I already gave you the background shpeel on M.O.P. in my review of the duo's fourth album, Warriorz, so I'll save you (and myself) the trouble of introducing you to the hardcore entity of Billy Danze and Lil' Fame that is Mash Out Posse and just talk about To The Death, M.O.P.'s debut album.
To The Death contributed to the massive onslaught of critically acclaimed hip-hop records released in 1994 that led many to dub '94 the best year in rap history. Produced almost exclusively by DR Period (one track was produced by Silver D), M.O.P.'s first record immediately helped the duo establish itself a niche in the rap game, that niche being of the tough-as-nails, don't-give-a-damn variety.
To The Death is relatively short, spanning only 10 full tracks (there is an intro and there are four skits), and that is certainly a good thing for a group like M.O.P., because Billy Danze and Lil' Fame's rough style can become tiresome after a while.
Given the fact that M.O.P. was not well-known at the time of its release, To The Death is hardly ever mentioned. Does that mean it is an overlooked classic?
Let's find out.
1. Crimetime 1-718
The album intro, and I only chose to include this in the review because DR Period's beat bangs.
2. Rugged Neva Smoove
This cut is pretty damn good. The title essentially describes M.O.P. in a nutshell, as, let's face it; Billy Danze and Lil' Fame are rugged and never smooth. DR Period's instrumental crawls, but in a good way, as it suits the duo perfectly. The only complaint I might have with "Rugged Neva Smoove" is that it does run a bit too long for its own good, as the track clocks in at just over five minutes. Other than that, I have no qualms about the first real song on To The Death.
3. Ring Ding
And I said the beat on "Rugged Neva Smoove" was good? The instrumental on "Ring Ding" is certainly better (if not for the simple fact that it's nearly a full minute-and-a-half shorter), as the drums are dusty as hell (that's a good thing) and the sound effects that abound in the background add some substance to it. Both M.O.P. members ride DR Period's production seamlessly, helping make "Ring Ding" (the stupid title aside) one of To The Death's best.
While DR Period's drums on this record are fairly subdued (especially when compared to the preceding track), the upbeat nature of his beat on "Heistmasters" makes it one of To The Death's standout cuts. This track is definitely one of the ones that listeners of commercial radio will gravitate toward after listening to the album in its entirety. I also found it interesting that M.O.P. uses the term "ante up" on here. A little foreshadowing, perhaps?
5. Blue Steel
So far, DR Period has not disappointed me once on To The Death, as the kick drums on this cut absolutely bang. I'm not saying the overall product on "Blue Steel" is anything spectacular (nor will I say that about any record in this album), but it's certainly worth listening to multiple times. The horns add a nice element to the beat, too, and the hook, although extremely simple, is pretty damn catchy. Solid cut.
6. To The Death
Okay; remember when I said that DR Period was yet to disappoint me on this project? Well, it happens for the first time here. His production on the album's title track is just flat out boring, and it's even a bit annoying (referring to the relatively high-pitched nature of the instrumental). This takes the title of "worst song on the album" in a runaway.
7. Top Of The Line
I wasn't too enamored with this one, either, but it was certainly better than "To The Death." DR Period's drums are just dusty enough to at least keep my attention a little bit, but that doesn't mean I'm going to be bumping this song consistently. Am I sensing a bit of a lull on this album?
8. Drama Lord
Ahh, back on track. I love everything about this cut, from the knocking drums to the faint horns that surface in the background every other bar to Billy Danze and Lil' Fame's actual rapping (especially Lil' Fame). If you're looking for a song off of To The Death to bang in your ride, "Drama Lord" is it.
9. F.A.G. (Fake Ass Gangsta)
"F.A.G. (Fake Ass Gangsta)" suffers a similar fate to "Rugged Neva Smoove": it's too long (four minutes and fifty-one seconds to be exact). However, unlike "Rugged Neva Smoove," this track wouldn't be all that even if it were quite a bit shorter. DR Period's instrumental just comes across as awkward, and it doesn't seem like either Mash Out Posse member sounds all too comfortable over it.
10. How About Some Hardcore
This was the first single off of To The Death and the first song that gained M.O.P. some recognition. That's with good reason, too, as "How About Some Hardcore" is a damn good record. DR Period incorporates a deep piano riff into some light drums and blaring horns, and Billy Danze and Lil' Fame are able to capitalize on the beat that, at first listen, does not really seem too conducive toward their style. The elementary hook on this is pretty addictive, too. I guarantee you that you will find yourself nodding your head to this.
11. Guns N Roses
"Guns N Roses" is the only song on the album that wasn't produced by DR Period. Instead, it was made by Silver D. The result? A beat that sounds an awful lot like Heltah Skeltah's "Place To Be," (although not as good) and that is a damn good thing. The instrumental is extremely simple, consisting of a fairly common drum pattern and various other subtle instruments sprinkled in throughout, and it works very well.
While there isn't anything exceedingly special about To The Death, I will use a word to describe it that I have used countless times in critiquing good albums on this blog: consistency. M.O.P.'s debut album is, for the most part, very, very consistent (something that wasn't the case with their succeeding works), as DR Period's production keeps to a certain theme throughout the duration of the project, and Billy Danze and Lil' Fame come through with admirable performances on each and every track.
I will admit that To The Death does not exactly have a home in my rotation, but I am not the biggest M.O.P. fan as it is, so that obviously plays a factor in that. However, I have listened to enough Mash Out Posse to confidently say that To The Death is the duo's most consistent--not best, but consistent--effort in their long career. Once again, nothing about it really stands out, but as a whole, it's just a very nice album. Think of it as the 2004 Detroit Pistons (although not as good in comparison).
Another positive about M.O.P.'s debut record was the length. I feel like if the group decided to make To The Death any longer, the overall product would have suffered. To me, M.O.P. is good in doses, so a short album is exactly what the doctor ordered. I found the biggest problem with Warriorz, the group's most popular album, was that there was way too much filler. Filler was never even given a chance to rear its ugly head on To The Death.
So, is To The Death a work of art? Not really, but it is good for what it is and is a great way to introduce yourself to M.O.P.. If you're new to Billy Danze and Lil' Fame, start here.
TOP FIVE TRACKS
1. Drama Lord
3. Blue Steel
4. Ring Ding
5. How About Some Hardcore
To The Death