How Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s ‘Conspiracy’ Album Is the Ultimate Meaning of Crew Love
Crew love is one of the most important aspects of hip-hop. Being born out of the streets, having a team of close friends and associates in tow has always been prevalent dating back to the earliest days of the culture. At times, rap is a team sport and you're only as good as the weakest link of your team so its important to have a strong stable of cohorts at your disposal.
Long relegated to the background, the crew served multiple purposes, from security to confidants, but there was always a line drawn in the sand that separated the rapper(s) and their team cause the team's job wasn't to make music, but play the background and be seen, but not heard.
Rappers had put the people in their close circle on and in positions to flourish in the music industry over the first decade and a half of hip-hop being a business, but it wasn't until the Notorious B.I.G. came along that the line was forever erased and the concept of a rapper's partners from the streets being converted into a rap group was originated. After striking it big with his debut album, Ready to Die in 1994 and going from rags to riches, Biggie decided to put to take his close friends from the streets of Brooklyn along with him by forming Junior M.A.F.I.A., a collective of hustlers turned rappers that would pave the way for many crews over the years.
Consisting of Lil' Kim, Lil' Cease, Trife, Larceny, Cheek Del Velc, Kleptomanicac, a majority of the group had never pursued a rap career or even rhymed beforehand, but that didn't stop Biggie from plugging the group's name every chance that he got, prompting everyone to ask themselves, "who is Junior M.A.F.I.A.?"
Well, the world would get that answer when the group's debut single, "Playas Anthem," was serviced to radio, which further built anticipation for a possible album from the group. Released August 29, 2015 on Undeas, a record label helmed by close associate, Lance "Un" Rivera, Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s debut album, Conspiracy, arrived with a decent amount of fanfare, debuting at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 and selling 69,000 copies in its first week of release.
Spawning multiple hit singles, the collection would eventually sell 500,000 copies and serve as a launching pad for the solo careers of Lil' Kim and Lil' Cease. Conspiracy may have made noise commercially and became a big part of Biggie's legacy, outside of the singles, the actual album itself was an afterthought and rarely gets brought up other than in relation to its deceased founder. However, the album actually has its share of good music and the M.A.F.I.A. crew are actually pretty decent rappers that can actually craft dope songs and put together a great album.
"White Chalk" gets drawn on the ground on the first salvo we're presented with on Conspiracy. Featuring Larceny and Trife with production by Daddy-O of Stetsasonic and Understanding, the dynamic duo known as the Snakes come correct with a track that kicks the album off on a good note and gives the public their first taste of Junior M.A.F.I.A.
"I thought I told you to trust nobody but us / Now the gats must bust, malicious black viper venemous," Trife spits before giving Larceny time to get his thoughts off, who also catches with solid bars. "N----, I'm weak and can't move my mouth to speak and / They caught me creeping, deep in the hood, peeping," he raps. The duo bounces off one another with ease and displaying a chemistry that is seemingly deeper than rap.
The skit, "Excuse Me," sees Junior M.A.F.I.A. in a hospital in search of Larceny, who has been the victim of a shooting before transitioning into "Realms of Junior M.A.F.I.A.," a bruising song that ups the ante from the previous offering and packs enough punch to knock the wind out of any rap fan. Lil' Cease kicks off the song, rapping "True baller, b---- page, might call her / A little shorty, but I love my b------ taller / Nastiest, the flashiest / You blunts, pass them shits while Big f---- ya' b----." Meanwhile, Cheek Del Vec makes an appearance and impresses, spitting, "I admit, back in the days I did stupid shit / Now I've changed, I'm into bigger and better things / Like copping Cuban chains, b---- copped the Range / Del Vec was set wit' the Lex and diamond rings."
Jamal of Illegal and Biggie also show up to the party with the latter making the first of four appearances on the album and turns in a verse that is serviceable in comparison to his other bars, but easily trumps the pack of novices and makes no secret who the main event truly is.
The first two selections on Conspiracy are far from snoozers, but the album truly takes off with "Player's Anthem." A Clark Kent-produced affair that features Biggie, Kim and Cease getting busy. On this extraordinary banger, Cease-A-Leo turns in a classic verse, asking "Who smokes more blunts than a little bit, what are you, an idiot?" and dropping mentions of guns in log cabin, Honda Passports and Luke dancers, the baby of the clique comes up in a big way on this particular outing.
Biggie also blesses the track with 16 bars of his own that prove why many considered him arguably the best rapper of all time. The late rhymer commands hip-hop lovers to grab their privates as a sign of solidarity. Kimmy makes her first appearance on wax as far as rapping goes and the debut was nothing short of legendary as she proceeds to nearly outshine her mentor. "I used to pack Macs in Cadillacs / Now I pimp gats in the Acs, watch my n----s' backs / Nines in the stores, glocks in the bags / Macs in mini-markets, getting money with the arabs," she spits.
The album continues to exceed expectations on the upbeat tune, "I Need You Tonight," which sees the JM clique kicking game all over a breezy soundbed, courtesy of producer Clark Kent. Trife and Klepto drop verses on this offering and Lil' Kim also brings home bragging rights with a standout verse of her own.
Next up on the docket for Conspiracy is "Get Money," which sees Biggie and Kim engaging in an epic battle of the sexes. The third and final single released from the album, the song would be the LP's biggest hit, earning the crew a platinum plaque for 1 million copies sold.
"Crazy" features Larceny and Trife and is one of the better songs on the album, whereas "Back Stabbers," a Lil' Kim solo track, is a slightly underwhelming selection, which is a bit unexpected given the fact that Lil Kim's other high-powered showings are now the stuff of lore. Kleptomaniac comes with a solo of his own with the aptly titled "Lyrical Wizardry," a wordy heater that showcases Klepto's strength as an MC and make you wonder why he never got more shine on the project.
Meanwhile, B.I.G. serves up another masterful verse on "Oh My Lord," a collaboration with Klepto geared more toward purveyors of boom-bap than Cristal sippers and sees the two leaving no prisoners, dropping a litany of rewind-worthy bars for rap heads.
Conspiracy would be Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s only album released on a major label, with the group breaking ties after Biggie's untimely death in March 1997. Outside of Lil' Kim and Lil' Cease, history has not been too kind to Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s contribution to rap and are essentially regarded as a footnote in Biggie's career.
The group is also a shell of its former self with Cheek Del Vec, Kim, and Klepto all having left the fold over the years and have failed to regain their footing in the rap game despite having dropped two more albums over the years.
Junior M.A.F.I.A. may never truly be appreciated for it, but Conspiracy stands as a vastly underrated album that is a forgotten gem and proof that a little crew love never hurts.
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