Dean Van Nguyen also writes while watching the Mets play.
Mobb Deep were barely out of their teens when The Infamous dropped, but they never sounded that young. Nasir brought an innocent wisdom to Illmatic; the Wu-Tang Clan would clown around after the knuckle-dusters came off. But Havoc and Prodigy have always sounded world-weary. Scowls permanently etched across their young features, no glint in their eyes, it was like the Queensbridge pair had already lived a thousand lifetimes before coming into this world. Between the bruising beefs and creative missteps that have happened since, they’ll feel they’ve lived a couple hundred more.
That’s probably why the Mobb seem primed to settle into middle age better than most. On The Silent Partner, Havoc reveals his battle scars. It’s a record for grown-ups only; a blurry reflection on the life of a hustler over a bottomless bottle of liquor, helped by the menacing beats served up by The Alchemist, who helms every track (as he did on two of the strongest Mobb projects of the last decade, Prodigy’s Return of the Mac and Albert Einstein).
Maybe Alan Maman is the silent partner in question. He’s been quietly forging some the East’s most devastating sounds these past few years, funneling Blaxploitation joints, classic New York boom bap and grim soul samples into the furnace and hammering what comes out into ageless, hard-as-fuck beats that cool to a temperature as icy as a Brooklyn street corner.
Alc flips a childish rhyme into something sinister on “Out The Frame”, while “Smooth Ride Music” is a slow drive through Super Fly-era Harlem. But Havoc’s voice is what takes front-and-center here. He sounds like a hardened vet on “Seize Power,” pondering the rappers who didn’t have the stomach for the industry and refusing to go quietly. On the Prodigy team-up “The Gun Holds a Drum,” the beat sounds like a warning siren. Hav and P reminisce about the prayers they recited as children and pistols they hid under their hoodies. They toast their success as “dropouts who took life and shaped it how we want” and threaten to crack heads if they’re ever disrespected. I could probably listen to these salty masters do this until they’re 90. The Silent Partner boasts the kind of timeless sound that’ll probably still sound fresh even then.