Master P and Mac Phipps, No Limit Records' Forgotten Soldier : Louder Than A Riot When New Orleans rap phenom Mac Phipps signed with Master P's No Limit Records, he knew his dream of hip-hop stardom was within reach. But in February 2000, Mac was accused of murder and the dream became a nightmare. Over the next three episodes, we investigate this story of race, corruption and rap lyrics on trial.


  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Heads up before we begin - this podcast is explicit in every way.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We rolling in three, two, one.

DEE-1: Well, let's begin. I'm ready.

JOHN BEL EDWARDS: Thank you very much, by the way.

DEE-1: For sure. Gov. John Bel Edwards, my name is Dee-1. It's a pleasure to meet you. This is the second time...


I'm sitting in the governor's mansion in Baton Rouge, La., listening in on an interview between Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and New Orleans rapper Dee-1. It's days before a runoff election between the Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards and his Republican challenger, which Edwards will go on to win with 95% support from Black voters.

DEE-1: When you speak about criminal justice reform, that's something where - unfortunately, everyone in this room right now probably has a personal loved one who's locked up or who has been locked up. And we still love them because we know that...


DEE-1: ...Despite any mistake they have made - or a lot of people have been wrongfully convicted, as we know. Despite that, they still deserve a second chance, you know, in this world oftentimes.

CARMICHAEL: And the room that was sitting in inside this governor's mansion is straight out the antebellum South. I'm talking velvet drapes, crystal chandeliers. There's even hand-printed French wallpaper. Dee-1, on the other hand - he's repping young Black New Orleans to the fullest from the red Bally Animals on his feet to the bandana wrapped around his locks. He broke the symbolism behind his outfit down to me right before he interviewed the governor.

DEE-1: I have a camouflage rag tied around my head right now. We call it a soldier rag in New Orleans. Why? Because growing up, all of the New Orleans rappers, even No Limit records - they stress camouflage so much. They just - this whole idea of being a soldier - you know what I mean? - and life being like a war - it just held an abnormal amount of weight, you know, if you were a young Black kid growing up in New Orleans.

CARMICHAEL: This is the first time that the state's governor has sat down with somebody from the hip-hop community for an interview. I mean, as far as I know, it might have been the first time a governor anywhere sat down with a rapper. It was a pretty big deal.

DEE-1: When we talk about criminal justice, what have you been able to accomplish that you're proud of? And moving forward, what would continue to give those inmates hope that, you know, they still have a shot at living a great life?

EDWARDS: Well, first of all, for decades, Louisiana had the nation's highest incarceration rate...

CARMICHAEL: And Dee's doing this because he cares about the issues but also because he's got a good friend who's already spent two decades in prison. And a pardon from the governor could be one of his last chances to clear his name, a name Dee never mentions during their half-hour interview. That's 'cause he's playing the long game.

DEE-1: All right. I appreciate your time, sir.

EDWARDS: Thank you so much, Dee-1.

DEE-1: God bless you.

EDWARDS: God bless you.

MADDEN: And his friend who's behind bars - that's the rapper Mac Phipps, the one-time child-prodigy-turned-rising-star on No Limit Records in the 1990s. Back then, No Limit was one of the most successful independent record labels in the game. They had that aggressive, brash, Southern gangsta rap on lock. And Dee was about a decade younger than Mac Phipps. He was probably Mac's biggest fan growing up.

DEE-1: You know, so I remember listening to this.


MAC PHIPPS: (Rapping) Feel the wrath of a solider, the Crescent City Jesus.

DEE-1 AND MAC PHIPPS: (Rapping) I pack a tre deuce. I got an army about the size of Beirut.


M PHIPPS: (Rapping) We hit them, rugged even if it's unplugged for thug lifers. We be the niggas leaving slugs in your crime cipher.

DEE-1: For real, this dude reminded me of a New Orleans version of Nas. But I could relate to what he was saying so much more, you know? And I just - I get it.


M PHIPPS: (Rapping) Shoot the sheriff to ensure my family's convict releases.

DEE-1: I got goosebumps listening to it right now, bro. I wish I could show y'all. Literally, I got goosebumps on my arms.

CARMICHAEL: In 2001 Mac was convicted in a nightclub shooting that left one man dead. About time he and Dee met, Mac had already served almost a decade on a 30-year sentence.

How often do y'all talk?

DEE-1: Pretty much every day.


DEE-1: Literally seven days a week - always calling, always. I only feel bad about missing two people's calls on this earth - Mac and my grandma. We just have this friendship that's - it's just pure, bro. It's just pure. I don't have a blood brother, you know? That's the closest thing I've ever felt to - that's what I would hope that having a brother feels like, you know?

CARMICHAEL: You really feel like it's part of your mission and maybe even, like, your God-given purpose to be playing this role.

DEE-1: Hundred percent, bro - hundred percent. This is part of my mission. This is part of my purpose in life. Let's get him home ASAP at this point. Like, come on. It's been long enough.

MADDEN: Dee-1 is just part of a growing chorus of friends, activists, musicians, even journalists and independent investigators who believe that Mac is innocent and that the authorities used his hip-hop image to charge him with murder.

DEE-1: Word on the street has always been, man, that dude didn't do that at all.

CARMICHAEL: This killing, it took place in an era when being a rapper was enough to make you guilty by association. And No Limit, it wasn't just a label full of rappers. In the late '90s, it was a label full of some of the biggest rappers on the planet. Master P's tank was closing in on 75 million records sold, and Mac - Mac was positioned as the label's next big thing. But nothing big comes easy in the Black Belt of the American South, especially when white fans are buying 75% of rap records and white parents can't stand it.

DEE-1: If you are a racist white person at the time, this was your worst nightmare - young, Black, filthy rich, cocky, flashy and in your subdivisions, in your face with it. It was a clashing of cultures back then.

CARMICHAEL: McKinley Phipps Jr. was born and raised in New Orleans. But the crime Mac was accused of, it happened in St. Tammany Parish, and that's where things get kind of interesting. Just across the lake from New Orleans, so-called St. Slammany (ph) is known for its notoriously high incarceration rate.


CARMICHAEL: And we're going to take a look at Louisiana's tough-on-crime mentality in its most insidious form.


