Hailing from Brownsville, Brooklyn, M.O.P. is the hip-hop duo made up of Lil’ Fame and Billy Danze. They will probably always be remembered for their lively adrenaline fueled 2000 hit single, “Ante Up,” that I’m sure has been the muse for several beat downs and bullet wounds at countless parties through the years. But long before “Ante Up,” the Mash Out Posse was mashin’ out rappers and rivals on records. They released their debut single, “How About Some Hardcore,” in 1993, setting up their debut album, To The Death, released on Select Records in 1994. I think it’s safe to say To The Death wasn’t wildly successful, but it did establish a solid fanbase for the energetic duo. They would eventually leave Select, signing with Relativity Records and releasing their sophomore effort, Firing Squad in 1996.
On To The Death, M.O.P. would rely on their unsung Brownsville bredrin, DR Period to sculpt the album’s sound (the architect of the “Ante Up” instrumental was also credited with producing all but one of the tracks on To The Death). DR Period would be completely absence from Firing Squad, as DJ Premier would be responsible for about a third of the album’s tracks, with Jaz-O, Laze E Laze and M.O.P. producing the bulk of the rest. Firing Squad didn’t make a lot of noise on the charts or move a ton of units, but it did receive mostly positive reviews.
This write up marks my first time listening to Firing Squad, but I’m pretty sure I know what I’m about to experience.
Intro – Though he’s not credited for it in the liner notes, the sharp soundbites, the crisp cuts on the one and twos, and the dope xylophone loop on this Intro are clearly brought to you by the mind and hands of DJ Premier.
Firing Squad (Skit) – Over laxed drums and a drowsy bass line, some poor sap is found guilty of unspecified crimes against the home team (aka M.O.P.) and sentenced to death by firing squad; meaning they’re going to surround said sap and literally shoot the shit out of him. The last fifteen seconds of this skit find the guilty party getting lit up like a Christmas tree. Season’s Greetings!
Firing Squad – Billy and Fame come out the gates lively with guns blazing and ready for war, as Fame reminds all would be competitors that “we can bust raps or bust caps,” then later threatens to “turn a rap cipher into a muthafuckin’ homicide.” Their guest, Teflon, joins in on the bustin’ and does a decent job matching the high energy of his gracious hosts. Teflon’s mention of Saratoga Ave immediately made me think of another Brownsville bomber, Smoothe Da Hustler, and how dope it would have been to hear him get off a verse next to Billy and Fame. But no cigar. Premo, who has an uncanny knack for flippin’ the illest jazz piano loops and turning them into the perfect thugged out concertos, does it again with this one, as all parties involved help get things off to a great start.
New Jack City – Premo builds this dark marvel of a boom bap beat around a pensive xylophone loop that Fame and Billy use to address the then current new school of rappers: (Billy Danze) “Yo, what the fuck is the deal? Here comes a new generation of rap dudes (with fake attitudes!), that refuse to play by the rules, it’s a shame, how they be dissin’ the game, they fantasize, then go to the studio and tell lies… (Firing Squad!) still firing, fuckin’ with old timers with llamas, ready to come out of retirement.” This shit was hard.
Stick To Ya Gunz – Premo provides yet another riveting banger for M.O.P. to brutalize with their thug raps, as they invite the legendary Kool G. Rap to join in on their hardcore shenanigans. I’ve mentioned before that I was never really a fan of the mafioso rapper that G. Rap morphed into during the mid-nineties, but all his murderous gun talk and punchlines actually sound pretty entertaining in context with Billy and Fame’s violent antics.
Anticipation – M.O.P. (with a co-credit going to Laze E Laze) get their first production credit of the night with this one. They build the backdrop around a cool organ loop and spit more overly violent raps, looking to, as Billy Danze so viciously puts it, “kill a whole heap of you muthafuckas.”
Born 2 Kill – Fame and Billy exchange violent gun tales, leaving Jaz-O’s laidback jazzy instrumental completely blood stained.
