Veterans to the game, New York’s elite rhyming duo, M.O.P. recently dropped their ninth studio album, Sparta, and first with European production crew, the Snowgoons. Arranged thematically like the film 300, the album features Lil’ Fame and Billy Danze bringing their signature aggressive raps to a soundtrack that can only be described with one word: triumphant.
While on the album’s promo run, M.O.P.’s Billy Danze chopped it up with Raj to discuss amongst other things, the Snowgoons and how Sparta came about, why their music hasn’t changed over the decades, current label dealings, and some allegations from fellow New York rapper, Prodigy.
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TSS: How did you guys link up with The Snowgoons?
Billy Danze: Oh man, the label actually put the call in for us to do the album, but we travel the world so we’ve been hearing about the Snowgoons and we toured with them a few times out on the road but we never worked with them. So, when the label called and asked, we were like “yeah definitely” because we heard their work before and we went in there and put a great album together.
TSS: Their beats aren’t usually used for gangsta or hardcore rap. How did you guys make sure that you maintained your authentic sound over their production?
Billy Danze: That’s easy. All you gotta do is be yourself [Laughs]. That was the easy the part. The hardest part about making this record was choosing the tracks. Now, they are what I believe a production crew should be. A normal producer will have their signature sound but those guys do everything. And that’s what producers should do. They sent us 100 tracks and we had to pick 10. So that was the hardest part of the damn project. But we picked what we believed to be 10 great tracks and we went on there and got down. Did you hear the album yet?
TSS: I did, I had the press copy.
Billy Danze: What’d you think of it?
TSS: I like it. It wasn’t what I was expecting. I haven’t heard of anybody working with the Snowgoons before, and I was expecting a different sound from you guys but you guys kept your core sound, and I really liked that no matter what you’re rapping over, M.O.P. still sounds like M.O.P.
Billy Danze: Thank you brother, we went on there and did what we had to do. That’s our job, and we went in there and did it.
TSS: Did you guys actually record 100 tracks or did you buy 10 beats from them, how did that work?
Billy Danze: They sent 100 tracks for us to go through, and we went through 100 tracks, which was ridiculous. But I’m glad, because most of the tracks was dope anyways. That’s what made it hard, you know?
TSS: So how’d you go about filtering those other ninety out?
Billy Danze: It was a process. It took us about a month to figure out what tracks we was gonna use. Because we’d hear one and be like “yo this is dope” and then we’d here the next one and be like “holy shit, this is even doper than that.”
TSS: What do you want your fans to get out of this album?
Billy Danze: Well I want them to understand that it’s okay to spread your wings. It’s okay to deal with other producers, or maybe a producer you don’t know. Because the Snowgoons are a European production crew that most people haven’t heard of, but those dudes are incredible. I want people to understand that you can actually gavel here and there with different things and still be yourself, especially when it comes to music. I want people to understand that we actually do music the way we do it because no one else is doing it like that. We don’t have anything to prove. We hung out in the street. Y’all know how we handle our life. Y’all know we can rap. We don’t really have anything to prove. We doing our music like this because we know it’s a million people out there that wanna hear an M.O.P. record the way that M.O.P. does it. So we doing it for them and for ourselves as well.
TSS: How would you say Sparta stands out from the rest of your discography?
Billy Danze: You know what, to me it sounds fresh. And I don’t know if that’s because I’ve been into a lot of these new artists, but it just sounds fresh, it sounds brand new to me. It’s a breath of fresh air from what’s happening on most radio stations now or what people are considering to be dope. In my opinion, I haven’t heard a good rapper in a year, maybe it’s because people are following a trend, or following what the last successful artist has done, and not really being they selves.
TSS: Definitely. Speaking of all these new talents, you got people like Drake, Big Sean, and B.o.B popping now. Would you say their sound has made rap soft?
Billy Danze: No. Because where did they get their sound from? Maybe that other person made rap soft. We can’t blame them for doing it the way they do it. You know what, I want to be able to say to Kool Herc that not only did we take what you created up in the Bronx and bring it down to Brooklyn and represented. I want to be able to say we took it to Japan, and we took it worldwide. It shouldn’t sit still, and it shouldn’t be one way. You need all of these kinds of music. You can’t please everybody with one kind of music. So you gotta be able to have it all and I appreciate all y’all out there. Even the ones I don’t believe are good because you need the guys who are not so good, so you’ll be able to tell who’s good.
TSS: Do you think we’ll ever see an M.O.P./Kid Cudi collab or anything like that?
Billy Danze: If the record makes sense. I’ll tell you what. Anybody that we collaborate with, you’re gonna get that artist, and I guarantee you’ll get M.O.P. You’re only gonna get M.O.P. from M.O.P. We not gonna do it no other way.
TSS: I read somewhere you guys still live Brownsville, is that accurate?
Billy Danze: We’re still in the area.
TSS: What was it like growing up in Brownsville for you guys?
Billy Danze: Ridiculous. Basically like growing up around serial killers. I’m dead serious dude. It was like growing up around serial killers. Never knowing if you’re gonna make it home. Never knowing if your friend goes to the store, what’s gonna happen when he turn that corner. You never know what’s gonna happen at any given moment of the day. People wonder why people in neighborhoods like Brownsville and Bed-Stuy and Chicago and Detroit wonder why they do what they do. We do what we do because we have to be focused. And our focus down here is staying safe. Don’t let nobody step on your toes today because then you’ll have to deal with three more people stepping on your toes tomorrow. It’s hard for us to have a vision. We can’t really see past all the turmoil because we don’t have that many success stories. And believe me when I tell you this.
