I’m always amazed at how far M.O.P.’s “Ante Up” song reaches, considering it’s an unabashed celebration of robbing suckers for their jewelry. Just this week, I left the cinema having seen Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem with my daughters, and it’s basically the theme song to the movie, appearing multiple times. It’s sampled in John Cena’s theme as we settle down to watch some WWE over dinner. It appears in numerous advertisements, whether it’s fast food or banking, “Ante Up” gets everywhere. The DR Period beat is an all-timer, but it’s the intensity of the rallying cry of Billy and Fame that lends the song its timeless appeal. The forgotten element of that song, which is usually the more popular remix that charted and got radio play, is Brooklyn’s Teflon, an emcee heavily affiliated with M.O.P. who has often felt like the honorary third member. He’s not had the career of Brownsville’s finest, but through his connections to M.O.P. and particularly DJ Premier, he’s had numerous hard-hitting head-nodders over the past twenty-five years.
The aggressive delivery was at odds with his 1997 single “Get Mine”, and his style has always felt most at home over DJ Premier production. After signing with Def Jam in 2001, his album “Contraband” was shelved and he’s not had an official LP released since his debut, 1997’s “My Will“. In 2023, Teflon released “2 Sides to Every Story”, which includes some tracks from that mid-2000s period, along with some new music courtesy of both Primo, and M.O.P. collaborator Jazimoto. Much like fellow Premier favorite, Big Shug, Teflon is limited lyrically, regurgitating vaguely aspirational claims of succeeding through turmoil. The thing is, Teflon is blessed with a distinguishable voice, one that is pained, tired, and perfectly suited to straightforward New York mixtape rap. Hearing these songs in isolation almost does a disservice to them, as they would flourish during a time when DJs would be cutting and scratching a dope beat and a dope voice.
It’s the more interesting production that makes “2 Sides to Every Story” an album worth revisiting: “Contraband” in particular, has that predictable Primo formula applied as if it was programmed during an electrical storm.
“Out the Gate” and “4 Tha Love” are similarly captivating thanks to Preem, even if it is Premier 101. The latter in particular, sounds more like earlier Teflon; less gruff, and more precise with the flow. The Internet says that it was first played by Premier in 2005 on his radio show, which makes sense. “The Thoro Side” is probably from the same period considering the outdated references from Lil’ Fame (106 & Park, SARS), but is as satisfying as anything Premier and M.O.P. have made before. The DJ Premier joints from the 2000s sound as fresh as anything he’s released recently, even if that was the period he fell into a formulaic output. They remain superior to “Hostile Takeover”, an uncoupled collaboration with Benny the Butcher, which is a pairing that doesn’t really fit.
“No Fake Love” is three years old, featuring DJ Eclipse, and is one of those tracks that has no real substance to it, but slaps harder than a Ric Flair backhand on a cold day. Eclipse and Riz continue to showcase “real hip-hop” on their radio show, but no matter how good this shit sounds, it’s often diminishing returns when it comes to the content. Ultimately, Teflon’s return has its moments but remains reliant on both M.O.P. and DJ Premier to carry the weight. Jazimoto’s beats possess an M.O.P. feel to them, which isn’t a bad thing, but does make me yearn for Billy and Fame when they aren’t around. As an emcee, Teflon isn’t the most interesting, servicing heads rather than severing heads, with rhymes reliant on a rugged, pissed-off perspective. For anyone that yearns for that “Ante Up” energy, there’s enough evidence of it on “2 Sides to Every Story”, even if it proves why Teflon’s strengths lie in supporting roles.