GREAT ESCAPE: “If I go all the way back to when I lived my life in the middle of the street, something like this was not supposed to happen,” says Danze (left, with Lil’ Fame).
In their decade and a half as thug-rap ambassadors, Brooklyn's Mash Out Posse have made some moves that lesser outfits might have caught shit for. In 2004, Lil' Fame and Billy Danze dropped a rap-rock project with the obscure metal band Shiner Massive and then toured with Linkin Park. Potentially even more questionable: in the past five years M.O.P. signed first with Jay-Z's super-jiggy Roc-A-Fella imprint and then with 50 Cent's super-corny G-Unit. None of that stuff matters, though; at this juncture, given their exalted blacktop status, Fame and Danze could move to Nantucket, join a country club, and vote Republican in pleated chinos without tarnishing their street cred.
Looking back at M.O.P.'s 1993 video for "How About Some Hardcore," by MTV-icon director Hype Williams, you can see that Fame and Danze never were the sort to use prop guns. Their banter may be stuffed with artistic hyperboles, but nary an M.O.P. fan has attended their school without voting them most likely to put cats "in three-piece suits with no shoes." When conservative pols and parent groups get riled over mild gangsters like Snoop Dogg and Young Jeezy, it's only because they don't know about M.O.P.
The M.O.P. story, however, is leagues different from that of hardcore New York artists like Tim Dog and Royal Flush, who are household names only in broken homes, or even Kool G Rap, the godfather of New York's gangsta set. Thanks to the 2000 club-meets-street-banger track "Ante Up," M.O.P. have enjoyed something that few of their contemporaries can boast: a commercial smash that's as beloved of fatigue-clad criminals as it is of spoiled college chicks who think AIDS is for poor people.
"If I go all the way back to when I lived my life in the middle of the street, something like this was not supposed to happen," says Danze over the phone from Brooklyn. "To be a free and healthy man with a career in music was incredible enough, but to have a banger like 'Ante Up' that people from everywhere adore is not something we ever expected. Still, even though we're known for giving fans the kind of real, hardcore hip-hop that doesn't always get out there, I always wanted to have songs like Rakim that get the crowd moving."
"Ante Up" aside, M.O.P. have mostly delivered for fans of grimy, bullet-riddled hood fare, with the likes of To the Death, Warriorz, and Ghetto Warfare. Their beats hit the mark as well; through it all, Fame and Danze have been fortunate to pack a production ally who knows how to satisfy demographics that fiend for aural bloodshed. "The relationship we have with Premo isn't just artist-producer," says Danze of long-time collaborator DJ Premier. "That's family — if you ever get an M.O.P. album without a Premier track, then that's not an M.O.P. album."
Which brings us to the question that rap pedestrians always pose to acts like M.O.P.: if they have the most brutal flows, hip-hop's top beatmaker, and opportunities with labels like G-Unit and Roc-A-Fella, why don't suburban kids have posters of this plutonium-powered machine-gun-rhyme duo pinned above their racecar bed sets?