December 26, 2008

Reader Review: M.O.P. - Firing Squad (October 22, 1996)

(Aaah, nothing captures the internal anguish and frustration of after-Christmas shopping quite like M.O.P.'s Firing Squad. The following guest write-up is by a fellow blogger who elected to go under the mysterious pseudonym Jamaican Beef Patty. Lord knows why.)

Max reviewed Firing Squad back in November, and I thought I’d contribute my take on the album. I’m going to be pointing out some of the more noteworthy lyrics – I think Lil' Fame and Billy Danze are really underrated as lyricists, and this is the album where they really cement their chemistry as a duo. M.O.P. affiliate Teflon also makes his debut here. (That's awfully nice of him.)

A simple but effective DJ Premier produced instrumental intro where he scratches in a bunch of M.O.P. lyrics. This sets the mood in a sense, but it's definitely unnecessary, because it’s immediately followed by…

Short and annoying. (I'm not the only one that found tacking on a skit right after a rap album intro was not exactly a great moment in sequencing history, right?)

Teflon’s shouted chorus becomes very irritating very quickly. A surprisingly dull Premier beat provides the sonic backdrop, and fails to match the energy of the chorus.

Much better. Danze and Fame sound comfortable shouting their (friendly) death threats on this quiet, mournful Premier beat. The stuttered drums leading up to the chorus are a nice touch.

This blows the last two tracks out of the fucking water. Premier pairs a tight string loop with hard drums for one of the best Premier/M.O.P. collaborations, period. Max is right (see, I'm right once in a while) when he says G. Rap kills this; he actually starts off a capella and the beat drops a few bars into his verse, which sounds pretty sweet. Credit is still due for Billy Danze and Lil’ Fame’s verse on this, which are a stellar example of hilariously violent ignorance. I’d like to point out that Fame threatens to “bust open your head like avocados”, which is just great.

Lil’ Fame produces a few tracks on Firing Squad, and while he shows a lot of potential as a producer, none of the tracks on the album really fulfill this promise. His beat for “Anticipation” is okay, but fairly repetitive. It’s not bad, but this song just goes on and on. The KRS-One sample is a nice touch, especially when Fame and Danze play off of it in their verses. Choice Fame quote: “Fuck the frame, I blow your ass out the picture”.

This is a rare storytelling track, and Fame and Danze show they can do more than just shout about killing (although there’s plenty of that on this track, too). The best thing I can say about Jaz’s beat is that it doesn’t distract from the lyrics. (Wow, that's pretty harsh.) Not terrible, not great.

This is the only track where I REALLY disagree with Max. (Notice the capital letters: he's not fucking around.) This shit is incredible. DJ Premier constructs a beat with ominous keys and what sounds like a harp loop. His scratched chorus is kind of genius too. Danze comes off the best here. I love his line about “turning a small section of Brooklyn into the OK Corral".

Premier sounds uninspired on here. “Salute” would receive a greatly superior sequel on the next M.O.P. album, but this version is merely adequate.

Jaz-O acquits himself for his boring beat for “Born 2 Kill” with this track. A soulful piano loop gives Danze and Fame a smooth backdrop that they proceed to rip to shreds. The chorus from this track actually comes from a freestyle the group spit for Doo Wop on the classic mixtape '95 Live (which you should track down if you’ve never heard of it). A lot of scratched hooks from future M.O.P. songs come from “World Famous”, and you can see why.

M.O.P. relax for a song to spit over a smooth organ-driven Premier instrumental song. Max already explained the significance of the "’96" part of the title in his review, so I won’t repeat it here. (Thanks for that.) Fame requests to be buried with a cassette copy of To The Death when he dies, which is a bit strange. (I would have chosen a pillow and a shovel, so that I could comfortably rest and, when the time was right, dig myself up and exact my revenge, or possibly pick up a taco, as I would probably be famished.) This song is boring, to be honest; M.O.P. are at their best when they’re energetic. (There are several factions of hip hop fans who would argue that M.O.P. only exists when they're energetic. That line of thinking is both absolutely correct and oddly existential.)

