Two weeks ago, we had Dr. Dre’s The Chronic squaring off against Snoop’s Doggystyle LP. It was actually pretty close up until the last couple days when the votes came pouring in to have The Chronic pull away for good. Can’t say I’m surprised about the outcome, but I was surprised it was as close as it was after the first three or four days.
This week we have that group from the QB, Queens Bridge for those not in the know. Mobb Deep dropped a slew of good music in the decade of the 90′s, with two outstanding albums released in ’95 and again in ’96. The beats were dark, the vibes were moody, and the rhymes detailed the grim reality found in the Queen Bridge housing project. I have a good idea how this one is going to turn out, but I often hear how the ’96 album, Hell On Earth, is slept on. This week, we’ll see just how much love it gets.
Mobb Deep – The Infamous
Mobb Deep dropped The Infamous a week after my birthday, I remember it quite well. After releasing the fairly overlooked Juvenile Hell a few years earlier, Mobb came back to the game, all grown up and packing heat. They dropped the instant classsic, “Shook Ones Pt. II”, and the buzz for the group was at a huge pinnacle when the album finally came out. The release of the album is responsible for one of the greatest hip hop memories I have. For some reason, I didn’t pick up the CD when it dropped that Tuesday. I was busy with school, busy with a girlfriend, something, I don’t remember. It’s a good thing though, cause the way it went down will always stick in my mind. One of my best friends to this day, Dino aka Goosebumps, and I worked a weekend shift at Hewlett Packard. We worked on an assembly line, making computer hard drives. We had only met a few months earlier, but after catching him reading The Source mag during a break and him walking by my Jimmy SUV while blaring some classic hip hop, we quickly became friends. We worked ten hour shifts, which often involved one or both of us being dragging ass after a long Friday night of drinking and partying. Often though, by the time our shift was over, we’d hit up the local Hastings and go through the new releases and/or pick up some cheap used discs.
This particular Saturday, I remember we got off work early and we went and hit up Hastings. We found The Infamous in the new disc section and quickly purchased it and went out to my Jimmy. I had a pretty sweet set up for a stereo in that vehicle, a couple 12′s in a box in the back, some 6×9′s in the panels in the back seat and some mids in the door with some tweets in the dash, all being pushed by a Punch Fosgate 150 amp. Meaning the shit banged. We got in and popped the disc in the player and were immediately blown away. I remember us sitting there in the parking lot, just nodding our heads at the extremely intense music that was pouring out the speakers. There wasn’t much talking, just the two of us memorized by the deep bass, hard drum kicks and melodic, yet dark strings. We didn’t leave that parking lot until the CD was over. Each track carried it’s own identity, it’s own similar sound, yet unique vibe. It’s a story I still tell to this day and one of my favorite hip hop moments.
The Infamous is arguably one of greatest hip hop albums ever released. The vibe on it is dark, sinister and the impending danger found on every lyric spit by Prodigy and Havoc make it a favorite of mine. The track “Survival of the Fittest” is nothing short of classic in it’s own right. Havoc, who was a master of inauspicious sounding piano samples, laced up a piano loop that sounded like it was straight out of a funeral march. He then placed some horn stabs and looped up some straight banging drums, it was simply doomsday in nature and the perfect track to anchor down the first quarter of The Infamous. Gambino, mafioso, thug rap, whatever you want to call it, wasn’t quite out there yet, (I’d mark the release of Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx as its’ start) but “Eye For An Eye” is a predecessor to the sub genre as Nas and Raekwon bless the track with their comprehensive lyrics. Not that Havoc or Prodigy will ever be considered as the greatest lyricists, both are considerably overshined by the a Nas who was still riding the wave of “Illmatic” and Raekwon, who some considered being the second best MC in Wu after GZA.
