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American rapper 8Ball -- half of the pioneering Southern hip-hop duo 8Ball & MJG -- branched out occasionally for solo albums, beginning with the double-disc Lost in 1998, and was an active collaborator, appearing as a featured guest on countless rap songs over the decades. Born Premro Smith, 8Ball grew up in the Orange Mound area of Memphis, Tennessee, where he met MJG at Ridgeway Junior High School in 1984. The two shared a passion for hip-hop, which hadn't yet made a strong impact in the South, and formed their own rap duo, 8Ball & MJG. They made their recording debut in 1991 with a three-track single, Listen to the Lyrics, released on cassette and 12" vinyl by On the Strength Records, an independent label. (These early recordings for On the Strength would later be reissued in 1997 as Lyrics of a Pimp and also in 2000 as Memphis Under World.) 8Ball & MJG subsequently signed a deal with Suave Records (aka Suave House), a Houston, Texas-based label run by Tony Draper. 8Ball & MJG's debut full-length, Comin' Out Hard (1993), produced partly by MJG, was the inaugural release by Suave, which would grow to become one of the premier Southern rap labels of the decade. Now considered a milestone, Comin' Out Hard was among the first Southern rap albums to get widespread recognition, opening the door for other pioneers such as Three 6 Mafia, Master P, and Cash Money Records. 8Ball & MJG recorded a few additional albums for Tony Draper throughout the remainder of the decade -- On the Outside Looking In (1994), On Top of the World (1995), In Our Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1999) -- and did much to foster the growth of Suave, regularly being featured as guests on the label's other releases. In addition, 8Ball and MJG each branched out for solo projects -- Lost (1998) and No More Glory (1997), respectively -- both released by Suave. In 2000, 8Ball & MJG left Suave and switched to JCOR Entertainment, a short-lived rap label founded by Jay Faires, for the release of Space Age 4 Eva. The album, which notably featured production by Swizz Beatz and DJ Quik, was a departure for 8Ball & MJG, who heretofore had worked more or less exclusively with regional producers. The album spawned a pair of minor hits, "Pimp Hard" and "Buck Bounce," the duo's first to get national, opposed to just regional, airplay. In 2001, JCOR released a pair of 8Ball albums -- The Slab, a various-artists compilation, and Almost Famous, his second proper solo album -- but the label then ran into trouble and went out of business, leaving 8Ball & MJG without a recording contract. Meanwhile, Tony Draper released Lay It Down (2001), a compilation of Suave-era leftovers featuring 8Ball. After a couple years in limbo, Bad Boy Records, helmed by Diddy, picked up 8Ball & MJG and released Living Legends (2004), the duo's most star-studded album to date. "You Don't Want Drama," the lead single, became 8Ball & MJG's biggest hit ever, reaching number 30 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles chart, while Living Legends itself likewise became the duo's best-selling, debuting at number three on the Top 200 album chart and topping 500,000 in sales. 8Ball & MJG's second Bad Boy album, Ridin High (2007), was less successful, though, despite debuting well at number eight and spawning a strong lead single, "Relax and Take Notes." In addition to these Bad Boy albums, 8Ball revived 8 Ways Entertainment -- a vanity label of his which had lain dormant since its 2001 debut on The Slab, the aforementioned various-artists compilation showcasing the talent assembled around the label -- and secured a distribution deal with Navarre. A series of 8Ball-associated releases resulted, beginning with a 2006 re-release of The Slab, and subsequently including Montana Trax: The Boy Somethin' Great (2006), Light Up the Bomb (2006), and the Devius collaboration The Vet & the Rookie (2007). In 2008, 8Ball issued another collaborative effort, this time with E.D.I. on Doin' It Big. 8Ball & Memphis All-Stars: Cars, Clubs & Strip Clubs followed in 2009. After reuniting with MJG for the duo's Ten Toes Down (released on T.I.'s Grand Hustle label), 8Ball returned to his solo work. Life's Quest was the rapper's seventh set, arriving in 2012 on E1. The album broke into the Billboard 200, climbing into the top twenty of the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, and featured appearances by Big K.R.I.T., 2 Chainz, Angie Stone, and MJG. That same year, he released the mixtape Premro, which birthed a sequel in 2013 with Premro 2. After hopping onto tracks from MJG's Too Pimpin' mixtapes, 8Ball returned with singles "Look at Me" and "Room 306" in 2018. ~ Jason Birchmeier
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