April 8, 2010
M.O.P. - Warriorz (August 29, 2000)
In the year 2000, rappers-slash-shout artists Billy Danze and Lil' Fame found their Mash Out Posse act shifted over to Loud Records, home of Mobb Deep, the Wu-Tang Clan, and, um, Megadeth (a perfect fit?), to release their fourth full-length project, Warriorz, to the masses. And I do mean "to the masses": Warriorz contains a couple of the most mainstream singles that M.O.P. has ever released, although to their credit, neither man diluted their product to sell out to the radio airwaves. (That would come later, when they inexplicably recorded a song with frat losers L.F.O.)
At this point, Billy and Fizzy Womack had their formula down pat: violent street tales punctuated with threats and dark humor over musical backdrops that, more often than not, played in complete contrast to what both men were actually saying. Fame elected to take on a bulk of the production duties while erstwhile friend of the crew DJ Premier took on another large chunk; the rest of the Warriorz project was delegated to other folks, including DR Period, who handled the Posse's most well-known track up to this point, their breakthrough "How About Some Hardcore".
Warriorz remains M.O.P.'s biggest selling album to this day, selling tons of copies across the globe to fans who had absolutely no clue what M.O.P. music actually sounded like, save for their corny "Cold As Ice", which I'll get to in a moment. Unfortunately, the Mash Out Posse was unable to capitalize on their success: two years later, Loud Records would fold up like a card table, leaving the two motivational speakers bouncing between label homes, aligning themselves with Damon Dash and Curtis Jackson's G-Unit until finally releasing an official follow-up in 2009.
It's a rap album intro, folks. What exactly were you expecting?
2. WELCOME 2 BROWNSVILLE (FEAT TEFLON)
I found it strange that the first verse on Warriorz comes from neither Lil' Fame nor Billy Danze; instead, Teflon (spelled as Tephlon on this album for no real reason, aside from the need for avoiding possible legal ramifications), a longtime Mash Out affiliate, kicks off the festivities. Four full-length albums into their career, M.O.P. decided that now would be the most appropriate time to introduce listeners to their stomping grounds that they shout out all the fucking time, and the less-than-threatening Fizzy Womack instrumental and the unfocused lyrics from all three participants do nothing to take Brownsville off of your travel itinerary, save for the fact that the place sounds really fucking boring.
3. EVERYDAY (FEAT THE PRODUCT G&B)
The Product G&B, protégées of Wyclef Jean who are currently out of work, peddling their “ghetto 'n blues” by busking in front of the Whole Foods, provide vocals and inadvertently set the entire tone for this low-key DJ Premier production, which sounds more like Erick Sermon than one-half of Gang Starr. I don't know about you, but I've always felt that including R&B singers in the M.O.P. mix has always been unnecessary, and more than a bot unnerving, especially since neither Billy nor Fame water their lyrics down for whatever audience The Product G&B may have attracted after their appearance on Carlos Santana's “Maria Maria”. I couldn't get into this strange amalgamation of “music” at all.
4. ANTE UP (ROBBIN HOODZ THEORY) (FEAT FUNKMASTER FLEX)
Funkmaster Flex's introduction on this track nearly ruins it for me, as his mere presence draws even more attention to this song as an event and not a musical composition. Once he shuts the fuck up, however, Billy Danze and Lil' Fizzy proceed to beat the stuffing out of the hardest DR Period production I've heard this side of Smoothe Da Hustler, and they get you amped enough to plan your very own petty misdemeanors. This shit rocks. Thanks to some clever video editing, I can't listen to this track without thinking of Bert and Ernie on Sesame Street, but that somehow makes this song even better in my mind. (Side note: the (understandable) popularity of this track led to the inevitable remix, featuring Busta Rhymes, Teflon, and Remy Martin (the hell?) spitting alongside Fizzy and Billy over the same beat. The remix isn't as bad as it is unnecessary, since the original is pretty fucking brilliant.)
