coming to Untouchable, she released Hot Girl.
A rapper from the 6th Ward, Charlie Hanseen (né Charles Farlough) showed real promise on My Enemies, produced mostly by Ozone, but with contributions from Mannie Fresh, L.O.G., Al “Rock” Capone and Hanseen himself. On some tracks, he seems to closely mirror Nelly’s style. Although St. Lunatics had made their debut the previous year, I don’t think it really made its way downriver to the Crescent. Anyway, his style is so similar he may very well have found similar success if he’d only kept his nose clean. Instead, in the words of the immortal Fila Phil, “…one day I was in the studio and one of my close dogs [Hanseen] robbed a pawn shop a week before Christmas and tried to play ghetto Santa Claus. He came in with Christmas bags filled with high powered army guns giving everybody in the studio one.” According to the The Times-Picayune, he robbed a Slidell-area pawnshop with a gun and was subsequently sent to the St. Tammany Parish Prison. In 1998, he returned to court, charged with having attempted to escape the same prison. Phil left the label and the state, quickly found Jesus and released the greatest Christian Rap record (and the only one I’ve listened to) ever on Grapetree.
S.A.C. Mafia released Socca Ballin’. Dumo and Sess 4-5 play up the Mafia theme, using tinkly synths to give a cinematic touch in the Nino Rota style, albeit filtered through a New Orleans lense. The rapping is sometimes kind of sloppy, but the production is great. A bit too much Ms. Tee for my taste (I’m jut not a fan of modern R&B).
Donkey Boyz released Bust It Open, produced by Big Roland, DJ Dickie, Mista Sinista, Ozone, Quarter Key and T-Bone. It’s pretty solid bounce. The Marrero act started out as the Bulletproof Soldjaboys and counted among their members Lil Youngsta and one of my favorites, Choppa Style. After those two left, Lil Tony, Stunt Deezy and AK Jay continued as the Donkey Boyz in 1995. After the departure of Lil Youngsta and Choppa Style, they became Donkey Boyz in 2000. In 2003, AK Jay went Christian and the Donkey Boyz became a duo.
Ka$h‘s (RIP) Root of All Evil was released in 2002 and features Ron-G on almost every song. West Bank underground bounce star/Club Rumors DJ Kilo released Evolution on Untouchable, his follow-up to Too Cold to be a Hot Boy.
After a long silence from the label, it returned with Stirgus, kind of an R. Kelly type R&B/rap -ster. To my ears, there’s little about it that says New Orleans and self-descriptions like “trap star” seem to suggest a broader audience is in mind. Around the same time, label head Al Roc has recorded “I’m Thuggin,'” which displays rap skills roughly the equal of other label owners with more sort of generic Dirty South produciton.
Although Untouchable may not be the underground powerhouse it once was, in just a few releases, they dropped some of the best releases New Orleans ever produced. They may be hard to find, but they’re well worth the effort.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Click here to offer financial support and thank you!