What I think really makes The Infamous work is the presence of three Q-Tip beats (known as The Abstract on the album). Havoc was a beast in those days behind the boards, but sixteen tracks of Havoc’s dark and grim beats would be a little too much gloom for one album. Tip brought a different sound. The beats he supplied for The Infamous weren’t definitely not on some sunny, sing songy shit. They were grimy for Tip’s standards and they switched up the vibe of the album. The first Abstract creation shows up on “Give Up The Goods”, which is like comparing a flashlight to a candle in terms of bringing a lighter vibe. The almost bouncy bassline speeds things up and brings a different sound. The dreamy like synths swirl around the listener as the hard drums (a trademark of the QB sound) pound through the woofers. The smooth vibe of “Temperature’s Rising” even further strengthens that Q-Tip was a top flight producer at the moment as he gives the duo the perfect back drop for them to detail a conversation (or maybe
a letter) with a friend on the run. The music perfectly highlights the despair and the urgent nature of the situation the subject matter is about. Light guitar sample and the even singing for the hook (and I hated any kind of singing on rap songs at the time) just make the song a complete package. The third and final Q-Tip produced jammy is the excellent “Drink Away The Pain”, with the wicked sax sample. I’ve long considered one of my favorite beats on the album, as well as the subject matter also garnered more spins than other tracks on the album. Prodigy and Havoc spit a stories with the characters named after beverages of the alcoholic variety. Tip’s is a bit different, but he kills his verse as well.
The presence of The Abstract beats in some ways makes Havoc’s greatest accomplishments shine even more on The Infamous. After the only slight misstep on the album in “Up North Trip”, Havoc and P shoot off a volley of bangers in the form of “Trife Life”, with it’s intricate beat that utilizes a vast variety of sounds, with many layers. It’s one of Havoc’s crowing achievements. But just when you are ready to think he couldn’t do any better, the extremely dark “Q.U. Hectic” starts discharging through the speakers and you don’t want to turn the lights off. A stinging sax sample over the chorus gives the listener hope, but when P starts spitting, you realize nothing is going to be alright. They don’t even give you a chance to catch your breath as “Right Back At You” starts baning through the speakers. QB isn’t a place to fuck around and Havoc and Prodigy let you know that. In what could arguably be the best beat on the album (not mine, but I would accecpt the argument), it makes the lyrics sting that much more as Prodigy brings some serious heat:
Now run for your life or you wanna get your heat, whatever
We can die together
As long as I send your maggot ass to the essence
I don’t give a fuk about my presence
I’m lost in the blocks of hate and can’t wait
For the next crab nigga to step and meet fate
I’m lethal when I see you, there is no sequel
24-7, mac 11 is my people
So why you wanna end your little life like this?
Cause now you bump head wit kids that’s lifeless
I live by the day only if I survive
The last night, damn right, I ain’t tryin to fight
We can settle this like some grown men on the concrete floor
My slugs will put a stop to your hardcore
ways of action, I grab the gat and
Ain’t no turning back when I start blastin
Pick up the handle and insert the potion
Cock the shit back in a calm like motion
No signs of anger or fear cause you the one in danger
Never share your plans wit a stranger, word is bond
Not to be out done, Havoc drops what could be potentially be his best verse on the album:
Cuz where I’m from, niggaz pack nuthin but the big guns
Around my way, niggaz don’t got no remorse for out of towners
Come through fronting and get stuffed wit the 3 pounder
The loud sounder, ear ringer
And I’m a point the finger on all you wannabe gun slingers
You got a real ice grill but are you really real
Step to the hill and I’m a test your gun skills
Cuz real niggaz don’t try to profile
You just a chump who needs to get drunk to buckwild
But swing that bullshit this way
And I’m a make your visit to the bridge a muthafuking short stay
Queensbridge, that’s where I’m from
The place where stars are born and phony rappers get done
6 blocks and you might not make it through
What you gonna do when my whole crew is blazing at you
Wit macs and tecs to lend to get your dome crush
You thought that you could come around my way, you big stupid fuk
What the hell you smoking, what the fuk possessed you
To come out your face, now I have to wet you
Throw on my tims, black mask and black serpent
Twist a nigga cap, then jump in the J-30
To top it off, you have Ghost and Raekwon trading lines. If I had to pick a second favorite track off of The Infamous, it’d probably have to be “Right Back At You”. My favorite? Do you even have to ask? “Shook Ones Pt. II” is a classic song. It’s one of those tracks that embodies the true essence of hip hop. It’s a true essential of the hip hop culture, such an important piece of history. I can’t pinpoint exactly what makes the song so great. Both MC’s drop memorable verses and of course P’s verse will forever immortalized on the opening scene of “8 Mile”. The chorus/hook is something that will be imprinted in any hip hop head’s memory for their life on this earth. Then there is the beat. What is the best part of the beat? Shit, it could be the thick, driving bass line, or it could be the memorable piano sample? Whatever it maybe, if you don’t nod your head to this, then you simply can’t. The track is truly a classic in every sense of the word.