JACK STRAIN: If you're going to walk the streets of St. Tammany Parish with dreadlocks and chee wee (ph) hairstyles, then you can expect to be getting a visit from a sheriff's deputy.

CARMICHAEL: I'm Rodney Carmichael.

MADDEN: I'm Sidney Madden.


MADDEN: Where we chase the collision of rhyme and punishment in America.

CARMICHAEL: Now over the next three episodes, we're going to tell the story of Mac Phipps, one of No Limit's fallen soldiers who paid a high price for his lyrical gift.

MADDEN: Race, corruption and rap on trial - stay with us.


M PHIPPS: (Rapping) I need wheels. I need wheels.

CARMICHAEL: In 1990, Mac, or Lil Mac as he was known back then, was desperate, about as desperate as any 12-year-old can be. This was the era of the rap ballad. And Lil Mac, he was confessing his desires, not for puppy love, but for a car, so he wouldn't have to rely on his parents to drive around town to see all his girlfriends. The song was called "I Need Wheels." Think LL Cool J's "I Need Love" but coming from a kid who wasn't even old enough to drive.


M PHIPPS: (Rapping) I tell my woman hold on, so I can ask my dad. I went and asked him. But I don't know why. He told me no. I jumped. Broke down and cried, frustrated.

CARMICHAEL: It was off the self-titled album "Lil Mac - The Lyrical Midget."

What did you think about all the girlfriends he was talking about in the song?


SHEILA PHIPPS: And no, he didn't have any (laughter) well, there was - a lot of little girls liked him, but he (laughter) that was part of the song. He didn't have any girlfriends, not that young.

CARMICHAEL: (Laughter). That's Sheila Phipps, Mac's mom. And she laughs about it now, but back then, man, dude was trendsetting.


CARMICHAEL: Two years before Kris Kross jumped to the top of the charts, Mac had juvenile raps like "Young And Embarrassed" and "Lil' Mac Be Clubbin'," expressing all his little preteen woes. He did it big at a young age, winning a citywide talent show. And the prize was $500 cash and a record deal with Yo Records.

MADDEN: That's the record label that sparked the careers of two other New Orleans local legends in the making - rapper Gregory D and DJ Mannie Fresh, who would go on to produce Mac's first album. Now, that was before he became the in-house producer behind Cash Money stars like Lil Wayne, Juvenile and the rest of the Hot Boys. As Yo Records newest signee, Mac already had a rep for being a gifted MC. He was basically a hip-hop prodigy.

CHAD PHIPPS: He was always, like, the best freestyler in the city. He had to be about - what? - let's say about 10, 11, 12 years old, somewhere in that range. And they would have older guys, like 18, always come get him to go challenge somebody else.

CARMICHAEL: That's one of the Mac's brothers, Chad.

C PHIPPS: I was the little brother. And, of course, for all of my life, I've always been the little brother (laughter) which used to agitate me when I was a kid for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, for me, my brother was pretty good in just about anything he did - basketball, video games, football. But my brother was always good in all of it. It was almost effortless.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, especially when it came to rapping.

C PHIPPS: He would chew them up. And there's been a few times where he would battle a guy and destroy him, and then I would see that guy battle somebody else quoting his lyrics.

CARMICHAEL: (Laughter) Are you serious?

C PHIPPS: I am dead serious. It happened at least two or three times. And I'm like, wow, this dude actually took my brother's lyrics from his rap battle and now using it on somebody else.

CARMICHAEL: (Laughter).

MADDEN: Mac came up in New Orleans in the '80s and '90s, back when the Big Easy was the murder capital of America. He came from a working class family. His father was a Vietnam vet who worked at the VA hospital, while Mac's mom, who was a visual artist, stayed at home raising the family. But they still struggled financially, and they moved around a lot.

MCKINLEY PHIPPS SR: We was from apartment to apartment to apartment to apartment.

CARMICHAEL: Here's Mac's father, McKinley Sr.

M PHIPPS SR: We lived in certain neighborhoods where we stayed on every block in that neighborhood. You know, if you say General Taylor Street, we stayed on 31, 32 and only 3300 block of General Taylor, you know, because it was like a constant struggle.

CARMICHAEL: Even though Mac was becoming a young rap phenom in the city, his parents were strict at home. Slacking in school was definitely not an option.

M PHIPPS SR: Like I told him, I said, as long as you are maintaining your grades in school and you're not doing anything disruptive, you can continue with the rap music.

RAJ SMOOVE: The first time I remember seeing Mac - it's funny because at the time his songs were horrible.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Young and embarrassed.

M PHIPPS: (Rapping) That's the name of the game.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Young and embarrassed.

M PHIPPS: (Rapping) When you're young, you're ashamed.

MADDEN: (Laughter) That's one of Mac's teenage friends, respected New Orleans DJ and producer Raj Smoove.

MADDEN: When we was in junior high school, like, when we first started making our little songs, we had like a couple of diss records towards him, you know? We didn't know him, but it was just like, man, this is just horrible. Like, this is whack. Like, what are you doing? What are you talking about?


M PHIPPS: (Rapping) We got it bad. Always getting dissed by Mom and Dad. They embarrass you...

MADDEN: But as Mac matured, so did his flow.

CARMICHAEL: And Raj remembers running into Mac at a local record store one day. Come to find out, Mac was spitting some heat.

RAJ SMOOVE: My homie Thomas, who actually was the one that had wrote the raps that was dissing Mac, talking about he needs wheels and all that other stuff, he, like, elbowed me and was like, yo, man, you know who that is? And I'm like, who's that? He's like, man, that's Mac. I'm like, what - you know what I'm saying? - 'cause, like, Mac was, like, flowing. Like, where was this dude at?


M PHIPPS: (Rapping) It's star six-two straight from third wall state university where chumps vacate. Give me a fast break...

RAJ SMOOVE: As a rapper, your flow and your cadence is, like, everything. That's what sets you apart, you know, like, the way that you're able to ride a beat. And Mac's rhythm and his flow - that's what would always, like, grab you. It don't really matter what he talking about. It's just the way that he hits the beat.


M PHIPPS: (Rapper) The universal, controversial, multiversal, see you on my tennis shoe commercial, nigga. It don't quit...

