“Ante Up (Robbin-Hoodz Theory)” by M.O.P. (2000)

I’m gonna back track again.

In case you didn’t read the last post, I included “Ante Up” in the four-star grouping, with a note that I was strongly considering bumping it up to five stars. I’ve given it some thought, and well…here we are.

I’m a neurotic mess on my best days; so there’s a part of me that’s wondering if my inclusion of “Ante Up” is me internally trying to assert my hip-hop/black cred after a Dave Matthews Band post. A lifetime of occasionally being referred to as an Oreo (although these days, people are way too yellow to actually call me one to my face even though I know for a fact that some people think it) will do this to you.

Never mind that, though–neuroses aside, “Ante Up” is a great record. Full of energy and that undeniably rowdy, menacing je ne sais quoi that can only come from Brooklyn.

In case you weren’t aware, I grew up in Brooklyn. It goes without saying that Brooklyn was a very different place 30 years ago than it is now. As a friend remarked to me once during lunch “isn’t it crazy that you can walk through Brooklyn now and actually smile?” We could get into a whole thing about gentrification, but I’ll leave it at this-had Brooklyn not changed in the ways it has, I wouldn’t be back living here today.

It didn’t matter what neighborhood you were in (although some were distinctly safer than others), in those pre-cell phone days you always stood the chance of someone running up on you. You could get robbed on the train, at the mall, coming out of school, standing in front of your own apartment or house. You were cautious about looking folks in the eyes, carrying a particular kind of status symbol (Starter jackets, new kicks, Walkmen/Discmen), stepping on shoes. M.O.P. (or rather M.O.P.’s music) embodies a subgenre of hip-hop that could’ve only come from that era and that borough.

While there’s an element of BK hip-hop that balances that tension with swagger and slickness (see: Big Daddy Kane, Jay-Z), there are also songs and artists from the area that have a fundamental tension and darkness. Biggie was great at balancing the two styles. M.O.P., however, had one level and one level only. Just about every song Billy Danze and Lil Fame made sounded like a robbery in progress, “Ante Up” actually is about a robbery in progress. The intro alone-that long sampled horn note feels like the slow motion part when someone eyes you and walks up to you with the intention of telling you to run your shit. Then the beat kicks in, and you’re now officially getting robbed, dudes seem to be spilling out from all four corners and all hell has broken loose.

Dope as it is, “Ante Up” reminds me of an era that I’ve been prone to romanticizing but I am perfectly happy with keeping in the past.

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