Hip-hop saw many styles come and go during the 1990s, from the Mafioso posturing of Jay-Z to the pop music samplings of Puff Daddy and the Nation-of-Islam-meets-kung-fu mysticism of the Wu-Tang Clan. Through it all, though, Brooklyn, New York’s M.O.P. (Mash Out Posse) earned respect by refusing to change their growling hard-core approach to fit the dominant style. They have recorded alongside artists as diverse as Busta Rhymes, Big Pun, and Jay-Z. “Never, never change,” they told Djeneba Doukoure of Murder Dog magazine previous to the release of their fourth album, Warriorz, in 2000. “So if you’re looking for a new album, different type style—no, never. Same M.O.P. Only thing, we might get more mature, but it’s the same sound.”
From their first album, To the Death, released in 1994, through Warriorz, that sound has been characterized by what Muzik magazine called “roared nastiness.” The title of their first single was “How About Some Hardcore?,” and the more recent” Ante Up (Robbin Hoodz Theory),” graphically (and comically) describes robbing flashy thugs of their gold and jewels. M.O.P.’s songs are about murder, drug dealing, and criminal life. For rappers Lil’ Fame and Billy Danze, maintaining a consistent style amounts to staying true to the streets they grew up on: “We’re the voice of the streets,” Fame told Soren Baker of the Los Angeles Times, “and we’re not letting that title go anywhere.” While this commitment to their own style has earned them permanent credibility in the rap community, their refusal to bow to trends or compromise their message has cost them mainstream success.
M.O.P., short for Mash Out Posse, was the name of Fame and Danze’s high school gang. Mash Out, they told XXL magazine, means “the level before getting killed and just a few levels after getting your a** kicked—mashed out.” The two grew up in Brooklyn’s notorious Brownsville neighborhood, a ghetto that was home to the young Mike Tyson and also to Christopher Wallace, The Notorious B.I.G. “He used to sell crack down the block from me, but he was a good dude” says Fame. Like Biggie Smalls, who once wrote “If I wasn’t in the rap game/I’d probably have a… knee deep in the crack game,” Fame and Danze divided their teenage years between drug dealing, robbery, and rap. “We did this s*it before we had a record deal,” Danze told Vibe.” We’d be in the hallway selling crack, rhymin’ about a shoot-out we just had, rhymin’ about robbin’….”
The lifestyle caught up with Danze, however, and led to a prison sentence in the late 1980s. Fame continued rapping on his own, and at age 16, he was discovered by producer and Brownsville native Laze E Laze, who put him on his Brownsville/Ocean Hill compilation disc, The Hill That’s Real. In spite of a weak reception, Fame continued doing live shows, and when Danze returned from upstate New York in 1993, Fame convinced Laze they should record together. Fame and Danze called
For the Record…
Members include William “Billy” Danze (born 1976); Lil’ Fame (born Jamel Grinnage in 1976).
Debut single, “How About Some Hardcore?,” released on House Party 3 film soundtrack, 1993; released debut album, To the Death, on Select Records, 1994; released Firing Squad on Relativity Records, 1996; released First Family 4 Life, 1998; released Warriorz on Loud Records, 2000.
Addresses: Record company —Loud Records, 79 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10003, phone: (212) 337-5300, fax: (212) 337-5374, website: www.loudrecords.com.
themselves M.O.P. and recorded a cut called “How About Some Hardcore?” which appeared on the House Party 3 film soundtrack. The street anthem, produced by DR Period, immediately became an East Coast radio favorite, and M.O.P’s first album, To the Death, appeared on Select Records in 1994. The album did not sell well, but the single grabbed the attention of Gang Starr’s legendary producer, DJ Premier. “You could tell that pain and anger in them for real,” Premier told Shaheem Reid in the Source. “You could feel the hardcore in ’em. I was like, ‘I gotta be a part of that.’ Their music motivates me.”
In Premier, M.O.P. found a producer with a style as uncompromising as their own and the ability to push M.O.P’s own vision even further. He assumed executive production duties for the duo’s next album, Firing Squad, which was released in 1996 on the more prestigious Relativity label. The album was an enormous critical success. The Source wrote that “Brownsville’s Mash Out Posse put a serious dent on the rhyme game and established themselves as two of the livest … to ever bless the mic…” Vibe wrote that “Firing Squad stacks the deck and takes home the jackpot by employing DJ Premier for the bulk of the production…. M.O.P. perform like few others do—as though their lives depend on it.”
But once again, critical success did not amount to commercial success. The 1997 EP “Handle Ur Biz-ness” and 1998’s First Family 4 Life fared similarly. M.O.P. had now been recording for five years, but sales of their work still did not bring the duo closer to hitting the gold sales mark. “Whenever we do a [track on an anthology], M.O.P. told Murder Dog magazine, “they’ll mention everyone else on there, but they’ll leave out M.O.P. It’ll say ‘Featuring Mobb Deep,’ or ‘Featuring Busta Rhymes.’And then it’ll say, ‘And many more.’ They don’t even put our name.”
In the year 2000, however, their luck seemed to change. Relativity Records was bought out by Loud, home of such hard-core phenomena as the Wu-Tang Clan, Big Pun, and Mobb Deep. “One of the reasons why we wanted to take on Relativity was to get M.O.P,” Loud CEO Steve Rifkind told the Source. Loud had, in fact, lost a bidding war over M.O.P. to Relativity Records in 1995. Loud pulled out all the stops for M.O.P.’s fourth release, Warriorz, hiring superstar producers Premier, Pete Rock, and Buckwild, sending the duo out on tour with Busta Rhymes and granting endless interviews. But while hopes were understandably high in M.O.P.’s First Family clique, the rappers themselves remained more cautious. “Every time we drop an album,” Fame told Reid, “every label is like, ‘This time it’s going to be different’…. As long as I have this 20 dollars in my pocket, I’m good.” As they told Doukoure, “We never asked for much, we never wanted millions of dollars. We just wanted to live in a clean comfortable house with water, heat, toilets, and to be able to put food on the table…. As long as we got that we cool….”
As expected, Warriorz received an excellent reception from the critics, who praised the elegance of its production and its deepening lyrical complexity. The real surprise was the fate of the first two singles—” Ante Up” and “Cold as Ice”—which received substantial airplay. This was especially surprising given that “Ante Up” was produced by Period, who had produced the group’s first single in 1994, and “Cold as Ice” was produced by Fame himself, who until this album had no production credits.
(Contributor) House Party 3 (soundtrack), Select, 1993.
To the Death, Select, 1994.
Firing Squad, Relativity, 1996.
Handle Ur Bizness (EP), Relativity, 1997.
First Family 4 Life, Relativity, 1998.
Warriorz, Loud, 2000.
Big Pun, “New York Giants,” Yeeeah Baby, Columbia, 2000.
Busta Rhymes, “Ready for War,” Anarchy, Elektra, 2000.
Los Angeles Times, October 8, 2000.
Murder Dog, Vol. 7 No. 6, 2000.
Muzik, September 1998.
Rap Pages, November 1996.
Source, November 1996; September 2000, pp. 175-76; November 2000.
Vibe, November 1996; October 2000.
XXL, October 2000, p. 76; November 2000.
“M.O.P.,” RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com (August 28, 2001).
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