CARMICHAEL: They quickly switched from competitors to crew. And even though this was the Deep South, man, these cats were some East Coast heads.

MADDEN: Exactly. They were on some lyrical miracle stuff, you know?

RAJ SMOOVE: We were the guys that was listening to Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy and. You know, we had our little sock hats and the cross colors and all that stuff, like, you know? So like, you know, we were hardcore, you know, Brand Nubian. And like, that's what we were listening to.

CARMICHAEL: But by the early '90s in New Orleans, that was kind of going against the grain a little bit. Things were starting to switch up. But these cats, man, they were still married to that boom-bap.

RAJ SMOOVE: We were the backpackers. Like, we were the anti-what's-popping-right-now. Like, my freshman year in high school was when "Where Dey At" came out. And that kind of put bounce on the map.


MC T TUCKER AND DJ IRV: (Rapping) I said, shake that ass. Shake that ass. Shake it, shake it, shake it, shake it shake it, shake it, shake it. Shake that ass like a salt shaker. Shake that ass like a salt shaker.

CARMICHAEL: Bounce, the New Orleans-bred sound that gave the city its own hip-hop identity, was definitely on the rise.

RAJ SMOOVE: When bounce first hit and it was all about that call and response and the party and the dancing, that's when New Orleans, like, found its niche.

CHARLIE BRAXTON: By the mid-1990s, '95 or so, if you ain't bouncing, you're in trouble.

CARMICHAEL: That's Charlie Braxton.

BRAXTON: I am a music historian and a music journalist focusing primarily on Southern hip-hop.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, Charlie's as iconic as the hip-hop he's covered. I mean, this is the same cat who wrote the first five-mic review for a Southern rap album in The Source magazine back in the day. Shoutout to Outkast. Now Charlie, he's going to give us a little bounce music 101. But first, we've got to go back, way back to enslavement and the birthplace of American music, the Congo Square.

BRAXTON: The French believed that the slaves could practice their own music, practice their own religion, which is why New Orleans is one of the more Africanized cities in the United States. And because they were able to retain those African rhythms, those rhythms eventually transferred into jazz drumming, R&B drumming, and eventually found its way into hip-hop. Bounce music is a very Africanized, rhythmic music. It takes samples from The Showboys' "Drag Rap".


CARMICHAEL: "Drag Rap," or as it's also known, "Triggaman," dropped in the mid-'80s. Now, oddly enough, the cats behind this single, The Showboys, they came from Queens. And the group was almost as short-lived as the single up in New York. But when the song made its way down South, man, that thing became a New Orleans staple.

BRAXTON: The break that creates the breakdown on "Triggaman," when you listen to it...


BRAXTON: ...It's that rhythm. That rhythm is closely akin to the rhythm that people in New Orleans are accustomed to. And then when you add the call and response...


MC TT TUCKER: (Rapping) Fuck David Duke. Fuck David Duke.

BRAXTON: ...Which, of course, is an African thing...


MC TT TUCKER: (Rapping) Fuck David Duke. Fuck David Duke.

BRAXTON: ...And then you add the chants again, an African and Native American thing, you get bounce.


MC TT TUCKER: (Rapping) Where they at? Where they at? Where they at? Where they at? Where they at? Where they at?

BRAXTON: And then when you take brothers like DJ Jimi and DJ Jubilee...


DJ JIMI: (Rapping) We're going to start this thing off right. We got DJ Jimi in the house tonight.

BRAXTON: ...Who grew up with New Orleans music, who grew up listening to the second line beats - it's in their DNA. They knew exactly how important that record was.


DJ JIMI: (Singing) Where they at, girl? Where they at, girl? Where they at, girl? Where they at, girl? Where they at, girl?

BRAXTON: The DJ going back to back, you know, with the breakbeat on "Triggerman," which was, like, one of the greatest songs that ever touched New Orleans. I think there was one, like, high school dance - I think they played "Triggerman," like, seven times, and we never got tired of it.

CARMICHAEL: And as the streets and the clubs were bouncing, Raj and Mac - they were focusing on their beats and rhymes. And eventually, they would link up with a group of other cats on that same style. They branded themselves The Psycho Ward.

RAJ SMOOVE: Mac was kind of like the New Orleans version of Nas. His flow, the intelligence that he had behind his rhyme - you know what I'm saying? Like, it was very thoughtful. It was very profound. And, like, Mac was always, like, that dude. Like, every time, like, he had a verse on the song, like, you always knew, like, his verse was going to be everybody's favorite verse.


M PHIPPS: (Rapping) ...Words written in stone - strong like cheap cologne. Michael said we not alone. I tap that ass like a phone then escort you home. Back streets I roam. Covers are blown. Niggas dig us, but ladies love the tone. I be in the zone, in your ears like a cellphone. Catch me between South Broad and Claiborne. I'm gone, nigga.

CARMICHAEL: The Psycho Ward started making major noise locally, opening up for national acts touring through New Orleans.

RAJ SMOOVE: We in high school, opening for The Pharcyde. Like, man, like, we poppin.

BRAXTON: Yeah, and Mac - man, Mac was becoming the most valuable player.

MADDEN: Yeah. He had the bars, the stage presence and the type of verbal agility to slaughter you on the mic. That's how he earned the nickname The Camouflage Assassin.

CARMICHAEL: In '96 he linked up with another member of The Psycho Ward named Storm. They formed this male-female duo, Mac and Storm, and dropped a single, "Mad Or Jealous."


M PHIPPS: (Rapping) Me and Storm hooked up about '94. Got a clique of psychos behind me, so everything is fine till these fake-ass, I'm-from-upstate-ass, your-shit-is-real-tight-so-we-going-to-player-hate-ass niggas want to be down like that.

RAJ SMOOVE: Mac being kind of, like, the buzz dude around town, like, everybody was like, yeah, Mac is that guy.

BRAXTON: Indeed, Mac was buzzing around town. He was starting to reach his limit locally. Luckily for Mac, there was another movement rising in New Orleans that seemed to have no limits at all.


MASTER P: (Rapping) Where they at? Where they at? Where they at? There they go. There they go. Where they at? Where they at? There they go. Where they at? There they go.

