Billy Danze and Lil Fame relaxing in their yoga studio
“You know it get crazy at a M.O.P. show,” said Laze E. Laze, M.O.P.’s manager, from the stage at SOB’s last night. “But it might not get crazy because the promoters ain’t give us no money.” M.O.P. just can’t seem to catch a break. They’re one of the most universally respected groups in rap, but they haven’t released a proper album in six years. Rappers love them, and they’ve made a few of the biggest fuck-shit-up anthems in rap history, but they weren’t selling even when they were releasing albums, bouncing around from label to label and never quite finding a comfortable home. It looked like things would turn around for them when Jay-Z signed them to Roc-A-Fella in 2002, but the label kept them on the shelf while it disintegrated. Last year, 50 Cent signed them to G-Unit, which looked like a weird fit, but at least it meant someone with power was still willing to take a chance on them and maybe finally release and album. But so far they’ve just been sitting on the shelf again, turning up for video cameos and nothing else; at least Mobb Deep got a chance to brick.
At this point, they must be getting used to getting fucked. So when the promoter supposedly didn’t pay them last night, they didn’t skip out. Instead, they basically took over the club and let all their friends get up onstage and do whatever. Early in the night (early meaning 11 p.m.), the people who were actually supposed to be hosting the evening were bringing a neverending succession of deeply boring end-of-mixtape rappers to the stage, letting them all rap clumsily over their own CD singles and plug their MySpace pages. And so we got some guy named Personal Foul from Worchester telling us how he feels about the game and some guy from Harlem whose name I didn’t catch saying “I live my live like a movie and this is the soundtrack.” All the while, about twenty people walked around the audience with cameras filming bootleg DVDs while a few other people tried to sell their CDs to random people in the audience like it was the sidewalk outside the Virgin Megastore. Few things are duller and more depressing than watching hordes of aspiring rappers trying to network. A sad side-effect of 50 Cent’s ubiquity is that we now have an entire generation of rappers who think that the only thing matters is how hard you are, so they come out huffing and shouting and telling everyone what a pussy you are without any regard for hooks or flow or charisma. In a way, these guys prove that the system works; if they had any swagger or originality, they might not be cluttering up the bill at some haphazardly thrown-together rap show. At least at backpack-rap shows, people are rapping about how their dads beat them up or whatever. The big open secret is that not even M.O.P., the hardest group in rap, gets over just on being hard. At their best, they radiate a powerful, unforced enthusiasm, and their immortal songs actually have good beats and hooks.
Things got more backpacky an hour or so into the show, when one guy from Channel Live got up and started rapping about George Bush and how rap is being misrepresented, but even he was rapping over his own recorded vocals and forgetting lyrics. So the night was pretty painful before Laze E. Laze arbitrarily decided to get onstage and take over for the host. Laze was funny and gregarious and drunk as hell, and the night got a whole lot more entertaining after he got onstage even though the people he brought up weren’t any better than the ones that’d come up before. At one point, he brought a guy up to talk about his grassroots movement to make sure rappers get paid. The guy mentioned major labels, and Billy Danze took the opportunity to bum-rush the stage and interrupt him: “No disrespect, but fuck all them crackers that’s been raping us for this money!” And then Laze started pouring shots of Hennessey into plastic cups and passing them out into the audience. He introduced M.O.P.’s tour-van driver: “Nigga drove across the country in a van so he could rap!” The guy went onstage and was terrible, so Laze kept going: “How many of y’all think he should be a driver, and how many think he should be a rapper?” Laze also introduced two R&B singers, one OK and one god-awful. In an unexpectedly fraught moment, Laze tried to get a girl to take off her shirt. She wouldn’t, and then she sang a butt-ass horrible mutant-dancehall song, and Laze told the crowd to boo her off the stage like an asshole. All this kept going for quite a while. The club was less than half-full, and probably a third of the crowd ended up getting onstage at some point.
The weird thing is that M.O.P. could’ve still come to the stage and done a great show if they’d felt like it. They’ve got bangers for days, and they seem to thrive in chaotic circumstances; I remember a show in Baltimore where the stage was crammed with hangers-on and the rap-metal band they’d decided to record with, and they still put on a show I’ll always remember. But last night, it wasn’t to be. Things finally came to an end when Laze brought DJ Premier to the stage. (He also mentioned that Star was there, but I didn’t see him.) Premier (or someone else) threw on the “Ante Up” instrumental, and all of a sudden the air inside the club changed and everyone who was still there bugged the fuck out. There were a couple of false starts; it seemed like Lil Fame wasn’t sure he wanted to do the song. But then they did it, and everyone freaked out even though there were like twenty-five people onstage and the sound was cutting out. It’s a good illustration of the way one absolutely perfect song can save a night. After “Ante Up,” everyone left the stage and went back to the bar. And when I left, I wasn’t even mad. I got to see M.O.P. do “Ante Up,” and that’s worth sitting through a couple of hours of no-name rappers.
Voice review: Oliver Wang on M.O.P.’s Mash Out Posse