M.O.P. is one of New York's great rap duos that doesn't quite get the acclaim they deserve. It makes sense that Billy Danze and Lil' Fame may have gotten pushed aside, as they were part of the mid-90's/early 00's rap scene that was absolutely loaded with talent.
New York rap collectives like G-Unit and the Diplomats were just starting up and veteran rhymers like Jay-Z, Gang Starr, Mobb Deep, Nas, the Lox, and more were still going strong. There were bound to be talented groups just missing the success of their peers, even if they had all the tools to succeed.
Danze and Fame certainly did have those tools they needed to make their mark. After their debut To the Death, they signed to Relativity Records and started working with the legendary producer DJ Premier. Premo's beats, along with the beats Lil' Fame made under the moniker Fizzy Womack, provided the blaring sound that would define the Brownsville duo's Firing Squad and First Family 4 Life albums.
On the latter album, they received guest features from Gang Starr, Jay-Z, Freddie Foxxx, O.C., and Treach, but even co-signs from some of New York's most legendary rappers couldn't bring the Mash Out Posse to the next level. They wouldn't become more than a moderate success until they dropped Warriorz on Aug. 29, 2000. The collection's standout track "Ante Up" is arguably one of the most instantly recognizable hardcore rap songs of all time.
In an era defined by hard-as-nails rapping, Danze and Fame were some of the hardest MCs on the block. Listening to the two spit can make a listener feel like they're witnessing a stick-up firsthand. M.O.P. had an energetic, violent style showcased on their songs (and particularly "Ante Up") that have made them heroes for rap fans who prefer grit over glamour.
M.O.P.'s Warriorz celebrates its 15th anniversary this weekend (Aug. 29), so here are the 5 Best Songs from their best-selling album.
Even though "Calm Down" is placed halfway through Warriorz's run time, it serves as a perfect introduction to M.O.P.'s style. Danze and Flip basically introduce themselves to listeners, rapping about how they're at the top and telling everybody in their way to "calm down" and "get back." 2000 was a peak year for boy bands, but when Billy Danze says "You f---ing with the original Backstreet Boys," you know he's talking about being the polar opposite of the guys who made "I Want It That Way." M.O.P. as a group is there to combat boy band bulls--- and talk about really being from backstreets.
To rap about street violence in the way that M.O.P. does, there has to be a certain nihilism behind the lyrics. The first half of "Face Off" shows Billy Danze with one of the darkest verses on the album. Because he has a lot of people depending on him, he doesn't want to make the same mistakes he has in the past. But no matter what he does, he can't get beyond the violence of his hood. Danze is stressed all the time, he smokes too many cigarettes, and drinking still won't make him forget that "a shootout is like a common cold out here."
Danze talks about having to grow up fighting on Saratoga Avenue, "where I realized it's a cold world after all." Billy accepts the violence, and raps about how he's going to come back up on top to fight another day. Then Premo changes up the beat to something with more of a tempo, and Lil' Fame gets to finish off the track with more bars about how M.O.P. won't get trifled with. Danze and Fame might be in the studio now more than the streets, but that doesn't mean they won't cap somebody if they have to.
"Follow Instructions" is a pure Premo-approved, hard-as-hell track. With a bouncy Eddie Kendricks horn sample in the background, Premier sets up rapid-fire bars from the duo. Lil Fame sets "all games aside, all lames aside" and talks how he and Billy are magic on the mic. Along the way, he addresses their haters asking about their record sales and calls out R&B singers wanting to be gangsters. After the two switch up commands for crews to follow their instructions on the hook, Danze finishes it up with more threats and some more of that nihilism, talking about alcohol abuse and not being able to sleep because of the voices he hears in his head. Even the more straight-up bangers in M.O.P.'s catalog have a greater darkness beneath them.
Arena rock from the 1970's might be one of the lamest genres in music history. Even at its best, with catchy hooks and memorable guitar solos, the genre can still feel like a more watered-down style of rock 'n' roll with a more pop-friendly focus. There couldn't be a more polar opposite of late 90's hardcore hip-hop than arena rock. A band like Foreigner and a rap duo like M.O.P. are so different from each other, but that contrast really helps turn "Cold As Ice" into a great track.
Womack samples the hit Foreigner track of the same name, and he and Danze turn the song from its original form about an ex-lover to a new track about how M.O.P. are cold and heartless. They have no sympathy, and the duo trade verses on-and-off about what they'll do to whoever messes with them. Lou Graham's edited vocals and the thumping bass added to the original Foreigner sample manage to make the track more chilling. M.O.P. somehow made a gangsta rap masterpiece from one of the safest-sounding rock bands in history.
"Ante Up (Robbing Hoodz Theory)"
Without a doubt, "Ante Up" is one of the grittiest, grimiest tracks in hip-hop history. There are few tracks that can make people lose their minds like this. As soon as that Sam & Dave sample kicks in, it can get even a tame party going hard. It's a staple of workout mixes and one of the pump-up anthems. This is a song so hype that playing it makes it seem like a riot could start anytime, anywhere.
Billy Danze raps, "Keep a wicked dress code, always in a stress mode," and when people tell him that s--- will send him to his grave, all he says in reply is "So? You think I don't know that?" Lil Fame is going around, yapping fools, asking if they want their lives or the jewels. "Ante Up" is a track about robbery that actually makes it feel like a robbery is happening. There's no BS with M.O.P., they're gonna get their money no matter what, even if they have to kidnap a fool in the process. Whether it's M.O.P.'s original or the remix with Busta Rhymes, Remy Ma and Teflon, "Ante Up" is one of 2000's most classic rap songs.