Rap Legend Mr. Serv-On
When No Limit Records Alumni, Edward Corey Smith (Mr. Serv-On) signed with the label, it was like a harrowing scene from a cinematic drama. Master P, who’s the founder of the multi-million-dollar company, didn’t meet Corey and shake hands over the deal in a traditional studio or office setting. Instead, the arraignment took place on an audible call, with Master P agreeing to look after Corey on one condition, “Just make it through the night and make it to the airport in the morning.”
Mr. Serv-On believes in divine intervention, because of the same phone call that possibly saved his life. The native of New Orleans followed the street code, “If you live by the sword, you die by it,” and although he did some weighty things while trying to break into the business, it simply wasn’t his time to die.
“One thing that I knew growing up,” he says, “is you never bring beef to your mothers’ doorstep. I slipped. I dealt with the wrong situation and touched the wrong individual’s things. It was serious people at the door. They were mob related. Master P said if you make it till morning, I got you. I got a plane ticket there [to where Master P was]. My mom told me, ‘Don’t come home.’ My mom was a soldier, she looked through the peephole and she saw one guy standing there. She knew that at four o’clock in the morning none of my friends would ever come to my house. Then she saw one standing to the side. It was hurtful because I had to leave and of course I called my brother and they made it to my mom’s house or whatever. I had to leave that situation… I had to survive till morning.”
Mr. Serv-On, is one of the first artist, who signed to No Limit Records in the mid-90’s. He appeared on albums by Master P, Magnolia Slim [Soulja fa Lyfe], TRU and Mia X. Mr. Serv-On didn’t debut until 1997 with popular album, Life Insurance, which spiked at number 23 on the US Charts and 5 on the R&B Charts. “Life Insurance,’ was more than a cult classic when it hit, it subsisted as a reality, because that’s precisely what Mr. Serv-On procured by living through the night, and signing with No Limit Records… “I took a chance and I never looked back because I never knew what would be out there for me. My belief in God was just like, “My mom is going to be okay. Just get where you got to go and do what you got to do,” he elaborated.
In 1999 Mr. Serv-On released his second album Da Next Level, which featured the late lyricist Big Pun. The record skyrocketed to number 1 on the R&B charts.
Serv-On had deep passion and fascination for hip-hop during the pubescent stage of the culture. He listened to Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five in utter amazement. As the years flew by, battle rappers, LL Cool J, and cool azz duo, Eric B & Rakeem were even more beguiling… ‘It was so awesome to me. I wanted to be where he [Rakeem] is,” says Mr. Serv-On. “I wanted to be LL Cool J so much that I reenacted a video of his, “I’m Bad,” at a party where my girlfriend was at, and she told me that I would never amount to anything. She said I looked stupid and I embarrassed her, so she broke up with me,” he recalled.
Mr. Serv-on had skills, but people didn’t believe in him. He knew that with time and the right opportunity, he was destined to make it as an entertainer. Mr. Serv-On attended college briefly, and he joined the Navy before going on becoming a certified platinum recording artist for No Limit Records.
While still on the subject of redemption and defying the odds, Mr. Serve-On continues by saying, “I felt like I arrived in the situation when I met key rappers and they knew my name, and they called my name—nobody introduced us. I met Ice Cube and he said my name, and those were the peers, the guys pictures that I stared at on my wall when I was younger like Treach from Naughty By Nature and Snoop Dogg. I would wake-up every morning, look at those picture, and say to myself, ‘I’m going to get there. I just want them [the world] to know me.’ That’s when I felt like I did that. I made it.” Mr. Serv-On kept that promise to himself, and he lived up to that personal affirmation.
As for rap artists pioneering in the 80’s and the 90’s, they inspired him. That’s a fact. Mr. Serv-On agrees that each generation of rappers, they encourage the next, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
“I’m happy that I came along in a generation that I was in because it was serious and it was hard work. I don’t think I’d be existing now or have fans or things like that. Fans, today, their attention span is short. It might be Little Johnny this week cause he’s hot and then next week, it’s Little Pimp. They will forget about Little Johnny. In my time, when you earn fame, you earned your weight. It’s not saying that these kids aren’t earning their weight, but time and technology, I wish we had the internet back then to be able to get to people, but I think we earned it. Young guys go from the internet to the stage in front of about thirty-thousand people, but when they slip and their record is no longer selling, they don’t know how to get back to that grind. As for me, I will travel to different cities and do shows. My fans will want music from me, because they’ve been waiting. When you go through that grind, you’ll get it, and you’ll go back to where you had it because you laid grassroots. I think this generation and me, we were taught differently. I watched the artist like Ice Cube, Scarface, the other artist, and different groups that we were able to see—They handled things differently. They made mistakes in business as well as their artistry. So, yeah. I’m kinda glad that I came up in the latter generation. It was difficult. You really had to be an entertainer and you had to know your situation. It was rougher and realer back then.”
