OAKLAND, Calif. -- The first time gangsta-rap duo Steady Mobb'n heard their new album in its entirety, they were lounging in the cool comforts of the plush Waterfront Hotel here, with a balcony view of the city's busy Jack London Square.
It was an atmosphere that stands in stark contrast to the gangsta-rap genre's gritty stereotypes.
But the laid-back scenario was somewhat deceiving.
The Black Mafia album, which crew members Billy Bavgate and Crooked Eyez said was completed in a week, had been rushed to the hotel via Federal Express as soon as it was available, a mere week before its Nov. 24 release date. The duo were anxious -- and excited -- to hear what they had done.
"We're just celebrating," said Bavgate, 25, who declined to give his real name, as the album blared in the background. "We're feeling good now and thanking the Lord that we made it."
As a team of No Limit publicists tried to order lunch for the crew, the duo rapped along with "Tune Me Up," a Black Mafia collaboration with high-profile rapper Snoop Dogg that is based on the Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five featuring the Melle Mel classic "The Message."
"When we were putting it together, we knew it was going to be dope," Crooked Eyez, also 25, said of the new album. "You can't go wrong when you keep it real, and we were putting it down like that. Today's the first time we heard the album," he continued, "and we're real pleased with the production and the lyrics."
Bearing such song titles as "Papa Didn't Raise No Punks," "Still Hustlin' " and "Ghetto Life," the album continues the duo's emphasis on street-styled rap. They have been at the gangsta-rap game for a few years now.
Their debut single, "If I Could Change" (RealAudio excerpt), was the first hit from the soundtrack to Master P's 1997 direct-to-video hit, "I'm 'Bout It" -- the album and video that helped open doors to pop-chart success for nearly everyone associated with the No Limit label.
In May of that year, they released Premeditated Drama, their full-length debut, and rode the success of "If I Could Change," with album sales hovering just below the gold mark (500,000 copies sold).
In the wake of the success of "If I Could Change," such high-profile No Limit artists as C-Murder, Mystikal, Silkk The Shocker, Mia-X and label chief Master P all have hit the upper echelons of the Billboard 200 albums chart, cruising down a road first traveled by Steady Mobb'n.
Though it has been nearly two years since their previous release, the duo still feel they are recognized as the ones who pushed No Limit toward its current marquee value.
"We're on the inside, so we don't really know if people outside appreciate what that single did for No Limit," Eyez said. "Master P has given us our props, and that's all that really counts to us. He's recognized how important we are, so we've got no complaints."
With no complaints bogging them down, the duo said they had no problem wrapping up work on Black Mafia in a week-long recording session with No Limit's Beats By The Pound production team.
"Master P freestyled the entire Ghetto Dope album," Bavgate said. "It ain't nothing for us to go in there and hammer it and get the album done." With such a lag time between albums, he continued, the duo had their lyrics ready to roll when they were summoned to the studio by Master P.
Both Bavgate and Eyez, who also would not give his real name, said they were proudest of "Ghetto Life" (RealAudio excerpt), a song that gives a signature, No Limit twist to the Marvin Gaye R&B classic "Mercy Mercy Me."
Where the original was a lament about the state of the world's environment, Steady Mobb'n, Master P and Snoop Dogg transform the tune into a commentary on the often harsh conditions in America's inner cities.
"That song talks a lot about where we are right now," Eyez explained. "I won't lie, we used to hustle but now we're making money on a legitimate level. We just wanted the people to hear that too many people are dying in the ghetto life."
"This ain't no game," Bavgate added, "It's serious. A lot of people rap about it but ain't lived it. Well, we have, and we're telling you like it is."
With the album fresh on store shelves, the members of Steady Mobb'n said they were already scheming about what their next platter would sound like, but they were not ready to get into details.
Eyez would only say that they had the concept down. Bavgate similarly was quiet, only acknowledging that the duo wouldn't wait as long to release their next album and were looking to a 1999 release.
"The Mafia moves in silence," Eyez explained of the duo's hush-hush attitude toward their plans. "We don't reveal anything before its time."