M.O.P. / MOP
"You got all types of hip-hop but we represent street music," 23-year-old Fame (a/k/a "Fizzy Womack") explains. "That's all we know, so that's the kind of music that we make. The fashion hip-hop's taken over things for the past couple of years so we gotta even it out. After you get tired of listening to that, you're gonna wanna hear the rawness."
"You got everybody else goin' platinum and gettin' all this attention," adds Billy (a/k/a "William Berkowitz"), age 24. "But we got the real hip-hop here. We got what people really need to hear--the straight-up ghetto music."
As on M.O.P.'s last album, Firing Squad, much of First Family 4 Life's production is supervised by the group's longtime champion, DJ Premier of Gang Starr.
Thus, consummate, straight-up ghetto music is what the LP delivers in abundance from its adrenaline-inducing outset: "Most dudes don't like the way I rep/The brown-skinned cat with the helluva fast step/Berkowitz/Retreat!/I will never be disconnected from these streets," Billy spits on First Family's Premier-produced opening salvo, "Breakin' The Rules." But while Fame and Billy's high-octane exchanges prove to be as sharp as ever over snapping snares and truncated whistles, the track's added bonus is Preem's chorus, which neatly sums up the group's musical philosophy: "We make ghetto music/Rock that/When it drops if it's proper/Cop that!/Cuz some cats be fakin' the moves/In other words, breakin' the rules/Stop that!"
Fame and Billy easily match the intensity of this opening onslaught on fist-pumping joints like "Real Nigga Hillfiggaz" and "Downtown Swinga '98," the third in their trilogy of Brooklyn-pride anthems. However, it's a slew of additional dynamic guest appearances that abet them in fully bringing the rukus. "Down For Whateva" finds the pair receiving strong lyrical assistance from Bushwick neighbor O.C. over Preem's jagged rhythm guitar stabs. "My Kinda Nigga II" reunites them with Jersey posse princess Heather B. within Da Beatminerz' ominous soundscape of bass and drum minimalism. "I Luv" is "My Favorite Things" gone ghetto, with a passionate performance by rap O.G. Freddie Foxxx. Both "Salute II" and "BKLN-JRSY" find Gang Starr and Naughty By Nature's Treach effortlessly meshing their own distinctive styles with those of the Brownsville gutter rats.
Continuing the guitar experimentation that began with their first LP, To The Death's "Rugged Neva Smooth," and last year's Handle Ur Business EP, the explosive Laze E Laze-produced first single, "4 Alarm Blaze," enlists a loop from Survivor's Rocky III theme, "Eye Of The Tiger."
With propulsive cameos from Teflon and BK rap kingpin Jay-Z, "4 Alarm Blaze" stands to be yet another M.O.P. classic for the ages.
"We always seen Jay around since he was down with that group Original Flavor," Fame recalls. "He was there in the studio when we was doin' that song and was like, 'I wanna get on that joint.' It was dope that he came through like that."
First Family's less incendiary moments focus on the struggles and hardships the duo have endured over the past few years--in particular, the deaths of close friends and family members. Though still decidedly gritty, the majestic "Blood, Sweat, Tears" is carried by an uplifting chorale of voices chanting the title refrain. Meanwhile, "What The Future Holds" unforgettable sped-up vocal loop provides a poignant backdrop for some introspective thoughts, this one from Fame: "I lost a lot of loved ones to these streets/And lost a lot of loved ones over beef/That goes to show/These streets haunt ya/Look what society created now--a monster."
"In between our first two albums, To The Death and Firing Squad, a lot of turns happened in our lives," Billy reflects. "And that's where those songs come in. We don't want everybody to think that we're just rowdy dudes. We gettin' older and we're maturing."
If the album's title reflects the strength of the bond between Fame and Billy (lifelong friends who began rhyming together in their public school days) as well as the rest of their M.O.P. clique, it can just as easily apply to their devoted fanbase--a constituency who have undyingly supported the pair since their now-classic debut single, "How About Some Hardcore?," rang heads in '93. Lyrics like Billy's from the tenacious two-part solo joust, "Face Off/Ghetto People," reflect the group's status as defiant street soldiers unjustly neglected by the mainstream: "96 percent of this world don't know I exist/That's why my point is gettin' missed."
"My family always been the underdogs in everything," Billy explains. "We always did what we did correctly but we were outcasts. We still down here in the street. This is where we from so we ain't goin' nowhere. And we always let people know that we're from here and we'll never forget it."
"Nowadays people consider underground to be whatever's not mainstream," states Fame. "But back in like '86, '87, '88, street music was mainstream and it was still raw. People was doing what they felt and not just making music to play on a certain station or for politics. That's why we gotta do our shit right."
A triumph of real hip-hop over short-lived trends, First Family 4 Life demonstrates that M.O.P. are as devoted to their music as ever. This family's time is now.