Mobb Deep – The Infamous
We could talk about the overdose of nihilism on every one of The Infamous’ songs or about how the callowness of P and Hav’s voices added an unsettling amount of menace to each verse or how our protagonists managed to provide a panoramic view of the nasty, brutish and short lives young men lived in Queensbridge, New York circa 1994, but I’d be treading familiar ground.
Instead, direct your attention to the sound of the album. The almost entirely self-produced album happens to be home to the chilliest snares in rap history. Yup. Just focus on the snares. You’ll never hear harder snares for as long as you live. Add in the perfectly curated samples (mostly ominous piano loops) and The Infamous essentially aided East Coast rap’s revival and influenced the sound of hardcore rap until NYC fell off. If that ain’t hard, then I don’t know what hard is. There’s a good chance that moron Giuliani heard this shit and decided to start the process that converted NYC from the gulliest American city to the gentrified theme park it is now.
More fun tidbits: There’s a song with a woman on the hook but she’s singing about a manhunt. Q-Tip drops a verse—the most violent one of his career. Nas, Rae and Ghost show up—at the height of their mafioso obsessions. Prodigy threatens to shoot random women—during the FUCKING INTRO. And finally, the crown jewel of the album, “Shook Ones Pt. 2,” served as the single and included the following threat “Rock you in your face, stab your brain with your nosebone . . .” I rest my case. — Mobb Deen
Freddie Gibbs – Midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik
You’ve probably never been to Gary because no one ever goes to Gary. Gary brings to mind Treach describing East Orange: If you’ve never been to the ghetto, stay the fuck out of the ghetto, because you’ll never understand the ghetto. It’s the desiccated abandoned industrial city that can only emerge in the shadow of a larger metropolis that siphons all the glamour and money: Flint, Baton Rouge, East St. Louis, Newark, or the Long Beach and Oakland of the 90s.
“Chiraq” might be the poster child for American decay and municipal civil war, but Gary will never get that kind of attention. By virtue of that negative publicity, there is a perverse hope. Gary can’t even count on that. It’s been left for dead for too long. So was Freddie Gibbs, whose first post-Interscope project wielded the spurned maniacal retaliation you only see after you’ve been buried alive but somehow escaped.
It’s the sort of record many of us never thought we’d see again: A gangsta rap record built from the classical models, complete with dazzling cadences, hydraulic melodies, and lyrics that suggested that Gibbs laced his Backwoods with Makaveli’s ashes. (No Outlawz.) The first time I met him he waxed eloquently about the right and wrong way to rob a train.
Midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik announced the birth of a Terminator assembled from the shrapnel of past greats: Pimp C, N.W.A., Bone Thugs, 2Pac, and The Dayton Family. But it never felt studied or stolen. Instead, it felt like he’d exhumed dead spirits and imbibed distilled ones to create the latest model of pure mayhem.
It’s been a long six years since it dropped. In that time, the genre has been partially resurrected through TDE, Vince Staples, Boosie’s return, Flocka, and the million off-base N.W.A. comparisons once ascribed to Odd Future. But Gibbs’ unofficial debut remains the most anti-social and unyielding of them all: Rap as battering ram and blunt trauma. Gary’s arsenal unleashed. — Jeff Weiss
Scarface – The Diary
“Off brand niggas can suck a dick, cuz they can’t fade me.”
In 1994, no one could fade Scarface, be they on- or off-brand. The Diary is the apex of Scarface’s hardcore continuum, the culmination of a hell raising half-decade which began with Scarface joining the renamed Geto Boys (no “h”) in 1989. The Geto Boys immediately drew the ire of Tipper Gore, Bob Dole, and their pearl clutching cronies at the PMRC with the group’s debut Grip It! On That Other Level. That said, it’s not hard to shock a woman who’d likely deny having ever farted and a man whose waxen personality complimented his oily skin. Their follow-up, We Can’t Be Stopped, featured Geto Boys member Bushwick Bill on a hospital gurney, his eye destroyed from a failed suicide attempt. The same year, Scarface’s Mr. Scarface Is Back debuted. Its cover: a shotgun-heavy Mexican Standoff.
The Diary was released in a year laden with great rap albums, and it’s to the album’s credit that it wasn’t critically overlooked. Scarface dialed back a tiny bit of the wanton violence, and further emphasized a mix of social awareness, street reportage, and B-movie gore. “Hand of the Dead Body,” featuring Ice Cube, a chorus from Devin the Dude, and production work from Mike Dean, directly addressed gangsta rap’s perception by the mainstream media.
David Duke’s got a shotgun
So why you get upset cause I got one
A tisket a tasket
A nigga got his ass kicked
Shot in the face by a cop, close casket
An open and shut situation
Cop gets got, the wanna blame it on my occupation
The equally classic “No Tears” is outwardly violent, the type of song to court censorship, but its hardness is derived from its verisimilitude. The chorus-less song opens with Scarface leaving a funeral, removed enough from the occasion that the tears have dried. Like the cycle of black-on-black murders particularly prevalent in the early 1990’s, the song ends with Scarface vowing “You can cry but you’ll still die/There’ll be no tears in the end.” Scarface has nothing to offer but something approaching the truth–if you can’t take it, you’re probably Tipper Gore. — Torii MacAdams
Ice Cube – Death Certificate
“Here’s what they think about you…”
Ice Cube has been an avuncular movie star for so long that it’s no longer particularly salient to point out that he used to be the hard. Cube’s acting career has been trading on the reputation he gained from being America’s most wanted rapper for so long that his rap career feels illusory—a different man might as well be wearing the skin of O’Shea Jackson.
Death Certificate is Ice Cube at his absolute hardest—an impressive feat in a catalog that contains three other classic albums. As a songwriter and rapper, Cube has never been more flammable with a track listing that looks like a bandolier of incendiary grenades strapped to the rapper’s chest// “Steady Mobbin,” “No Vaseline,” “The Wrong N***** To Fuck With” are amongst the many, many classic songs on the album.
Death Certificate is the type of dangerous, ice cold album that allows you to pimp Coors Light and kiddie movies two decades later without seeming corny. It’s the synthesizing foundation for Cube’s entire persona—the nostrils flaring, eyebrows curling radical that threatened to kill Uncle Sam, burn down the corner stores of disrespectful shop owners and dig your daughter’s nappy dugout. All while remaining unquestionably true to the damn game. — Doc Zeus