MADDEN: And, of course, we're talking about No Limit Records. Founded by Master P, the label was loud, brash, thugged out.


MASTER P: (Rapping) No Limit psycho, born with a rifle - coming through.

MADDEN: Before No Limit Records took off and became one of the biggest hip-hop labels of all time, it started out as a little record store in Richmond, Calif., owned by this guy.

MASTER P: My name is Percy Miller, also known as Master P. I'm an entrepreneur, businessman, entertainer, played professional basketball and a father.

MADDEN: Master P grew up in the same world as Mac, both natives of the Third Ward. But P's entrance into the rap game was totally different than Mac's. That's because it took a detour out West in order for P to find his way in. P took the street hustle he learned from New Orleans and mixed it all up with the independent game he got from the Bay Area in the early '90s.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. And the hip-hop hustle - man, it was strong in the Bay at this time. I'm talking unsigned acts like E-40 flooding the streets all while major labels were fast asleep. And pretty soon, P - he got hip and made the switch from retailer to rapper.

MADDEN: And eventually, he called on his brothers to join the family business out west, and two of them did. His youngest brother, Vyshonn Miller, chose to go by the name Silkk the Shocker. And Cory Miller, he settled on C-Murder.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. But even then, that name did not sit well with P.

MASTER P: I said, man, you do that, that's going to come back at you. He's like, man, I could name myself. I'm not doing nothing wrong. But I said, I don't think you should do that.

MADDEN: But there was another Miller brother who decided not to move out west, and in the end, it cost him his life. In 1990 Kevin Miller was murdered in New Orleans. He was knee-deep in the streets, and he got caught up. The pain from that loss ended up inspiring P and his other brothers to go hard on No Limit Records.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, but the dots didn't quite connect at first. I mean, they were trying to do West Coast G music, but these Gs - they weren't from the West.

MASTER P: It wasn't happening because the way I looked - I had gold teeth, dreads. Now everybody in the Bay looked like that, but at the time, I was an oddball.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, P hadn't figured out how to translate that Southern swag just yet. But then one night in Houston, Texas, he has an encounter that changes everything.


CARMICHAEL: He's at a nightclub when he spots a cat dressed flyer than any rapper he's ever seen.

MASTER P: He had a little mink coat on. And had a Mercedes-Benz as the jewelry. I'm like, what do this dude do (laughter). You know? And so he told me. He was like, man. I say, it's a rap company. You rap? He said, no, I own the company.


MASTER P: That really impressed me.

CARMICHAEL: That guy he was talking to was Southern rap impresario J. Prince, founder of Rap-A-Lot Records, home to Scarface and the Geto Boys.

MASTER P: He was the guy who I looked up to 'cause I said, this is a Black man that owned the company. I thought it was somebody else, you know, 'cause that was big for us back then. The best piece of advice that I got from him was you have to go for what you want out of life, can't sit around. You've got to do it yourself if you really want it.

CARMICHAEL: And yeah, that bit of inspiration gave Master P an epiphany. If J. Prince could do it down south, he could, too.

MASTER P: If I take this home and I grab the best talent - the Mia X, the Soulja Slim, the Mystikal, the Fiend - man, there's no way we're going to be stopped.

BRAXTON: When No Limit came on the scene, they were the underdog that nobody saw coming. Nobody saw Master P coming - nobody.

CARMICHAEL: Here's Charlie Braxton again.

BRAXTON: When P first came to New Orleans, he was on some West Coast, you know, N.W.A-type stuff. So people are like, this guy - he's not even worth paying attention to. Keep in mind - if you're not bouncing, you're going to have a hard time getting a mass audience.

CARMICHAEL: And it would have been a challenge to anybody but Master P. But see, this cat knew how to capitalize on being different.

MASTER P: When I came back, I started working on the "Ice Cream Man" album. And I knew that this was unique. It was different. Ice cream man truck - he was his own boss. He was independent. He'll come through. Everybody loved him in the hood. Everybody wanted to be the ice cream man.


MASTER P: (Rapping) Yeah. Mr. Ice Cream Man.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, the ice cream man - man, that was something special. You know, it was like a magical metaphor for street hustling wrapped in a clever package. On the strength of "Ice Cream Man," P signed a sweet distribution deal with Priority Records.

MADDEN: And he kept his independence.

CARMICHAEL: Yup and retained total ownership of his masters.

MASTER P: I felt in my mind that nobody's going to be bigger than me because I'm going to control what I have.

CARMICHAEL: And with Beats by the Pound, the New Orleans production unit he had, he even had his own sound.

BRAXTON: Here's the thing that you really have to understand about not just the rise of No Limit but the rise of the South. The South has the most Black people who were buying records. We were buying records in the South. We weren't buying mixtapes. We were buying records. And once we started buying those records, we started to dictate to the market.

CARMICHAEL: Man, he flooded the market.


CARMICHAEL: The Pen & Pixel cover art, the full-page ads in The Source magazine, the nonstop release schedule - it felt like No Limit was everywhere.

BRAXTON: If you were around during the No Limit days and you were in the hood, you knew about how cats were standing in line at 12 o'clock midnight waiting for that new No Limit. I remember a record executive called me. How's he selling these records? How's he doing it? Is it the art? Is it the ads that are getting? What is it? Well, what they didn't understand is that P understood the music business 'cause keep in mind, this is at a time when physical copies are being moved. These aren't streams. These are actually people going to the store, putting down their 15 to $20 to buy a record.

MADDEN: And man, everybody was buying into No Limit. P and his squad of artists and producers were churning out album after album, week after week. No Limit Records pumped out nearly two dozen albums in a single year. Ten of those albums went platinum. Eleven went gold. And with the crazy release schedule, they totally broke the mold and set a new industry standard.

BRAXTON: When I wrote the first story on P and I talked about how paid he was and how much money he'd been making, reporters actually called me. Come on, man. That dude ain't on no major label; there's no way he could be making that kind of money. Let's do the math.


BRAXTON: As an independent, P makes anywhere from six to $8 a CD. If you're on a major, if you lucky, you get 12 cents a CD, and that's only if you reach that platinum level. Most artists, if they're lucky, get 8 cents a CD. I said, the man's paid.