The most gangsterest killer in the hood don’t really wanna be there. He just has no where else to go. In his head, he don’t see no doors, no openings. So if we down here, we gon’ make the best of it. It’s just people’s perceptions. If you live in these neighborhoods you gotta be hard as hell because if you not hard as hell you gon’ get run outta there. And being in these urban communities, where education is so shot to hell and there’s no other success stories, then you feel like there’s no way out, so you gotta try to make make people respect you the best way you can.
TSS: How would you say your mentality has changed since you guys became established artists?
Billy Danze: I don’t think our mentality changed. I think it’s just kind of merged with real grown man thinking. I don’t want to see nobody hurt. But if I gotta hurt somebody, I gotta hurt ‘em. But with that same thought in my head, I’m still thinking, “I really don’t wanna get into this with this dude,” only because I want to do something fly. And what I mean by fly is being able to come home to your kids. That’s the flyest shit a gangster can do. Or anybody can do. Make it home to your kids. I don’t wanna have to hurt nobody but if I get into a situation like that, I’m not gonna let nobody hurt me. I got a lot of people that depend on me so I’m gonna make it home if I gotta go through a wall. I’m going home no matter.
TSS: I’ve seen you guys live a couple times, first at Rock the Bells a couple years back and then most recently at A3C this year. What’d you think about the festival?
Billy Danze: I had a great time man. We got down there and did what we had to do. Got a chance to mingle with the people a little bit. I wish I was there for a few more days, because I got off the plane, went to my room , freshened up, and came right to the show. But it seemed like it was something great, there was artists there from every area of America, from different cities. I thought that was dope because usually Hip-Hop is very territorial. If you got a show in the South, you only get South artists. If you got a show in the East, you only get East artists. Up North, and in California, it’s the same thing. It’s dope that they were able to mix it up like that, and people got to see some of they favorite artists. It was a good situation, I liked it man. Ras Kass was out there, Saigon was there; big shout out to Saigon, he’s a good artist right there. He’s definitely a spark.
TSS: Did you get any good connections out of that? Any collaborations you can see happening?
Billy Danze: You know I always see collabs with most of the artists that I bump heads with. Even the artists that people don’t really see M.O.P. working with. Like I can see some way to do work, whether it’s just doing a hook, or us doing tracks for them, or them doing something for us. Doesn’t make a difference. People like music that’s different. They don’t want to hear the same shit all the time. The only reason why it feels that way is cus they have nothing else to listen to.
TSS: Definitely, I’d say the Snowgoons collab is an example of that.
Billy Danze: I’m very proud of this album brother. I hope that the fans out there take it in as well as we dished it out.
TSS: What’s your label situation looking like right now?
Billy Danze: We don’t really need a label. We’re M.O.P! Of course I’m stroking myself right now [laughs]. We actually been almost everywhere in the world and sometimes we play for a thousand people, sometimes we play for five hundred, sometimes we play for two hundred, sometimes we play for twenty thousand. We’ve actually played for eighty thousand people at one time. And there are all at different locations in the world. So I don’t really think we need a label to get us where we need to be and get out music out there. All we gotta do is make our music and let it out. People appreciate our music. They know we’re not cocky dudes, we’re not rappers, we’re just artists that know how to do it and we’re doper than most rappers are anyways. And I think people like that. People like that we’ll come onto the stage and kick it with them and just hang out. It’s not about acting like we’re better than other people and people like that. You don’t really need a label, you can just put the record out and maybe that’ll be our next move.
TSS: Especially in this climate, now is the best time to make a move like that. Speaking of labels though, are you guys still in touch with 50 Cent and the whole G-Unit camp?
Billy Danze: Nah, we don’t talk to ‘em much, but we don’t got any issues with them. I noticed that the media tried to make out a problem at one point, like M.O.P. must have a problem with G-Unit. We’re grown men. We understand that something wasn’t working, so we tried to move on. But we do appreciate 50 extending his hand and trying to help us further our career. With the exception of the first record deal that we had on Select Records, every label that signed us was more of a fan than anything else. They signed the group because they, like a lot of M.O.P. fans felt that we didn’t get our proper due. That’s what Steve Rifkind did over at Loud and 50 Cent at G-Unit, and same thing with Jay-Z and my good friend Damon Dash over at Roc-A-Fella. So we always take our hat off to those dudes and we appreciate them.
TSS: One more question that I had, I was reading Prodigy’s book and I don’t know if you read it or not, but there’s a part where he describes a meeting that 50 Cent held with the entire G-Unit roster. And in that meeting, according to Prodigy, 50 was supposedly calling out everyone for not wearing and representing the G-Unit clothing line and he was saying how he’s paying artists royalty checks for the endorsement deal, but nobody’s wearing it. And he’s basically chewing people out, specifically Lloyd Banks and Young Buck and apparently Banks walked out the meeting. Were you guys there for that?
Billy Danze: I was actually on the phone for that. I mean the man is 100% right. This is business, man. We cool, but if I’m cutting you a check to promote something, you should be promoting it. But then again, let me just say this too. All I seen was the G-Unit artists wearing G-Unit clothes, so I don’t know where that came about. That part of the conversation actually went over my head too. I don’t even remember it really clear but now that you mention it, it’s starting to come back to me. But thinking about it, 50 was 100% right and I don’t think Banks walked out the room because of that. I think Banks may have walked out the room ’cause of something else because that’s no reason for him to get upset. Like I said, I saw everybody wearing it, and they all family over there, so it was a matter of hammering the situation out and I’m sure it all worked. I mean, they still all good, they still all together so I think it was maybe just frustration at the time.
TSS: Hm, yeah I can see that. There’s always three sides to the story right? His side, her side, and the truth.
Billy Danze: Yeah, there you go. At least three sides [Laughs]