Just revisiting this album again for the first time in a couple months makes me realize just how great the album is. The beats, the vibes, the lyrics, it’s all there and it’s all simply put, a highlight of a crew that did it pretty well in the 90′s. There are great tracks that can be found on The Infamous, that running down your favorite five would probably be difficult and if you are like me, they change with each listen. The Infamous is truly a diamond in the golden era, hands down.
The success that Mobb’s second album found in ’95 made for a huge expectations for Mobb’s third album, Hell On Earth. While in some ways it might have been a slight disappointment in some arenas, it still conjures up high praise from the hip hop nation. Using the same template as the previous years The Infamous, dark and menacing bass lines mixed with swirling and haunting strings, one could argue that Hell On Earth is even darker than it’s predecessor. The grimy music is a pure menace to any potential sunny days in the hood, as tales of death, robbin’ and slanging dominate the thirteen tracks. It’s pure griminess in all it’s glory.
After the dope track, “Animal Instinct”, Hell On Earth really kicks off with the classic jam, “Drop A Gem On ‘Em”. Right from the start, you are introduced to the sound and vibe that is found on the album. The haunting piano sample (The Whispers – “Can’t Help But Love You”) is nothing short of threatening in themselves. Mobb were masters at the subliminal dis, dropping verses that left it pretty obvious who they are talking about without coming right out and saying it and “Drop A Gem On ‘Em” was no different. In ’96, Tupac was on the war path, starting to take on seemingly the entire east coast and Mobb was often part of his ire. Havoc’s lines at the end of his verse is most definitely aimed at the :
got raped on the Island, you officially got
kick that thug shit, Vibe magazine on some love shit
(keep it real kid, you don’t know who you fuckin wit)
My second all-time favorite Mobb Deep track gets even darker and more threatening as P grabs the mic for his verse. Never one to back down to a challenge (although he probably should from time to time), Prodigy attacks with biting lines, and while his bark might be more than his bite in most cases, he still delivers a heavy punch:
yeddy niggas wit gats plus the walls on they backs
Rikers Island flashback of the house you got scuffed it in
you would think you gettin your head shot was enough but then
Now you wanna got at my team,
you must of been drunk when you wrote that shit
too bad you had to did it to your own self
my rebellion, I retaliate, I had the whole New York state
aimin at your face
“Blood Sport” is another favorite of mine, with the seducing strings, lulla bying your ass to sleep, the dense drum track and thick bass line combine with the strange sound effect that persists for an over all eerie soundscape that gives you a peaceful feeling that you know will be destroyed in virtual seconds and it is as the duo once again brings the goods on the mic. “Extortion” follows the same formula as the dirty feeling is reinforced with looming string sample that is simply beautiful in all is gloomy and drab sound. Method Man, one of two Wu members to appear on the album, bats clean up with his garbled flow and blunted tone. “More Trife Life”, evokes more strings, over a sparse yet effective drum break. Once again, the subject matter is focused on the life of the streets. It’s the pure grimy shit as P and Havoc both bring the streets to life with their words. The apocalyptic “G.O.D. Pt III” is nothing short of fire and brimstone shit in the form of a rap song with crazy synth sound, the all too familiar drum break , but it all adds up to one of the most ominous hip hop tracks ever recorded.
Havoc was on his game at this time and in some ways, the production found on Hell On Earth is even more precise and on point than that found on The Infamous. Havoc’s sound was very cohesive during this album, and if you loved his style, you had to been ecstatic over the sound of Hell On Earth. This is a dark and grimy album, one that isn’t going to cheer anyone up or help promote world peace. It’s pure hip hop, thug rap, dunn rap, gangsta rap, reality, whatever you want to call it, Mobb just did it the best in those days on the left coast. They were truly running QB and NYC after dropping Hell On Earth.
While both The Infamous and Hell On Earth received critical praise from hip hop heads all around, it’s been a given that The Infamous is the stronger piece of work of the two and rightfully so. Hell On Earth has a very cohesive sound and in this case, almost too cohesive. There is not much change in the overall feel of the album. The beats are great; dark, scathing and menacing in nature and very composed and precise. But one can get overwhelmed with the tone of the album that fails to switch up at all. On the other hand, while The Infamous isn’t as dark as it’s predecessor, it still treads a happy medium of dark, grimy music and some that is more light hearted….which means it’s just different shades of black. There are two songs on The Infamous I feel that could be left off (“Party Over” and “Up North Trip”), but that doesn’t put a dent in the classic status that the album is commonly labeled.
Winner: The Infamous