MASTER P: Say the only way I could show my success if I create other millionaires with people that look like me, come from the hood like me. I said, the more millionaires I create, the more successful I would be.

CARMICHAEL: That man said he was making millionaires - plural.

MADDEN: Mmm hmm. And his next signee was in prime position to blow up, too.


MADDEN: While Master P was busy becoming a mogul, Mac was on his independent grind. But Mac was ready to level up.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. And in the summer of '96, Mac attended a radio conference in New Orleans that attracted some of hip-hop's biggest record labels. He caught the attention of Def Jam's Kevin Liles at this event. But when they met, Kevin told Mac he'd have to move to New York if he wanted to sign with Def Jam. Now, Mac couldn't see leaving the soil and his family behind just yet.

MADDEN: But then, walking out of that meeting with Kevin, Mac ran into some No Limit artists who invited him up to their label's after-party. That's where he met the man who would change his life.

RAJ SMOOVE: Well, again, Mac was that dude, so P had a conversation with him. And the next thing we know, Mac getting signed to No Limit.

CARMICHAEL: Now, even though he wasn't one of the marquee artists yet, Mac had presence, man. Charlie Braxton still remembers the first impression Mac made on him at No Limit Studios shortly after signing with the label.

BRAXTON: I was there to do a cover story for The Source on Master P. And Mac was there clowning everybody, talking to people. And I thought to myself, wow, this guy's a newcomer. But then when I started digging into his history, I realized, oh, he's not a newcomer. He's been in New Orleans and doing his thing for quite a while.

CARMICHAEL: With the signing of Mac, P added an undeniable lyricist to his arsenal.

RAJ SMOOVE: So like, you know, here you had Master P, and you had Fiend, and you had Mia X, and you had Mystikal. And all of these cats that were the top-tier artists came together. Now you had, like, the dream team. You know what I'm saying? Like, Master P, like, drafted everybody. You know what I'm saying? You had Mac. You know what I'm saying? Mac got drafted. So like, to be a part of that movement and be on No Limit, that's kind of like what everybody wanted to do.

CARMICHAEL: Hmm - not everybody. Remember Mac and Psychoward, this was a lyrical crew inspired by East Coast golden era MCs. And even though they were riding for Mac, they didn't want to see him dumb it down just to come up.

RAJ SMOOVE: No Limit was really kind of doing, like, you know, just New Orleans gangsta music. It was a bit of an odd peg for Mac. Mac was dope enough where he could do whatever. But, you know, a lot of the intellectual stuff in the, you know, the deep, multitiered level of creativity and lyricism that he was able to do, he kind of had to pull a lot of that back - you know what I'm saying? - because, like, he had to represent for the tank. Like, he was a soldier now.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. Now that he was a soldier, Mac leaned all the way into one of his earlier aliases, the Camouflage Assassin. He titled his first album "Shell Shocked" and one of his first singles "Murda, Murda, Kill, Kill."


M PHIPPS: (Rapping) Murder, murder, kill, kill. Shit's real on the battlefield. Murder, murder...

RAJ SMOOVE: He was talking about murder, murder, kill, kill - like, dude, like, what you doing? For us that, you know, like, really kind of like came up with him and knew him on the creative side, the potential that he had and what he could have done, it was just - it was disappointing.


M PHIPPS: Operation uptown, ghetto niggas shellshocked, camouflaged down, soldier Reeboks, straight off the block. What?

RAJ SMOOVE: We understood. It was like, you know, you kind of have to compromise, and you have to do what you need to do to get your shot. You know, somebody come say, man, look; you know, this has been your dream since you could talk of being a rap star and having a record deal. And now you have an opportunity to be on BET and MTV and be heard worldwide. I mean, what do you do?

S PHIPPS: I remember the first album he came out with. He did not want me to hear it, so he ain't let me hear - he said, Ma, it's a lot of cursing in there 'cause, you know, he don't like to curse in front of me. I'm like, well, let me hear it anyway. You know? So I heard it. I liked it, you know. I know there was a lot of - it was a little raunchy. I looked at him like, OK. I knew it was all about, you know, him wanting to get paid and help his family out of the struggles that we was having.

MADDEN: Regardless of the image he had to take on, this was Mac's chance to really get put on. So it was worth the cost. When "Shell Shocked" dropped in 1998, it broke the top 20 on the Billboard album charts.

CARMICHAEL: Meanwhile, P was paying the cost to be the boss 'cause when you start making that kind of money he was making as the top dog at No Limit, man, people are going to start looking at you, especially if you're young, Black and flashy. So P decided to pick up shop and move the No Limit headquarters to Baton Rouge.

MASTER P: I still wanted to be home, but I didn't want to be right in the heart of it. So for me, going to Baton Rouge, it's a lot more laid back. I had relatives out there. And when I'd go to visit Baton Rouge and when I found the country club, I say, this is where I want to live at. You know, this is where I want to stay at. The neighborhood was incredible. It was a prestige neighborhood, but they didn't have no African Americans ever live there.

MADDEN: (Laughter) All right. So picture this - Masta P, mouth full of a shiny gold teeth, pulling up to an all-white country club with his bags, ready to move in. You best believe they didn't want P there (laughter). So he had to think outside the box.

CARMICHAEL: Did you have a real estate agent at the time?

MASTER P: No, I had people that worked for me that wasn't of my color.

CARMICHAEL: Oh, OK. (Laughter).

MASTER P: You feel me (ph). That's how I got in there. So I had my guy go in there and do all the applications and buy the houses. So you got to outthink them. So I'm the first African American person that purchased a house in Louisiana Country Club (ph). And it went crazy. It was - hit every magazine, every newsstand.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, P had come a long way from the Calliope, one of the most violent housing projects in the nation.

MADDEN: And as soon as folks got wind of what he was doing, they tried to stop him. This was the first clue that this move could come back to haunt No Limit.

MASTER P: So the guy said he was going to stop my loan - say, well, we're going to stop this loan. And the lady in the bank say, I got one thing to tell you, boss - he paid cash for the houses. So they couldn't stop - so they only - they stopped me from playing golf. That was the only thing I couldn't do, play golf because I bought six houses back there at the time.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, you heard right - six houses all filled up with No Limit artists, from Snoop Dogg to C-Murder and on and on.

