June 10, 2013

Prodigy(1)

Harold Stallworth never mixed vodka and milk.

When Havoc and Prodigy first met one another in the halls of Manhattan’s esteemed High School of Art & Design, they probably never imagined one day entertaining a nationwide 20th anniversary tour. After all, by 1992 many of their biggest musical influences, like Run DMC and Jungle Brothers, were already remnants of a vital, yet bygone era. For most of us, childhood friendships were formed as a result of convenience rather than personal preference. Our social circles were governed by communal proximity, consisting of classmates and teammates and possibly even inmates. Most of us do not, however, know what it’s like to have our adult livelihood inextricably tied to our earliest acquaintances. Such is the story of rap’s gulliest, and perhaps greatest duo, Mobb Deep.

To the surprise and dismay of longtime fans, the group briefly disbanded in 2012 following a bizarre, homophobic rant broadcast from Havoc’s personal Twitter account. But the seemingly one-sided feud was short-lived; they’ve since buried the ratchet and are back to making public appearances under the storied banner of Mobb Deep. Last Thursday night, they performed at Washington D.C.’s Howard Theater, just two miles from the now-defunct D.C. Live nightclub, where their music video for “Burn” was filmed over a decade ago. The standing room floor was only filled to half capacity, likely due to a perfect storm of discouraging factors: Game 1 of the NBA Finals; cats and dogs from the first tropical storm of this year’s Hurricane season; and the sheer virtue of the show being scheduled on a dreaded weekday. Despite stiff primetime competition and external distractions, hundreds of devout supporters braved through drenching rain to witness the official reconciliation.

Havoc and Prodigy abruptly burst through the stage curtains to the menacing horns of “Survival of the Fittest.” Both sported merch-baiting t-shirts flaunting the modern New York Knicks logo adapted to promote Mobb Deep. Havoc wore sable-tinted sunglasses that he never once removed throughout the evening. He seemed to be a world removed from his partner, Prodigy, who almost single-handedly carried the show, engaging in crowd banter and performing several Mobb Deep records entirely by himself. When Havoc did chime in, his lyrics were either hushed or downright inaudible. Though, understandably, he came alive for “Temperature’s Rising,” an impassioned ode to his deceased elder brother, Killer Black. Otherwise, there was a lingering rift between both parties, preventing any of the natural chemistry that is so central to their enduring legacy from revealing itself.

At one point, they delved into songs from their newly released solo albums, 13 and Albert Einstein. The former is a completely acceptable, yet painstakingly average addition to Havoc’s resume. After Havoc unveiled his street single, “Gone,” Prodigy urged the audience to purchase the record. Albert Einstein is Prodigy’s finest effort since 2006’s Return of the Mac, and arguably features his most impressive stretch of writing since 2000’s HNIC. When the self-proclaimed “King Vulture” performed his own lead single, the Alchemist-produced “Give ‘Em Hell,” his colleague didn’t extend the favor of shameless promotion.

It’s almost impossible to deliver an awful show with a catalog as treasured as Mobb Deep’s at your disposal. They trudged through their biggest hits, including “Quiet Storm” and “Got It Twisted,” as well as mixtape classics like “It’s a Craze.” After capping the concert with “Shook Ones Part II,” Havoc exited stage right before the venue’s flood lights flickered on. Meanwhile, his better half remained onstage to shake hands and sign autographs. It’s impossible to know whether Havoc was hiding jealousy or apathy or simply just a massive hangover behind his dark lenses, but whatever the case, it wasn’t conducive to a harmonious set. Nor did it restore faith in the future of Mobb Deep.

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