5. FACE OFF
There aren't many ways that the Mash Out Posse could have followed up the high energy and random violent acts prevalent on “Ante Up”, but this was definitely one of the weirder ways to do so. Billy Danze spits some awkward bars over a weak-as-shit Primo beat, one that practically dares the listener to hit the 'skip' button. If you manage to stick with the track, the beat switches to something much more entertaining for Fizzy Womack to work with, turning “Face Off” into something to simply ignore, as opposed to a song that you absolutely hate.
Fame's first few bars (when he pops up during the second verse) are fucking hilarious, but otherwise, this title track gives the illusion of a high energy level: it's almost impossible for either of these guys to rhyme in a relaxed fashion. Have they never heard of weed? Anyway, Mahogany's beat fails this duo, who try to salvage the ship but decide instead to search for buried treasure, leaving the wreckage to fend for itself against the elements.
My understanding is that this track, which sounds too bluesy for its own good, was the actual first single from Warriorz, although “Ante Up” received all of the attention. Rightfully so, by the way, as that is the better song. But “G-Building” is good in its own way, as it features a standout performanceclearly from Fizzy Womack over a duo-produced beat that barely works for the Mash Out Posse, and I somehow mean that as a compliment. Billy Danze said nothing that I could remember ten seconds after the song faded out, but this still wasn't bad.
8. OLD TIMERZ
Ostensibly, this is supposed to be a track for the demographic named in the title, dedicated to the O.G.s that worked with what they had in a far simpler time, back when one had to walk ten miles in the snow, backward, with shoes on their hands, to school, and when “bubblegum soul was legit”. However, I can't help but notice the hesitation in the voices of both Fame and Billy, almost as if they spent the time in the booth discussing their own mortality and realizing that, in the hip hop world, M.O.P. are the “Old Timerz” of the title. They are veterans at this point. So they wrote a song about themselves for themselves. For what it's worth, though, this wasn't bad.
9. ON THE FRONT LINE
Even though producer DJ Premier plays the old bait-and-switch on the beat, the contrast between dramatic tension and adrenaline rush on here is pretty fucking masterful. Songs such as this one are the reason why hip hop heads (myself included) continue to lobby for an entire M.O.P. album handled by Primo. The hurried pace even helps the track clock in at a smidge over three minutes, making “On The Front Line” one of the shorter offerings on Warriorz. This was really fucking good all around.
The title is both nonsensical and annoying: nonsensical because it doesn't have much to do with the lyrical content of the track (in theory, all of M.O.P.'s songs involve a negotiation of some sort, so it isn't as if Billy and Fame spend the full duration of the track taking hostages or anything), and annoying because it's trying to be clever, and it fails. Regardless, I just used up far too many words to describe a song that was boring as hell, so that's that.
11. FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS
This DJ Premier-laced gem is a good one, and not just because this is the most energetic Primo beat on Warriorz. Fame and Billy marry the instrumental as if they were all meant to be together and bigamy wasn't frowned upon. This shit fucking soars, even if the hook sucks balls (on their best days, the Mash Out Posse can turn a chorus into something special, but I suppose the moon was in Jupiter on the night this was recorded or some shit). The interlude tacked on at the end is useless, though.
12. CALM DOWN
The drum loop on this Fizzy-produced track does nothing to facilitate the calming down of fucking anybody (again, have M.O.P. never heard of weed?), but the vocal sample floating throughout does a much better job. Unfortunately, it is impossible for these two to relax even a little bit, let alone calm down, and when you hear these two command the listener to follow the titular instructions, you can't help but smile at the absurdity of it all while you contemplate skipping to the next track.
Longtime contributor Laze E Laze's beat is appropriately bombastic, a trait that the Mash Out Posse tend to excel at, given the right situations. This track might have scored a few more points had Fame and Billy saw fit to include some of their friends for the celebration, but this track was still okay regardless. Lyrically, this is nothing new (threat plus second threat plus a proclamation of dominance, multiplied by the word “motherfucker”, with a reference to Brownsville thrown in for good measure, equals your very own M.O.P. verse!), but it is recited well enough.