MASTER P: They just was shocked. They didn't understand how a young person like me could afford to be in a neighborhood like that, especially be Black and have just as much as they have or more.

CARMICHAEL: Man, Mac was right on P's tail. He moved his family to Baton Rouge, too - different neighborhood but definitely a long way from the hood. Here's Mac's mom again.

S PHIPPS: He had gotten a house and a - and two nice cars, and he moved the family into his home. And it really changed. Mac was on a roll so much with No Limit, so we didn't really see him a lot. So everything changed. It had gotten a lot better. It was pretty good, you know, for a while.

BRAXTON: Here's what you have to understand about Baton Rouge - or Louisiana in general. When most people think of Louisiana, the first thing they think of is New Orleans. And with New Orleans, they think of a multicultural city, they think of Mardi Gras, they think of the French Quarter. They think of all of these wonderful things that most people know because that is, in essence, New Orleans. It's a tourist city. But then there's the rest of Louisiana. Baton Rouge is not New Orleans. They're not used to seeing young Black men with a lot of money living in areas reserved for wealthy white people. And they're not trying to fit in. That makes them nervous.

Keep this in mind. Rap music is becoming popular with their children and their grandchildren. So now you've got authentic rap stars - people that they see on MTV and BET Raps and all these other - living in their neighborhood, living next door to their daughters and their sons.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. And P had some pretty bougie neighbors. Or should I say bourgeois?

BRAXTON: P lived next door to the former governor of Louisiana. He could look outside of his backyard and look into the backyard of the governor. That used to tickle P to death. That used to really tickle him to death.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, man. P, he really sent a message when he moved into that neighborhood. But, you know, you start kicking up all the dust and you're going to have eyes on you.

BRAXTON: I was well aware of the fact that they weren't welcome in that part of Baton Rouge. And I was well aware of the fact that the police, who take their orders from the ruling class, were probably told, do what you can to make them feel uncomfortable, and maybe they'll go back to New Orleans where they came from. The irony is that P moved his whole operation to Baton Rouge to keep his artists out of trouble. And lo and behold, Mac wound up getting in some trouble.


AUTOMATED VOICE: This call is subject to recoding and monitoring. This is a call from an offender at a Louisiana Department of Corrections facility.

M PHIPPS: Hello.

MICHAEL SHAHIN: Hey, Mac. How's it going?

M PHIPPS: I'm chilling. What's up?

MADDEN: That's Mac Phipps speaking from Elayn Hunt Correctional Center. These recordings are from interviews that documentary filmmaker Michael Shahin and crime reporter David Lohr conducted with Mac in 2015 and 2016.


M PHIPPS: Prison is kind of like a cold glass of water. It wakes you up quick as hell. It has been an adjustment. I guess it kind of keeps you behind time, like, you know?

CARMICHAEL: For more than a year, we tried to get an interview with Mac ourselves. But all our requests were repeatedly denied by the warden with no explanation, so these prison recordings are really the only way we get to hear from Mac directly. And it's real easy to forget how big of a deal Mac was becoming before everything went bad. He was even featured on one of No Limit's biggest hits "Wobble Wobble" by the 504 Boyz, the third-biggest rap single of the year 2000.


M PHIPPS: (Rapping) You already know what's happening when I step in this bitch. And I know you heard of me 'cause I'm right there off of GT and Derbigny. You been 'bout serving it. Ever since you heard my song, I got you bucked up. You want that camouflage...

CARMICHAEL: Now, at this point, Mac, man, he's toured the world with No Limits, sold out shows and performed in front of thousands of fans.


M PHIPPS: (Rapping) Murder, murder, kill, kill - shit's real on the battlefield. I was born a soldier. Mama will tell you. I never was fake. I was real. I'm camouflaged and never die...

The No Limit brand was so big that you kind of just - they had so much going on. It was constant work. Like, it was real work all day. We would just - it was busy. You know, we were either recording or we were going here; we were performing here; we were flying here. We were doing videos. We were doing movies. It was like you never really got a moment to be, like, yo, man, I really made it.

CARMICHAEL: Mac had been with No Limit for a couple of years. But as time moved on, he was starting to feel like he was ready to leave the label. He was kind of growing tired of the No Limit style that he had to cater to.


M PHIPPS: So I just felt that it was about that time for me to branch out. I felt I had learned some stuff from watching P and watching C. And I watched the guys who were a bit - a little bit older than me do what they do, and I felt like I learned enough to branch out on my own.

CARMICHAEL: He learned enough to branch out on his own, he says. Now, as part of transitioning out of No Limit, Mac started doing solo shows around the country. He even started his own family-run entertainment company called Camouflage Entertainment. His dad would act as manager, and his mom would take tickets at the door. His brother Chad would occasionally run security.

And on the night of February 20, 2000, Mac and his family, They were getting ready to do another one of these shows.

M PHIPPS SR: We did a few shows at the Club Mercedes, and my son actually didn't want to.

CARMICHAEL: That's Mac's dad, McKinley Sr., recalling the night.

M PHIPPS SR: He slept late. It's like he had an omen that probably something bad was going to happen.


M PHIPPS: I just wasn't feeling it that night. It was just weird. It's hard to even pinpoint what my exact feeling was, but I just know I wasn't feeling it that night.

S PHIPPS: That particular night, Mac didn't want to do it. He was like, man, I'm tired. I don't feel like doing this. I don't like this place. But, you know, I was like, you know, this is the last night because after that night, I had already booked a six-months tour. I was just letting him know - say, this is our last night 'cause I don't like this place either. I just want to get this over with so that we can go on tour. And our tour started the next day.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, his brother Chad had a weird feeling, too, partly 'cause the club was located in St. Tammany Parish in the small town of Slidell, just across the lake from where Mac grew up. But St. Tammany, it felt like a whole nother world.

C PHIPPS: When you're brown, you're not welcome (laughter). It's a sort of racist area. You get stopped a lot and harassed a lot in that area. There's a lot of places in Louisiana where you just don't go, and that's one of them places where I would have never have went had we not had that show.


