After the success of his definitive debut album, Ready To Die and a few classic remixes and cameos, Biggie Smalls was a viable candidate for king of New York and seemingly had the world in his chubby palms. Instead of rushing back to the studio to record a follow-up, he would first go back and take care of his Brooklyn crew, Junior M.A.F.I.A. The M.A.F.I.A (which is a ridiculously corny acronym for Masters At Finding Intelligent Attitudes) was made up of The Snakes (the duo of Trife and Larceny), Cheek Del Vec, Kleptomaniac, Lil’ Cease and the Queen B, Lil’ Kim. With Big’s help, they were able to secure a deal with Big Beat/Atlantic (I wonder why Puff didn’t sign them to Bad Boy), where they would release their debut album, Conspiracy.
JM would call on the legendary DJ Clark Kent and a handful of veteran producers to sculpt the sound of Conspiracy, which produced a few moderately successful singles and would go on to earn the crew a gold plaque. But despite all of the commercial success, the reviews for Conspiracy were mixed upon its release.
Junior M.A.F.I.A. would disband shortly after the murder of Biggie in 1997, but Conspiracy would lay the ground work for Lil’ Kim’s successful solo career. In 2005, a few of the members would reunite and release Riot Musik independently under the Junior M.A.F.I.A. name, but it came and went faster than Pokémon Go with little hoopla or fanfare.
Intro – The album opens with a convoluted skit that ends with Junior M.A.F.I.A and a rival crew getting into a shootout that bleeds (no pun intended) into the first song…
White Chalk – Daddy-O (formerly of Stetsasonic) and Understanding concoct a sinisterly dark boom-bap treat for Trife & Larceny to delve into the “murder disease” they claim to suffer from. Larceny’s delivery and energy are godawful on this one. He sounds like a first grader who just woke up and is struggling to read his lyrics off the page. Thankfully, Trife (who sounds a lot like Havoc from Mobb Deep) sounds more convincing with his violent threats (I still laugh every time I hear him say “Don’t do this killin’ shit for real, I do this shit for fun”). The ill Biggie Smalls and Method Man (I should start a tally count of how many cameos or vocal samples he had in ’95) vocal snippets on the hook make this dark song sound even colder.
Excuse Me… – So apparently some of the gunshots we heard at the end of the intro ended up hitting Larceny. This skit finds the M.A.F.I.A. at the hospital trying to check on him, but they get thrown out for being disgruntled and disruptive. All the nurse asked for was his government name because she couldn’t find him under his rap alias and they snapped. Geesh!
Realms Of Junior M.A.F.I.A. – Biggie and DJ Clark Kent hook up a banger for Lil’ Cease, Cheek Del Vec, Jamal (formerly one-half of the short lived duo, Illegal) and Notorious himself, to come together for this ill cipher joint. Cease and Cheek do a solid job of warming things up for Jamal, who turns in an impressive verse. But of course, B-I-G walks away with this one and makes it sound easy. This is a tough record that I completely forgot about.
Player’s Anthem – This was the lead single from Conspiracy. Biggie, Lil’ Kim and Lil’ Cease come together to represent for all the players out there. Biggie’s catchy hook (that hi-lariously instructs niggas to grab their dicks if they love hip-hop and bitches to rub their titties if they love him) and DJ Clark Kent’s feel good bouncy instrumental help this classic record hold up well, twenty-five years after its release.
I Need You Tonight – This was Conspiracy’s second single. Trife, Lil’ Kim (who will ever forget her sexy seductive line about doing “things to you, that Vanessa Del Rio would be shamed to do”?) and Klepto use this one to talk relationships and sex (with an emphasis on the sex) over Clark Kent’s warm and cozy backdrop built around a loop from Patrice Rushen’s classic record, “Remind Me” (that has been used several times in hip-hop, but always sounds amazing to my ears). An uncredited Faith Evans sings the hook and adlibs (she would be replaced in the video/single version of the song by Aaliyah (rip)), which is the icing on top of this delectable cake.
