Perception isn’t always reality. People hear songs like “Ante Up” and assume M.O.P. are the type of dudes that will smack the piss out of you just for living. But that aggression is more of a civic duty to represent parts of society that have been forgotten. At worst, it’s a firsthand recounting of things that have already happened or even hypothetical situations.
In person, Billy Danze and Lil Fame are mostly laughs and jokes. And why shouldn’t they be? They’re closing in on two decades in Hip Hop, and they can still hold enough sway to have both hard rocks that look just like them and beautiful women in miniskirts yelling “Get up off them goddamn diamonds!” at a live show. On top of that, November 22 will find them dropping the collaborative album, Sparta, with the Snowgoons. As expected, it’s full of that controlled aggression that comes from firsthand retellings of all things Brownsville. But don’t worry. As long as you’re not out trying to bootleg it, you won’t have to worry about “Ante Up” becoming autobiographical.
The Warrior Mentality
HipHopDX: Your upcoming album is named Sparta, but you’ve also had albums named Warriorz and To The Death. What’s with the gladiator complex?
Lil Fame: That’s Brownsville shit.
Billy Danze: We’re still fighting. I mean, we alright…we’ve got fans around the world, and we travel around the world. We make money and take care of our families, but we’re still fighting. We’re not fighting for position because we have that, but we’re still kind of fighting to get respect—which we don’t really give a fuck about [laughs]. We normally take ours, but we’re still fighting. So that’s what the whole Sparta thing is about. It’s us against the world.
DX: In line with that, and this theme of being a warrior, how would you define the term warrior?
Lil Fame: A nigga that’s been through some shit. A nigga that’s down to fight one against ten, get his ass whipped and all kinds of shit and he’s still going.
Billy Danze: That’s a warrior. In my opinion, a warrior is a cat with all the odds against him and he knows he really can’t win. But he’ll still try. It’s like the deck was stacked against us, but we’re still in it and we’re still going. We can’t stop. We’re from Brownsville, Brooklyn and we have no business in Atlanta. We have no business in the South of France, or Japan due to what they say. It’s like we got dropped in one spot. They gave us some guns and shit, showed us how to hustle and was like, “Fuck it. Y’all go ahead and do that. That’s all y’all niggas are worth.” But we’re warriors, so we made it out of that.
Working With Snowgoons On Sparta
DX: I’m required to ask you specifically about Sparta as many times as possible in this interview.
Billy Danze: Don’t let me stop you.
DX: How did you guys get connected with the Snowgoons?
Billy Danze: It came about weird. The dude that’s the head of BabyGrande, Chuck Wilson, is a nice man. It was a pleasure doing business with him. He hollered at me, and was like, “I want to see if you guys can do some joints with Snowgoons and try to put a project together.” Once we agreed, this dude sent me like 175 beats. They got fire, dog! When you hear this album, it’s dope as a motherfucker…the tracks are ridiculous. And I’m not just saying that because it’s our project. I haven’t heard beats like that in a while.
DX: What made their tracks stand out from the stuff people usually send you guys?
Billy Danze: They’re theatrical, and they’re club joints. A producer should be able to do everything. A lot of producers got fucked up with that “I want to have a signature sound” mentality. You’re a producer. If you only have that signature sound, you can only produce a certain kind of record. These dudes did everything. And it was a pleasure putting the whole record together. Exactly 44 days from now, we drop what is equivalent to the fucking atom bomb—Sparta.
DX: That’s a bold claim…
Lil Fame: That’s tough talk, right? You better be able to back that shit up. We ain’t bullshittin’, and we’ve got a bunch of music too.
DX: People know M.O.P. for their energy. When someone e-mails you tracks as opposed to physically being in the studio together, how do you maintain that energy and chemistry?
Billy Danze: If we were new artists and weren’t set in our groove, it would be a problem. I’m not gonna make any obstacles for myself, and I’m not gonna let nobody else make obstacles for me. This shit is easy as pie. Send me the track, and if we’re feeling it, we’ll burn that shit up and send it right back to you. It’s no problem; we’ve been doing this shit for years. It should be easy, because if it’s not that means we’re not all the way in.
DX: Along those lines, how do you feel about your earlier works like To The Death being re-issued and possibly exposed to a new generation?
Billy Danze: Maybe there’s a few people that missed something incredible. It’s like a good Martin Luther King Jr. speech, brother. Everybody should hear that—black, white, asian…everybody. What we do is basically ghetto gospel anyway. So we want to make sure everybody gets the good word and the spirit we bring.
DX: The first church of Brownsville…
Billy Danze and Lil Fame: Hallelujah! Amen, Jesus!
DX: With some new artists—regardless of where they’re from—you can hear a bit of the M.O.P. influence. Are you down to…
Billy Danze: We fuck with anybody that’s dope, and we don’t discriminate. We was fortunate enough to come up in an era where every rapper was dope. Everybody had their own shit. The problem with music right now is that you can go to a club for six hours and do the same fuckin’ dance. There’s something wrong with that. The music sounds the same, the tempo is the same and the flow is the same. That’s not music. That’s just an industry. We should be bringing all kinds of music not just this one-way shit. How can you enjoy that? You want to hear four different dudes, you go buy one dude’s album. I don’t understand that. You lost me with that one Mr. Rapper. Maybe you should just call it “artist,” because everyone’s trying to sound like the same person.