M PHIPPS: Growing up, it was just understood in New Orleans, you know, that the Ku Klux Klan was in St. Tammany Parish.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. And just in case you didn't hear it, that was Mac saying it was just understood when he was growing up that the KKK was in St. Tammany.


M PHIPPS: When the promoter asked me to come out there and perform - when my mom introduced me to the guy, the first thing I told them was, they got Black people in Slidell?

CARMICHAEL: They got Black people in Slidell? Just for protection, Mac was packing that night.

C PHIPPS: It was just like any other rundown, hole in the wall club, which I don't like rundown hole in the wall clubs 'cause usually they don't have great security and all that stuff. And that's what it was. We had a lot of people from our neighborhood and a few of my cousins and stuff was with us. My parents was with us.

CARMICHAEL: When Mac finally arrived, he was going back and forth about even performing. He really just wasn't feeling it. And then the crowd started getting a little rowdy.

C PHIPPS: It was getting later in the night. And I'm from New Orleans. And you know, and - and where I'm from, you don't step on people's toes and fall into people and do all of that crazy wild stuff 'cause it can result in fight or worse. I had another guy with me who was usually running security, and I could hear him mumbling or saying to me, like, man, if they come over here with that, I'm going to knock them out. And I'm thinking to myself - you know what? - here we go with this New Orleans stuff 'cause that's what I'm thinking.


M PHIPPS: I remember the fight broke out on the dance floor. I remember going towards - like, peeking to see who was in the midst of it. And I saw my brother trying to break it up.

C PHIPPS: My brother, at some point, saw me in the middle of this ruckus that looked like it was about to happen. So he started walking up, and I can see him walking up over my shoulder. Now, I'm still holding off two guys from fighting each other (laughter) as my brother's walking up over my shoulder to see what was going on. And the next thing you know, it was like a pow.


M PHIPPS: Keep in mind that the music was real loud, so I heard what sounded like a loud pop. Right? And I guess part of my brain was trying to process whether this pop was on the song or whether it was from a gunshot. But to take precautionary measures, I got low and looked around.

CARMICHAEL: At this point, Chad looks up and sees what several other people saw - Mac holding the gun.

C PHIPPS: He just kind of pulled it out of his waist and had it pointed at the ceiling. And he was kind of ducking because he thinking somebody shooting. People started running toward the exit. And once people start running toward exit, I was like, all right, so that must have been a gunshot. Everybody start breaking to the exits.


M PHIPPS: And when I noticed the people running, I knew that this was a damn gunshot. This wasn't one of those No Limit gunshots into the beat that we used to put on our beats and stuff like that.

C PHIPPS: So it's like the party's broken up now. We all getting out of here. When I left out of the club, I realized my brother was not behind me 'cause he went back in to get my parents and them, who was in the front.


M PHIPPS: My attention, I guess, was locked on one thing. When I ran toward the front door, I remember yelling, man, where my mama at? - asking one of my friends, where my mama at, man? Like, where's my mama? - 'cause she was at the door and I didn't see her. I remember yelling that. The biggest mistake I made was running towards the front door with a gun in my hand.

CARMICHAEL: Mac ends up finding his brother and his parents. And on the way out, McKinley Sr. notices a man on the ground and a woman, Yulon James, standing over him. And Yulon was dating the club promoter. And she was also a first-year nursing student, so she started administering CPR right there on the spot.

M PHIPPS SR: She was, like, pulling his shirt down and everything, checking him to see where he was shot at or whatever - or what was wrong with him. And I asked her - I say, well, is he OK? And she was saying, well, he OK; he just got shot in the arm.

CARMICHAEL: Mac and his family piled into two cars and drive back home to Baton Rouge. And by the time they get home, it's in the wee hours of the morning. Then, that's when Mac gets a call from the St. Tammany detectives saying he's wanted for questioning in connection to the shooting at the club.


M PHIPPS: Part of me knew that, you know what, I'm going to go down here. They're going to question me. They're going to run checks on my hands, and then they're going to let me go. That was my thought process.

But I remember as I waited for the detectives to come to my house, I was sitting in my little brothers' bedroom, and they were both sleep. And I was looking around. And I don't know where the thought came from. But it was just something came to my mind - a thought came to my mind that if - you know what? I just went to looking at everything in the house, like as if I felt I was never going to see it again.

CARMICHAEL: Police arrived at Mac's house, and they were in full force.

M PHIPPS SR: I had, like, four policemen - three with pistols, one with a shotgun - come run charging, running at me talking about, get on the ground; get on the ground; get on the ground. I didn't even have my shirt on, and it was cold. That was in February. It was cold.

C PHIPPS: They all got shotguns to him. I'm not sure if the police are going to shoot somebody or not. I have no idea why they got shotguns to him. The police is talking to everybody and - or disrespecting everybody the way they talk to people. So they were just doing their whole bully thing, I guess.

M PHIPPS SR: I got down on the ground and did what they told me to do. And when they realized I wasn't armed or nothing - and they asked me, are you Mac? I said, no, I'm not Mac, but I'm Mac's father. What can I do for you? And - well, Mac is wanted for murder. I told them, I said, it wasn't nobody dead when I left there - 'cause the guy wasn't dead.

CARMICHAEL: But the man Mac's dad saw laying on the ground, Barron Victor Jr., he had died from a single gunshot wound that went through his arm and struck his heart.

M PHIPPS SR: They were asking, well, do we need to get a search warrant? I say, you can search all you want. We don't have nothing to hide. They searched the house. They took some guns.

CARMICHAEL: Now, remember, Mac Sr., he was a Vietnam vet and had guns left over from the war. They also took the weapon Mac says he had at the concert that night. Police handcuffed Mac and took him to the sheriff's office, where he was interrogated. And Mac, believing that all of this is going to get straightened out, he agreed to an interrogation with no lawyer.

S PHIPPS: Me, in my head, I'm thinking, well, OK, they're going to take him to question him. They'll probably - he'll probably be home in about five, 10 minutes, you know, 'cause, you know, he didn't do anything. So when he never came home, you know, I was like, well, what's going on?