Adding a piggyback to that last statement, Mr. Serv-On did the grunt work to get to where he is, but he’s far from done… “At No Limit, I played my role. I didn’t worry about being one of the top guys. My album is a classic and I sold over two million records. My album arose to number one as well as the number five album. That really meant something when you didn’t buy your spot on the Billboards and stuff like that. I just played my part, but whom I was, it’s who I’m becoming now. I was always a leader. I knew with No Limit, I led when my time came to lead, and [Master] P put me in those positions. I also implemented intelligence, and my education. I always tell young kids the reason I survived during No Limit and after No Limit, it wasn’t just being a good rapper, or someone that’s not afraid to go anywhere, it was my education and intelligence. I knew how to put things in certain places to get what I wanted. If it was something at No Limit that I felt we should do, I knew how to do things to get it from [Master] P. He is such an intelligent guy that even his name means, “I master what you do, and do it better.” I knew what P wanted. We knew that we had to build to have this whole stable of artists, because before we got to No Limit, KLC had the best of the best of Mystikal, Juvenile, and Soulja Slim. We were putting that stuff together and getting it out. We wanted to create that army environment of one major album with everybody. We wanted to ensure that each person do an album where the industry couldn’t breathe. When we got to No Limit, KLC and I knew that we would do well with the “I’m Bout It” track and that type of music.”
Just toggling backwards from what Mr. Serv-On said, and to explain a few things just in case you were foggy with the last statement, DJ KLC is a producer that worked with Mr. Serv-On to mature his signature cadence and style. DJ KLC is also the mega producer that roped all the artist together in New Orleans such as Soulja Slim, Fend, Mac, Mystikal and Mia X, to put out the “I’m Bout It” single before going to No Limit Records. Serv-On gave a copy of the single to Master P while at a rap convention. After hearing the music, Master P called the team, and asked them to do a few songs on a compilation project called “Down South Huslers.” Around the same time, Mr. Serv-On made a name for himself in New Orleans, but it wasn’t in a positive atmosphere. He ran a credit card fraud operation. His luck ran out because he stole from some notorious people, and they wanted to take his life. Mr. Serv-On made the call to Master P, letting him know that he’d gotten himself into some trouble. Master P told him that if he could survive until morning, a flight would be waiting for him. Mr. Serv-On and KLC joined No Limit Records in 1994. Mr. Serv-On appeared in movies like, “I’m Bout It” and “I Got the Hook Up.” Serv-On continued to release projects and featured on compilations until 2000, when he started his own label, “Lyfetyme Ent.” He’s released 10 independent albums. He imprinted another company called Hot City Music Group, where he released his newest project 3:33 Third Ward Version. If the listeners would have their way, Purification and Don’t Give Up, would be smasher hits, where Serv-On uses methodical wordplay to share his reverberating messages about life. He’s releasing a single called, Go Live, and that’s an ode for the young women. “I have another song that’s real important to me called, HBCU for Life, he shares. “I think that song represents all black colleges. I want to give my proceeds from that single to HBCU’s. I want the best of our best students to attend HBCU’s. I want to push that issue. I have another album hitting next year called the “The Rap Life.” We have the No Limit Tour, which is running from November until next year.”
Mr. Serv-On learned valuable lessons along the way, some great, and some not so great. Because of those experiences, he’s lending advice to up-and-coming rappers, by telling them to keep God, and family first.
