Week Fulla 90s East Coast Hip Hop – First Listen #62: Mobb Deep’s ‘The Infamous’

We’ve reached the end of this week of traveling back in time to 90s New York, and we’re finishing off with Havoc and Prodigy from Mobb Deep. Mobb Deep is a group that has existed more on the periphery of my hip hop experience than the other folks this week. It’s been clear before now that Havoc and Prodigy were extremely impactful to the genre, but I didn’t see there music around as much as Wu-Tang’s or Biggie’s. The most I heard about Mobb Deep was when Prodigy passed away in 2017. It was one of those deaths that hit the hip hop community very hard. A lot of people talked about how he inspired them and was the reason why they started rapping, but I didn’t know enough about Prodigy or Mobb Deep to really understand the gravity of what his death meant. I’ve been wanting to listen to Mobb Deep since that moment, and so I decided to finally do that this week with The Infamous (1995).

Photo Credit: https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/hip-hop/9365441/havoc-mobb-deep-infamous-interview

1995: The Infamous

(via Genius)

I have nothing bad to say about this project. Havoc and Prodigy give us a really great album with The Infamous. It’s an album that hits pretty hard and refuses to sugarcoat anything. On “The Infamous Prelude” – the project’s second track – Prodigy talks about how a lot of rappers at that time (and I’d extend that to contemporary rappers) try to fake the funk and portray themselves to be the Big Bad when they are the exact opposite and play it up for their peers and fans. Prodigy made it clear that the stuff he and Havoc talk about in their music, including on this project, aren’t just for show.

I keep it real, pack steel like my man YG

When a fool try to play me wet ’em up then I’m Swayze

You must be crazy, kid

Ran, I never did

Forever wildin’ that’s how we live up in the Bridge

You just sit scared

Cock back the Gat then hit a nigga like a bid

25, nah, kid you gettin’ life

Forever burnin’ in hell, niggas is trife

It’s the semi-auto, you can bring it on, yo

I’m pullin’ out strippin’ niggas just like a porno flick

I’m sick the Mobb rolls thick

Cross paths with my clique and get vic

I’m on some bullshit that’s how I was raised, G

Each level is a stage

Have you slidin’ down blades in pools of alcohol

HAVOC, “THE START OF YOUR ENDING (41ST SIDE)'”

And you can feel every bit of that grittiness on this album. My favorite thing about this project is how Havoc and Prodigy offer such raw, hardcore, and grimy lyrics over extremely pretty and jazzy instrumentals. Not as jazzy as Tribe’s The Low End Theory (1991), but they get close. They mix Esther Phillips and Al Green samples with stories of “extorting crackheads and sticking up the stick-up kids” and “[leaving corpses] for the cops to discover” in a way that gives you a mix of the shivers from the visual and the shivers from how exciting their verses are. And that juxtaposition is one of my favorite hip-hop tropes; it’s one that could come off kind of corny if not done right, but Mobb Deep does it right on here. They aren’t technical on this project in the same way as members of the Wu-Tang Clan on Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993) or a Tribe on Low End; they lean closer to the storytelling-forward tendencies of Biggie on Ready to Die (1994). And they say each line with such confidence and swagger that they make even the most heinous of crimes sound amazing. I loved every track on here, but I have to give spots in my favorites list to “Give Up the Goods,” “Temperature’s Rising,” and “Up North Trip.” Those songs offer the best of the “pretty production, smooth verses, grimy lyrics” trichotomy.

While finishing up The Infamous today, I started thinking about how much the five projects I listened to this week sound like what I think of when I think of New York City. And that might be primarily because I spent a nice chunk of time in high school watching a lot of 90s Spike Lee movies. But I think most of the feeling is because these five projects are so closely aligned with the ways that everyday people were living in New York in the 90s. With the exception of some of the exuberant and luxurious champagne-filled lines from folks like Jay-Z, most of these albums center on “Everyday Struggle.” And that is what hip hop was made to do. It was made to be the voice of the people, the voice of poor Black folks who had (and have) very little opportunities to put their lives in the record books. Of course, hip hop has changed since Reasonable Doubt (1996) and The Infamous came out. Hip hop has become more mainstream and a lot of music now is made with the hopes of going viral on the internet. And I don’t believe in the idea of hip hop being so sacred that it doesn’t allow room for evolution. But what will always be special to me about the genre is that it can hold so many stories and so many experiences; a song can be admired both for the technical prowess of an artist’s flow and its ability to transport you into a certain space and time. That’s the power of Black music and the power of Black art. That’s the power of people from the boroughs of New York putting their stories on wax.

See all the First Listens from this week here. And here are the ones from the Week Fulla 90s West Coast Hip Hop!

Overall Project Rating

Featured Image Link


(listen to The Infamous on Spotify by clicking the image below)

here’s something else you might like…

Week Fulla 90s East Coast Hip Hop – First Listen #61: A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘The Low End Theory’

Following yesterday’s embodiment of the greatness that is a hip hop posse cut, we have A Tribe Called Quest. While the group is about a third/half of the size of the Wu-Tang Clan, Tribe has made just as much of an impact. I say all of that as I have continued to stand back as I … Continue reading Week Fulla 90s East Coast Hip Hop – First Listen #61: A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘The Low End Theory’

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