UNIDENTIFIED DETECTIVE: This is a taped statement conducted by Detective James Franklin (ph), St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office and Detective Bobby Juge (ph) of St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office. The person to be interviewed is McKinley, M-C-K-I-N-L-E-Y, J. Phipps, P-H-I-P-P-S. He is a junior. Were you at Club Mercedes in Slidell tonight?

M PHIPPS: Yes, sir.


M PHIPPS: I was there to perform.

UNIDENTIFIED DETECTIVE: What kind of performing do you do?

M PHIPPS: I rap.

UNIDENTIFIED DETECTIVE: You're a rap singer?


CARMICHAEL: It's just hours after the shooting. And the detective, he asks about Mac's alias, the Camouflage Assassin.


UNIDENTIFIED DETECTIVE: Don't you have a nickname the Camouflage Assassin? Ain't that what they call you?

M PHIPPS: That's one of my rap names.

CARMICHAEL: The detectives grill Mac about that evening, and they finally ask him what happened after the shot rang out. Mac says he was looking for his mom.


M PHIPPS: So I'm looking for my mom, and my mom started running outside. And my aunt grabbed my mom, and I ran, too. And that's exactly what I seen with my own eyes, you know.

UNIDENTIFIED DETECTIVE: That's exactly what you seen, huh?

M PHIPPS: That's exactly what I seen with my own eyes.

UNIDENTIFIED DETECTIVE: What would you say if I told you we got witnesses who put a gun in your hand?

M PHIPPS: Nah, a witness couldn't put a gun in my hand.

CARMICHAEL: A witness couldn't put a gun in my hand, Mac says. Now, this is where things get tricky for Mac.


UNIDENTIFIED DETECTIVE: You need to tell us the truth, man. I'm telling you, I got two witnesses who put you with a gun in your hand.

M PHIPPS: I mean, I'm really - I'm telling you the honest truth, you know, as I know it - the honest truth. I mean, when I was in that club, I did not have a gun.


M PHIPPS: No. No, sir. I know I didn't shoot.

CARMICHAEL: When I was in that club, I did not have a gun, Mac says. Yup, he lied. Because even though the gun was registered to him, carrying a concealed weapon in a club, that's illegal in Louisiana.


M PHIPPS: I didn't shoot nothing.


M PHIPPS: That's what I don't know. I mean...

UNIDENTIFIED DETECTIVE: So everybody there picked you out of the crowd, saying the superstar is the one who shot?

CARMICHAEL: So everybody there picked you out of the crowd, saying the superstar is the one who shot, the detective says.


M PHIPPS: I guess - I'm really the only name these people knew. Out of the crowd of people, you know, who was there, the only person they know is Mac. Oh, he's Mac. He's a rapper. We know him. We saw him running. He's Mac. You know what I'm saying?

CARMICHAEL: We saw him running. He's Mac. But nah, the detective wasn't having it.


UNIDENTIFIED DETECTIVE: No, they didn't say they saw you running. They saw you with a damn gun in your hand shooting people.

M PHIPPS: Nah, I didn't shoot anybody, sir. I can assure that. You know, I swear I didn't shoot anybody.

UNIDENTIFIED DETECTIVE: Well, somebody got murdered, man. So everybody Slidell is just going to bum rap you, huh?

CARMICHAEL: So everybody in Slidell is just going to bum rap you, huh? They're just going to pick you out because you're a superstar and say Mac's the one that shot this dude?


M PHIPPS: I guess so.

MADDEN: Mac is arrested that night and sits in jail for a month before he even gets charged with a crime. Another month after that, he finally gets a bail hearing, and his bail is denied. But then something happens, something that could upend the whole case.

CARMICHAEL: Just days after Mac's arrest, a man named Thomas Williams walks into the St. Tammany sheriff's office with his pastor beside him.

MADDEN: He has something to tell the police about that shooting, something that's been keeping him up at night.


THOMAS WILLIAMS: A fight broke out to the left of me, and I went over to break up the fight.

MADDEN: Thomas was part of Mac's entourage and was acting as a security guard at Club Mercedes that night. He sits down and starts to tell his story.


WILLIAMS: There was a guy who was charging at me with a broken beer bottle. And I was panicked and trembling as he was coming toward me.

MADDEN: Now, this audio is also pretty hard to understand. But as Thomas says, someone charged him with a beer bottle, and he panicked.


WILLIAMS: And I was just standing there. I was panicking. And the next thing I realized, I reached and I fired.

MADDEN: I reacted and fired. And as he says fired, you can see Thomas Williams on the videotape motioning real fast with his hand, like he's pulling a gun and shooting at Barron Victor Jr. Thomas confesses to the crime. He says he, not Mac, shot Barron Victor Jr. Mac was in jail when he heard about this confession.


M PHIPPS: So I was like, OK, I'm going home. It didn't work out that way.

MADDEN: Mac thought he was getting out. But the police sent Thomas home. Mac stayed in jail. He never went home.


M PHIPPS: I just thought that once these people saw a videotape confession, I was going home 'cause I had never heard of anything in my life like that - like, you know, someone confessing to something and a person still staying in prison.

CARMICHAEL: Next time on LOUDER THAN A RIOT, prosecutors try to convince the jury to ignore the confession. And they paint Mac as a real-life Camouflage Assassin.




CARMICHAEL: This episode was written by Dustin DeSoto, me, Rodney Carmichael, and Sidney Madden. Michael May and Matt Ozug edited this one.

MADDEN: It was produced by Dustin DeSoto and mixed by Josh Newell with help from Adelina Lancianese and Sam Leeds.

CARMICHAEL: Senior supervising producers are Rachel Neel and N'Jeri Eaton.

MADDEN: And shout out to the bigwigs - Steve Nelson, Lauren Onkey and Anya Grundmann.

CARMICHAEL: With original music by Kassa Overall - check him out. He's a dope artist.

MADDEN: Our digital editor is Jacob Ganz. Our fact checker is Jane Gilvin.

CARMICHAEL: With special thanks to everybody who lent their time and expertise on this one.

MADDEN: Hit us up on Twitter. We're @LouderThanARiot. Rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. And if you want to follow along with the music you heard in this episode, check out the LOUDER THAN A RIOT playlist on Apple Music and Spotify now. We'll update those each week. And if you want to email us, it's


Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.