Album Review: Billy Danze – The Listening Session

[WeBusy; 2020]

It’s been a minute since the Brooklyn rap duo M.O.P. did anything together – 2014 saw an EP drop, but since then the tandem of Lil’ Fame and Billy Danze have focused on solo projects and guest spots. Whereas in 2019 and early 2020 the focus was on Lil’ Fame’s revitalization, the focus is now on Billy Danze as he debuts his first official album, The Listening Session.

It isn’t a solo album though; while we do get a guest spot from Lil’ Fame on “That Time”, Danze’s giving full collaborator credit to producer TooBusy, as is the norm in 2020. This marks TooBusy’s major debut, after a string of single production credits over the years. Here, he adds the boom-bap the 90s icons were adored for. Cuts like “Southern Man” have funky licks and kicks, with soulful tones woven in for good measure. It’s not a clear grasp for the past though, as TooBusy makes it feel natural, especially with Danze in tow to drop bars that flourish. Even in the moments that seem unnecessary, like The Dark Knight Rises samples in “Gotham”, TooBusy manages to bubble the sounds to the top and make you forget about that misstep.

Danze is in prime form too, feeling at home with TooBusy’s production. On album opener “Don’t Believe Ya”, he wretches through the chorus like he would in 98. Method Man’s assist on the aforementioned “Gotham” also makes The Listening Session feel like a revival of the 90s. And although Meth’s never shy with his raps, he doesn’t outshine Danze here; a lot of what makes the track work is how similar it feels to someone like Czarface, as it’s loaded with heavy samples and pop culture references. TooBusy’s flashy, bombastic production isn’t ancient, though it’s vastly different to what we expect in the current day, but the aggressive nature of Danze’s delivery disguises it, bringing to mind some of the other rappers doing something similar, like Run the Jewels.

As anticipated, long-time collaborator DJ Premier makes his presence felt on highlight “Take a Step”. The combination of the legendary producer and TooBusy charging in unison towards middleman Danze is truly effective, as Prem’s trademark soulful samples bolster the rapper’s vitriol-soaked bars wonderfully, while Busy strains organs throughout with no restraint. While “Take a Step” is a definite highlight, Premier doesn’t overshadow the younger producer, who has plenty of talent of his own. “WeBusy” is a perfect example, as he strikes an awesome balance of all his abilities. With hardly a following yet The Listening Session should garner TooBusy some much deserved attention.

Obviously the most compelling or intriguing aspect of The Listening Session is the reunion of sorts for M.O.P.. “That Time” shows that the duo still complement each other’s styles to perfection; the battle rap elements coupled with the fragmented sampling by Busy makes it the apex of The Listening Session – it’s what fans of the duo have yearned for since 2014. There’s hard transitions sprinkled throughout, with a crowd-pleasing chorus that demands you sing along. Those who may have anticipated disappointment need not worry, the two deliver the goods as only they know how.

Save for a few lackluster samples in certain areas, The Listening Session is a successful collaboration that highlights both talents who, despite the high level of guests, never get outgunned. We may long for the old days of M.O.P., but Danze has delivered an appetizer that points to greater things on the horizon. The Listening Session feels like a teaser at times, there’s nothing as up in the diamond quality as “Ante Up”, but what it does do it does well enough to keep us coming back for more.