14. HOME SWEET HOME (FEAT LORD HAVE MERCY)
Other than the Primo-produced tracks, this was the song I looked forward to the most when I picked up Warriorz: aside from Busta Rhymes, Lord Have Mercy is the only (former) member of the Flipmode Squad that seemed as though he could hold his own alongside M.O.P. Thankfully, I was right: even with a weak-ass performance on the hook, Lord Have Mercy delivers a great verse over this Nottz heater, and Fame and Billy even seem to step up their own lyrical game in honor of their invited guest. This was actually really fucking good.
15. BACKGROUND N----Z
Fizzy Womack provides the second lyrical reference to diarrhea within the span of three tracks, which is two too many. DR Period's beat has a dramatic flair that is almost completely ignored by Fame and Billy in favor of a more traditional M.O.P. shoutfest. The hook is weak, and the song isn't very memorable, but while you're actually listening to this shit, it is far from objectionable. It just is.
16. COLD AS ICE
Fizzy's wholesale jacking of Foreigner's “Cold As Ice”, which I have written about before, was a pretty huge hit for M.O.P. (relatively speaking) overseas. To their credit, it isn't as if they cleaned up their act for radio airplay (my favorite line comes from Fame: “N----z thought M.O.P. stood for mop and shit”). But the hook is distracting: even if you manage to get into the verses, the chorus will make non-M.O.P. fans burst into uncontrollable laughter, making “Cold As Ice” not necessarily the song you would play for a friend you're trying to convert.
17. OPERATION LOCKDOWN
I'm not ashamed to say that I was secretly hoping for a cover of the Heltah Skeltah joint, with Billy playing Da Rockness Monsta while Fizzy channeled Sean Price. However, what I ended up listening to was this boring filler track. There is truly nothing to see here, folks: move it along.
18. ROLL CALL
If you don't count the first half of “Face Off” (which truly blew), “Roll Call” contains the absolute worst DJ Premier production effort on Warriorz, as Primo is driving on cruise control, paying more attention to selecting the perfect vocal samples to chop up than actually crafting a beat with any degree of engagement. The Mash Out Posse gives it the old college try, but they don't come close to graduating. Hell, they don't even manage to make it to the first day of class.
This isn't a rap album outro, but it may as well be. Curt Cazal's lazy production work, coupled with a wordy hook that comes across as random as hell, bring Warriorz to a close with a relatively shitty ending.
FINAL THOUGHTS: M.O.P.'s Warriorz is, oddly, their most accessible album, thanks to the bombastic sounds of “Ante Up” (which is matched in the Mash Out Posse's back catalog only by their first hit, “How About Some Hardcore”) and, for the hip hop heads, “On The Front Line” and “Follow Instructions”. The problem with the album is a familiar one: the rest of the disc isn't on the same level, wavelength, or fucking planet. Lil' Fame and Billy Danze have yet to master the art of crafting a consistent album, instead putting most of their effort into a handful of tracks and running on automatic pilot for the remainder. Warriorz contains some of the best songs in M.O.P.'s long career, but it still manages to disappoint. Surprisingly, Warriorz is also the M.O.P. album that theorizes that an all-Primo produced M.O.P. album may be a terrible idea, as only two of his five contributions click. On the plus side, kudos to Fame and Billy for resurrecting Lord Have Mercy, although he never seemed to further capitalize on his winning cameo.
BUY OR BURN? This is M.O.P.'s most accessible album, sure, but it's still only worth a burn, as only approximately one-quarter of the disc is enjoyable in any way. You'd be better off tracking down the songs listed below and creating your own Mash Out playlist.
BEST TRACKS: “Ante Up”; “On The Front Line”; “Home Sweet Home”; “Follow Instructions”
More Mash Out write-ups can be found by clicking here.