No matter how much of a music nerd you are, there are albums that you’ve inadvertently skipped. Whether it’s due to age, oversight, or just plain ignorance, even classics sometimes slip through the cracks. “The Corrections” is a recurring feature intended to remedy this oversight. The idea is simple: the Passion of the Weiss staff writers listen to an album they should have heard but somehow haven’t, and write about the experience of encountering it for the first time in 2013.
Jimmy Ness kicks off the series with a look at Mobb Deep’s nose bone breaking gem, “The Infamous.”
“An eye for an eye, we in this together son, your beef is mine.” Modern day Mobb Deep view their friendship much differently than their younger counterparts did on their 1995 classic The Infamous. Havoc and Prodigy have been fighting since last year, but recently “buried their differences” to capitalize on the duo’s 20th anniversary with a new tour and album. Havoc was the most public with his anger and recorded a diss track as well as claiming that Prodigy had sex with other inmates while in prison. As Bun B said on Twitter, some things you can’t take back once you’ve put them out there.
Not everyone will admit it, but many music fanatics have a gap in their knowledge – that one album they never got around to hearing and find a way to avoid when it comes up in conversation. For some unknown reason I’d never listened to Mobb Deep’s early work. Illmatic, Enter the 36 Chambers and Ready to Die were close friends of mine, but me and the Queensbridge duo had never been formally introduced. This is strange considering how intertwined these four groups are. Nas and Havoc went to school together, Mobb Deep toured with Biggie and they frequently collaborated with Wu Tang.
My twisted perception of Mobb Deep was as squabbling brothers rather than legendary East Coast pioneers. I incorrectly considered Prodigy, now 38, to be a has-been who was eternally bitter over former rival Jay-Z’s success. He couldn’t seem to recover from Jigga putting pictures up at Summer Jam 2001 of him dressed as Michael Jackson. Instead it appeared that he pacified himself by pretending Hova was a member of the illuminati, rather than just a smart businessman.
P’s output with producer Alchemist is solid, but so is almost everything the former Whooligan is involved with. Mobb Deep’s work with G-Unit was uninspired and nothing I heard stood out as particularly special. But in 1995, Prodigy and his partner Havoc made one of the best albums I’d never heard.
Kejuan Muchita (Havoc) met Albert Johnson (Prodigy) at 14 when they attended the High School of Art and Design together. The duo formed a crew called the “Poetical Profits” and after changing their name, released a debut album at the age of 19. Juvenile Hell flopped commercially, partly due to their label not putting any marketing behind it. When Mobb Deep tried to make a second album, Havoc claimed in a 1995 Ego Trip interview that producers had started sending them throwaway beats. “They probably felt like, Yo, Mobb Deep – they kinda weak. We was like, fuck it man. I ain’t gonna stop… Ain’t nobody stopping my show.”
Havoc, who had minimal beat making experience, was forced to produce the majority of their entire sophomore record. The duo even considered forming their own label if their second project flopped. Mobb Deep were backed against the wall, but determined to succeed and The Infamous was their stunning counter-attack.
Unlike other rap albums that give the listener a respite from debauchery with a conscious song or r&b track, The Infamous shows no remorse. The angst of two teenagers being almost forced out of the industry and trapped in the cycle of poverty fuels the album’s hardcore subject matter. Havoc compares himself to the grim reaper on “The Start Of Your Ending” and Prodigy has no mercy for anyone who struggles with completing their prison time. From punching your nose bone into your brain to shooting at women, their nihilism is relentless.
On the outstanding “Shook Ones Part 2,” P informs the listener that “I’m only 19, but my mind is old” because of everything he`s lived through in the projects. However, just a few lines later he claims “It aint nothing really, hey, yo Dun spark the philly.” Mobb Deep were youths who had given up hope of change, they understood the hopelessness of their situation and embraced it.
Hav produced the majority of The Infamous and his rugged beats suit the album’s portrayal of their unholy lifestyle. If you’re a rap fan, you already know their stripped down sound is typical of East Coast rap in the 90s, but it works especially well here. The lack of complex production leaves room for the duo to make their threatening presences felt. This album doesn`t have the immediate appeal of catchiness, but as you hear more captivating narratives from the MCs involved it grows on you. Havoc’s beats also sound similar to RZA’s early work, which is high praise considering he’s one of my favourite humans. Q-Tip was reportedly heavily involved in the album behind the scenes and with his guiding hand, it’s probably no coincidence this is their magnum opus.
The Mobb are also joined by a small, but formidable list of guests. Nas retains his stellar 90s form on “Eye For An Eye” and his flow is impeccable. “New York metropolis, the Bridge brings apocalypse, shoot at the clouds feels like, the holy beast is watching us.” He recorded two version of this verse and it would be a safe bet to assume they were both godly. Nasir’s also joined by Raekwon, which makes the track a kind of prelude to the classic “Verbal Intercourse” off OB4CL. Rae returns later in the album with Ghostface Killah for “Right Back At You,” and my 90s rap nerd checklist is complete. Q-Tip also shows up to rhyme about personal vices on “Drink Away The Pain,” but other than the occasional verse from Mobb affiliate Big Noyd, Havoc and Prodigy solely run the show.
The duo kept their rhymes simple in comparison to Big L, but they both focus almost entirely on hardcore crime narratives and had no issue with playing the villain. Mobb Deep is also obsessed with beef. At every chance, they warn other crews not to fuck with them and reiterate they are only loyal to themselves. Prodigy spends over two minutes threatening rivals on “The Infamous: Prelude.” He also disses Redman and Keith Murray, for their “crazy space shit,” which resulted in Murray later punching him in the face. At the time of recording, Mobb Deep were in a zone where their only concern was their own success. Prodigy thought both B.I.G and Wu Tang were cheesy when he first heard them, and he even believed Biggie had stolen some of his lines.
The duo’s hostile style led 2Pac famously raging against them on “Hit Em Up” where he mocks P for having the Sickle Cell Anemia disease. While the two MCs withstood attacks from people outside their circle, their internal beef hurt them more- at least as far as first impressions go.
Mobb Deep have been rhyming together since they were 14 and close friends often fight like brothers, but airing out dirty laundry is never a good idea. This is an excellent album which has aged well considering it’s 18 years old, and it’s a shame to avoid such great work because the MCs involved have let personal disagreements taint their image. There’s something to be said for protecting your legacy. Thankfully, the Infamous remains indelible.