“I exhausted so many funds keeping it real. I mean, I would go out with the guys, and party cause I had made it. The perfect example to, keeping it real is Nipsey Hustle. He looked out for his hood and he kept it real. Look at what happened. I hate to say this but to the black artist and athletes, we have to lose that conception of that keeping it real. We must lose that. For me, I wasted money. I lost time with my kids because I was always running to the city, going out and running to the streets with my guys. When I went through my tough financial problems out of the twenty guys that I hung with, only one or two answered my phone calls. They gave me whatever I needed. They checked on my mom when I left and got myself together. I also learned that you have to balance correctly when it comes to God, your family and music. I realize that my babies are big now, and I never got to see any of them take their first step. I look back at it; I missed so many moments and wasted so much time. I look at the lessons of just educating yourself. I didn’t take my education as serious as I should have and that’s the reason I want to push for economic and finance classes in high school for our kids.”
“I had a plan to make something of myself. This plan hatched a long time ago, to make myself a voice that a few million [people] would listen to my music. I’ve gotten to that point where my music isn’t fading, but it still has respectability, so people listen to it. Now, I can implement what I want which is a highly educated community of black men. These same black, men, they got heart. They aren’t afraid of anything because they come from the worse, but they are running with intelligence and we are putting them in high places. That was one of my dreams to lead this black corporate America from the inner city, and now people pay attention to me when I speak. That’s all I wanted to do, was become something, and be a voice. I had to do that through music. I’m happy because I learned from one of the best. I watched P and I paid attention when he spoke. He taught me.”
In addition to manufacturing his own distribution label, Mr. Serv-On ran a music-mentoring program for troubled youth in 2014. He collaborated with an old friend and former NBA player, Randy Livingston, to give teens free studio time, in addition to life lessons, to help navigate them off the streets.
“Everybody wants to be a rapper,” he says. “I wanted them to rap, but I also wanted to get them in there so I could find out more about them. They are not animals or terrible people. It’s a lot of them, the youth that once I got them in there I learned about them. I had one kid that I’m so proud of him now. He currently lives in Atlanta. Well, he got mad at me because I had rules that if you needed to be in the studio at a certain time then you needed to be there twenty minutes to a half hour earlier. He was late. He didn’t understand that I was trying to teach him punctuality because one day he’d interview for a job, and he needed to be punctual for that interview. I told him that he couldn’t record that day. So, he walked up beside me, and dropped a piece of wadded paper on the floor. I picked it up and opened it. He drew a picture of himself hitting me with a hammer. It was the most perfectly sketched picture that I had ever seen. He drew a replica of the studio and everything. He said, “I’m just mad right now. I asked him. “How did you learn to draw like this? What do you want to do?’ He said, “I want to do buildings.” I told him, “That’s called a drafter.” I let him know that he could be a contractor because there’s so much that he could do. He told me that he didn’t have a diploma. Before ITT Tech closed, this same kid went and graduated. He moved to Atlanta with his family. He’s doing well, and he’s making crazy money. He’s a kid that carried guns and he was constantly a beast as for his actions. I watched him shoot in the middle of the street at people, and now… he’s an artist. For me, the program helped to uncover that. There was another kid that came to the studio who’s now a chef. I got him into Sous cooking. I used music as a ploy to get them in the studio, to unleash who they really are as people.
The kids were murdering each other in the streets over things like a bag of weed. So, that’s what my program was about, getting them in there. I left the program to start my own, because the people that owned the studio didn’t care about the kids. Once I left, two talented brothers that were coming there, they died three days later on that same corner, around the same time that they would’ve been in the studio with me.”
Although disheartening, that murder hit home for Mr. Serv-On, and that’s one of the reasons he hasn’t given up on the youth. He recently penned a book that he hopes to release soon entitled,” Letter to my Young Black Sons.” The manuscript is a blueprint for fatherless kids that don’t have role models, who are at the gateway ages of thirteen, heading into high school. It teaches them life-lessons about becoming a man, health, and keeping themselves clean. It’s everything that a father would teach his kid.
“I want to do one for my young black females,” he says. “It’s scary for them. I watch the videos where they’re fighting, stabbing, shooting, and they are jumping each other. That’s not who our young queens and princesses are. Nobody is taking that step up to say, “Let me teach them and catch them early.”
As for current achievements, Mr. Serv-On, along with other No Limit Alumni’s kicked off the No Limit Reunion Tour, which sold-out at the Chaifetz arena in St Louis, Missouri on November 3rd. Fans gave the show a tough critique, but The No Limit Reunion will continue stronger than ever with their second performance in Chicago, Illinois on November 29, 2019.
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