The Importance Of Gangstarr
DX: As far as collaborations go, you guys have put in a lot of work with DJ Premier. I want to backtrack for a second, because he’s been quoted as saying “Face Off 2K” is one of his most personal records. What inspired that?
Billy Danze: I wrote that record in the dark. And it wasn’t because I wanted to be in the dark, it was because my motherfuckin’ lights were cut off [laughs]. I was just feeling a way when I wrote the record, and when you listen to it, you see that I stop and start over a couple times. I loved the track so much, and I was going through so much, that I just wrote two verses. I wrote one, and I was like “I don’t love it. I don’t know if that’s hot. Let me try it again.” So I wrote another one. Preme came to the crib to pick me up, and we got in the truck…I don’t know where the hell we were going; we were just driving. And I started spitting the verses and asking him which one he liked better. He said, “Both of them shits is hot, so let’s figure out a way to tie ‘em in.”
DX: You guys stopped in the middle of your set tonight and made the crowd give it up for Guru and DJ Premier. How important is Gang Starr to you professionally and personally?
Billy Danze: Ridiculously important, man.
Lil Fame: To me, Premier is my brother. I grew up on Premier since I was a baby. That was one of my favorite dudes that I used to look up to music-wise. And Guru is just a fuckin’ beast on everything. Although he’s from Boston, we he moved to Brooklyn, that’s what we had. We had [Big Daddy] Kane and we had Gang Starr.
Billy Danze: You can search from as far back as you can remember up until this very moment and you’ll never find anybody like Guru. Nobody. His recording process was so crazy, because he would go in there and spit the rhyme one way. Then he would come out and talk to Premier, go in again and spit the rhyme another way. So by the time he spit it four or five times, that was the complete shit. And he was fucking amazing. His voice was amazing.
And Premier…the passion that this dude has. Let me tell you something: can’t nobody change Premier for nothing in the world. Premier was the last dude on the planet to get Pro Tools. He ain’t following nobody’s lead. It was like, “I like this big ass, heavy table!” I love him for that, and he always keeps it 100% real with us. Premier is the only producer I ever worked with that stopped me and was like, “That line wasn’t dope. You gotta do that again, dude.” Strangely, him and Puffy were the only ones.
Billy Danze: Yeah. Puffy said, “That ain’t no M.O.P. record. Where that shit at?” He’s a good man. I respect his hustle and everything that he’s done. We did a record for the Bad Boys II soundtrack, which he was handling. He heard the record, and he liked it enough to put it on the soundtrack. So when we went over to talk to him, and he was like, “Yo this shit is crazy. The beat and the lyrics are dope, but where that shit at?”
DX: What about the perception of M.O.P.? A song like “Ante Up” makes it seem like you guys will stomp someone out for looking at you the wrong way.
Billy Danze: We get that all the fuckin’ time, like, “Oh my God. Y’all got so much energy!” And it’s always the big girls who say that too. Bitch, you can have some of this energy if you get your big ass on Slim Fast. That was a whole lotta bitch.
Lil Fame: We get that a lot. But we’re good niggas until you fuck up. That’s how we roll.
Billy Danze: What gets me—and I love when it happens—is when somebody goes, “I didn’t wanna say anything to you. I didn’t know how y’all were gonna react.” Imagine a very nice looking woman saying she saw you about seven years ago but didn’t want to say anything because she thought you would slap the shit out of her. At one point, people actually thought we were animals. People had this image like we couldn’t even speak; we just start screaming and shit like fucking cavemen.
When people actually sit down and talk to us, they realize, “Hey, them dudes are alright.” We’re just regular dudes. Well, we’re not regular. We’re something special. When we talk about what’s on a record, we’re not doing that record right then. It’s not like I’m backing my gun out and trying to shoot a nigga while I’m in the studio. It’s past experience or my thought of the day because I’m pissed off that this motherfucker owe me some money.
You know how it is. A motherfucker might owe you some money, then you call and get, “The number you have reached is no longer in service.” Now I’m wanting to smooth that nigga the fuck out. He knows I need that bread, and I’m such a kindhearted dude that people don’t know. I’m the type of person where, if you need something from me, I’ll find a way to get it even if I don’t have it. I treat people the way I want them to treat me. Music is music. But I have a passion to represent that part of society that niggas always try to forget about. I gotta always do that, because that’s where I come from. I’ll never forget that.
DX: I thought it was great how you guys have been interacting with fans before and after your show here. There was a time when events like A3C were commonplace. You had “How Can I Be Down,” “Jack The Rapper...”
Lil Fame: That was the good old days, right? Now you just go to the fucking Internet and press a button. You can’t just be virtual though…be human, motherfucker.
DX: How important is that face to face interaction?
Billy Danze: This is with all disrespect intended. A lot of these artists don’t make me want to rap. I don’t even want other rappers in the studio or around me. The only other rapper I’m comfortable rapping around is Fame. I just don’t want motherfuckers around me. Besides being judgmental and rewriting your lyrics while you’re doing the shit, they don’t give me the passion to go. It’s like, “Where’s the passion at?” I’ma tell you where the passion’s at…November 22. Sparta!