Get Money – This was the third and final single and easily the biggest hit on Conspiracy. Biggie and Kim freak this duet like Ashford and Simpson, or more like Ike and Tina, since Big threatens to beat the shit out of Kim for snitchin’ on him during his verse. EZ Elpee’s funky mid-tempo bop helps Big and Kim’s rhymes sound even more entertaining.
I’ve Been… – This skit always cracks me up. A dude calls his girl and asks her to fuck him and his mans. After she calls him disrespectful for asking and shuts him down, the dude then accuses her of already fucking his man, to which she replies: “What? So what, nigga fuck you!” Hi-larious!!!
Crazaay – The Snakes get their second group joint of the evening. Clark Kent lays yet another ill backdrop, sliding the duo a smooth mid-tempo groove with a seductive bass line that they use to pretty much cover the same ground as they did on “White Chalk”. Unlike “White Chalk”, Larceny sounds awake on this go, and ten times better than he did the first time around.
Back Stabbers – A paranoid Lil’ Kim is worried that chicks are coming for her position and possessions, which keeps her high on weed, strapped and rocking a bulletproof dress for protection (that shit sounds dangerously sexy as hell). Kim adapts a monotone flow to match Daddy-O’s slower paced melodic instrumental (the Lalah Hathaway vocal loop laced throughout the song was masterful), while Jimmy Cozier sings the hook from the classic O’Jays’ record with the same name. Brilliant record from top to bottom.
Shot! – This skit has Trife making a phone call to some unidentified man, letting him know that Larceny’s been shot and to come visit him at the hospital. I’m not sure what this added to Conspiracy, but whatever.
Lyrical Wizardry – Akshun (yep, Special Ed’s deejay) gets his first of two production credits of the evening, and he laces Klepto with a hard backdrop with eerie vibes that our host handles fairly well: “Emcees get cut like glass, cut like class, rag tagged and crash, hemp bags, come save dat ass”. Yet another banger on an album stacked with them.
Oh My Lord – Speaking of Special Ed, he gets the production credit on this one and provides a simple stripped-down backdrop for Klepto and Biggie to play a game of name brand-drug dealing-gun bustin’ hot potato over. Klepto does a solid job of matching Big’s superior flow (which might be because Big penned some of his shit), and this ends up being a solid record.
Murder Onze – Akshun gets his second production credit of the evening, providing a semi-sleepy instrumental for Cheek Del Vec, Klepto, Trife and Larceny to regurgitate more of the street shit they’ve spewed throughout Conspiracy. Speaking of regurgitate, Cheek recycles Biggie’s “929 Mazda” line from “Oh My Lord”, substituting “Natasha” with “Rhonda”, which is both lazy and embarrassing, and strong proof that Biggie ghost wrote for more than Lil’ Kim on Conspiracy.
Outro – The album ends with Trife asking Kim if she thinks Larceny will recover from the six shots he took, to which she response optimistically (in her own hood fashion), as his heart monitor beeps in the background. Then Trife ends the album saying: “That nigga took six shots, man…ain’t too many niggas get up from that shit, man. But I know whoever did it, man, they ain’t gonna be that happy”. Maybe it’s a reach, but it almost sounds like Trife’s comment was a subliminal reference to the infamous 1994 robbery and shooting of 2pac at Quad Studios (the same studio that Conspiracy was recorded in) that Pac would later blame on Biggie and his peeps. But it would explain the album’s title.
Conspiracy proves there’s truth to the old adage that there is power in numbers. Individually (with the exception of Lil’ Kim), none of the members of Junior M.A.F.I.A. are talented enough to hold their own and entertain for a full album. But collectively, with a strong backing from their mentor, Biggie Smalls, they do a solid job of holding the listener’s attention with their materialistic brand of gangsta raps. Even more impressive is the production work that pretty much bangs from beginning to end. I could have done without the last song and the interludes that attempt to carry on the weak story line, but Conspiracy is still an underrated album that may be a candidate for sleeper album of the year.