Day 309: "We on Fire" – Hot Boys, Guerrilla Warfare, 1999
Today, as my friend and Noisey social media editor Trey Smith informed me earlier this week, is the 18th anniversary of Guerrilla Warfare, the second and most notable Hot Boys album. Coming on the heels of Cash Money's landmark $30 million deal with Universal, Guerrilla Warfare was a smash success, reading number five on the Billboard 200 and going platinum by November of the same year. It also came at a key juncture in Lil Wayne's career: 1999 was the year that Wayne graduated to being seen as an artist in his own right, off the strength of his verses and his own solo debut, which would come a few months after Guerrilla Warfare . Since Trey is more of a Hot Boys scholar than I could ever hope to be, I asked him to write a few words about the album and its lead single, "We On Fire."
(Real quick: yes, I know there are two versions of this song. Everything written below is about the Guerrilla Warfare version.)
If you had told 1999 me that Lil Wayne would go on to be the most successful and widely revered of all the Hot Boys, I would've thrown everything I own at you.
Guerrilla Warfare, which turns 18 today, wasn't the first Hot Boys album, but it was the one that introduced the group as a force. The world was more than familiar with Cash Money Records at the time: B.G. and Juvenile had already dropped their widely acclaimed albums, 400 Degreez and Chopper City in the Ghetto, respectively, previous to this one. But while those albums made their lead artists into household names, Guerrilla Warfare was the focused display of versatility, skill, and showmanship that pushed the label as a whole further than any project before it.
The lead single "We On Fire" is a great display of how the album was able to do that. Following one of Cash Money's favorite song structures of repeating a certain phrase at the beginning of each line (In this case, "What kinda nigga…"), it gave each Hot Boy a chance to demonstrate how he stood out from and fit into the group at large. They alternate lines, listing the qualities that make someone a Hot Boy and making you question if you yourself have what it takes to be a Hot Boy (probably not, unless you're ready to buck with AK assault rifles not giving a fuck). It's all over an energetic Mannie Fresh beat, of course, and while the song is aggressive and captivating on it's own, holy goddamn at the music video.
First of all, in typical fashion, it starts with them jumping out a window to escape cops instead of simply using a back door to get out of the house they were in:
From there a chase on foot becomes a chase by car:
Which becomes a standoff with a lot of pyrotechnics involved, including a scene with Juvenile and B.G. with their hands literally on fire:
Wayne and Turk were supposed to have had their hands on fire as well, but, Turk told Noisey, they decided to pass after what happened on set.
"The people told us, you know, to come to the video shoot sober," he said. "And of course you know, we being young, man, we ain't listen. And B.G. caught on fire for real on that video shoot." Hold up—what? Yeah. "He burned his hand. We had these gloves, but there's a part on the video, you can see it, where Juvie and B.G.'s hands were on fire. But while shooting that scene, all us was supposed to have our hands on fire. But when B.G. got burned, me and Wayne ain't do that part. But yeah, man, BG caught on fire for real. It was real funny."
But back to the song, it was one of those instances where it was pretty hard to believe that this group would one day be no more. It's one of the earlier displays of Wayne's real potential, as it sees him holding his own again older—and at the time more talented and exciting—rappers: "What kinda nigga get nasty at night? What, look, why you wanna fight, man? I didn't know that was your wife."
Wayne would release his debut album a few months after the release of Guerrilla Warfare, but the Hot Boys album of summer '99 was one of the firmer early displays of the heights he would one day reach. Happy Guerrilla Warfare Anniversary Day, folks.
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