Brownsville – Premo returns to the boards, this time concocting some unsettling grimy shit with an ill harp loop that he brings in in between the verses. Fame and Danze use Prem’s gully production to describe their Brooklyn neighborhood (Brownsville) as a modern day Wild Wild West: (Lil’ Fame) “Brownsville, the place where crews seem the livest, cops get knocked down, body counts only rising, them streets look – raw to ya, villains look – poor to ya, them niggas will – slaughter ya, for your goose Nautica, you got jewels? Stash ‘em son, ‘cause there’s a thousand niggas broke, and we all got guns.” It doesn’t sound like a great place to raise a family, but it makes for a fairly entertaining record.
Salute – Fame and Danze stomp out and shoot up Premo’s slick swing groove with high-powered hardcore raps.
World Famous – Years before Scarface would rap over a loop of Donny Hathaway’s “Be Real Black For Me,” Jaz-O would turn it into a soulful bop for M.O.P. to celebrate themselves over. I can’t help but wonder how often these dudes’ voices go hoarse.
Downtown Swinga (’96) – I’m pretty sure this was the only track I was familiar with going into this write-up. Premo gets his last production credit of the evening, as he builds this one around an irresistible loop that straddles the line between rugged and smooth. Per usual, Billy and Fame are all fired up ready to buck shots and bust some heads as they rep for their Brownsville hood.
Lifestyles Of A Ghetto Child – Jaz creates a somberly reflective mood with this beautiful backdrop that our hosts use to spew more gun bustin’ street tales.
Revolution – This is a five-and-a-half-minute mid-tempo funk instrumental with a male voice repeatedly claiming, “Revolution is here” and then asking all brothers and sisters if they’re ready for this unidentified change. I could have done without it, but it makes for great freestyle practice. I caught a few zones over it in the last few weeks.
Illside Of Town – This pretty much covers the same territory as “Brownsville.” Sub out Premo’s grimy boom bap, put in Laze E Laze and M.O.P.’s soulful bop to back it.
Nothin’ 2 Lose – Decent filler.
Dedication – This interlude pays respect to the late mothers of both Lil’ Fame and Billy Danze, with some help from a couple of clips from Premo and the legendary New York radio duo, Stretch & Bobbito.
Dead & Gone – This one begins with what sounds like a preacher preaching a eulogy, before the Staples Singers’ “Let’s Do It Again” assisted instrumental comes in and Fame and Billy reflect on their deceased loved ones and contemplate their own mortality: (Lil’ Fame) “Yo, the whole scenery is packed in, people dressed in black and, the whole place is flooded with tears, I’m surrounded by my peers, there I lay, day after day, has been a struggle for the man, but when I’m put six feet under, will my son understand?” The Mash Out boys actually censor their curses on this one (which I’m sure had everything to do with the sample clearance) and invite the R&B quartet, Battle to bring the church choir vibes as they sing the mournful hook. This is a decent record and a nice change of pace from all the hardcore beat ‘em up, shoot ‘em rah-rah we’ve gotten during the rest of the album.
Born 2 Kill (Jazz Mix) – Same as the O.G. mix, just with some ladies adding a “murder” melody and a male voice chanting “homicide” on the hook to give Fame and Billy’s gun tales an extra bloody flavor.
I don’t think anyone would consider Lil’ Fame or Billy Danze to be great lyricists, but on Firing Squad the duo’s chemistry, thug swagger and bully raps that are delivered with enough vigor and energy to justify a Red Bull endorsement deal, make them a force to be reckoned with. Maybe even more impressive than M.O.P.’s hardcore synergy is the production on Firing Squad. DJ Premier leads the charge and sets the tone with his masterful boom bap slaps, and even the songs he’s not responsible for are backed by quality instrumentals. Yes, M.O.P.’s bully raps get redundant by the midway point and at eighteen tracks the album’s a little long in the tooth (you could easily shave four to five songs off Firing Squad and they wouldn’t be missed), but there’s still enough dope material on Firing Squad to make for an enjoyable listen and a solid sophomore album from the Brownsville Bombers.
And I’m sure it took at least six months for M.O.P.’s feet, fists, trigger fingers and vocal cords to fully recover after the album’s recording sessions.