A downbeat, meditative Big Jaz beat serves at the backdrop for Fame and Danze to stage a heist. While their interplay isn’t at the Ghostface/Raekwon level yet, Fame and Danze play off each other nicely. This track is actually decent, the very definition of a deep album cut.

An incredibly long, grating interlude. SKIP!

Dull, dull, dull. The inclusion of female vocals are an interesting choice, but that’s really all that’s notable here. (Good luck finding the "illside" of town on Google Earth.)

Speaking of Rae and Ghost (two tracks ago), this is kind of the M.O.P. version of “Heaven & Hell”. Not as good, certainly, but decent. Considering Danze and Fame both lost their mothers while recording Firing Squad, the lyrics are especially poignant. (Random note: Someone named Ali Dee produced this. I know nothing about him, although a quick Discogs search reveals that he contributed a track to the Epic Movie soundtrack entitled “Lazy Pirate Day”. Yep.) (Wait, a piece of cinematic piffle like Epic Movie actually had a soundtrack?)

An interlude that leads into the next song. I’m not crazy about interludes or skits in general, but this does set the tone for the next track.

A song dealing with death. (And also, "gonth".) Fame and Danze deal with the topic intelligently and admirably. Fame’s beat is the polar opposite of what you would expect M.O.P. to spit over, but it does fit the topic of the song. Side note: Author Brian Coleman wrote a great book called Check The Technique, which covers the stories behind the making of classic hip-hop albums with the artists and producers who made them. In the piece on Firing Squad, Fame mentions how fucked up it is that he mentions his son in a song about death. I have to agree. I never knew there was a video for this track, which you can watch here: it, um, features Danze and Fame as angels. (It can't be any more awkward than the very end of Bone Thugs 'N Harmony's "Tha Crossroads" clip.)

Not terribly different from the original. I don’t really have anything to say about this remix. (The very definition of "album filler", although M.O.P. could have just ended with "Dead & Gone" and called it a day. Huh.)

FINAL THOUGHTS: Firing Squad has basically the same lyrical themes as their debut, To The Death, a theme that would remain consistent for every other M.O.P. album. That said, Danze and Fame show much more chemistry as a duo and play off each other well. The beats have been elevated with the addition of DJ Premier behind the boards and Lil’ Fame showing signs of the talented producer he would go on to become. The album does starts to drag by track 12, where the uniformity of the subject matter starts to blend with the lackluster beats on the second half of the album.

BUY OR BURN? I agree with Max, M.O.P. are an acquired taste. But to quote the slogan of Alexander Keith’s, "Those who like it, like it a lot". For people new to M.O.P., I would point them in the direction of 2003’s Warriorz, which is their most consistent record and also has their two biggest singles, “Ante Up” and “Cold As Ice”. Firing Squad is still worth checking out for the best tracks, which are pretty damn good. (Yes, I realize that he didn't actually recommend a buy or a burn. Use your imagination here.)

BEST TRACKS: "Stick To Ya Gunz"; "World Famous"; "Brownsville”, “New Jack City”

- Jamaican Beef Patty

(Keep the comments coming along, and be sure to read through
my original post on Firing Squad.)


  1. Alright, Jamaican Beef Patty is me.
    I actually thought we had to choose a silly nickname.
    Also, my bad on forgetting to say whether to "buy or burn". You should buy "Warriorz" instead and burn the best tracks I listed.

  2. Warriors came out in 2000 and it's a shame that to date it's their last offical release with everything after it being either a compilation or some small label releasing their scrapped Roc-A-Fella album Ghetto Warfare material in 2006 4 years after it was recorded.

  3. M.O.P have style, but yeah I can't imagine listening to a whole hour of yelling... unless metal is your thing.

  4. I actually like the synthesizer-heavy production of "To The Death" more than the sample-heavy style of this album.

    But M.O.P. would be tremendous even if you had kids banging on pots & pans in the background.

    Actually that's what much of "To The Death" sounds like.

  5. there is nothing silly about a jamaican beef patty, it's fucking delishious

  6. Anon: Too true. The nickname was chosen because I was subsisting on beef patties when I wrote the review during exams.

  7. good for you mang, ever tried them joints with cheese? banging!!!