Its safe to say that New York City was in a golden era of hip-hop for the first three-quarters of the ’90s. Think about it; Notorious B.I.G. released two stellar classics. The Wu-Tang Clan was spawned, dishing out records regularly and making some sweet cream. A Tribe Called Quest existed, and that was merely enough. Nas was releasing his most influential material, the Fugees made regular visits to the area, and De La Soul was blowing both critics and fans minds everywhere. One group, though, who seems have been swept under the rug from that time period is Mobb Deep. The duo’s album The Infamous remains a stand-alone classic that defines what New York hip-hop was all about when Clinton was president. Unfortunately, this would be Mobb Deep’s sole spectacular achievement.
When I first heard Mobb Deep, it was far too late. The group that is Havoc and Prodigy, two of Queensbridges finest MCs, were now only infamous for being tied in with G-Unit, making mediocre new-age rap that was not as intellectual as previous works. So, when I saw a copy of the albums cover posted on my friends wall during when I was 18, I questioned the validity, but The Infamous proves to be an outstanding landmark in hip-hop as a whole. Mobb Deep were just art-school graduates with drinking problems at the ripe age of 19 when they stepped into the studio to record this album. The two would get wasted and rap over Havocs flawless production with eerie piano loops, jazzy bass hooks, and obscenely standard drums.
When the album kicks off, it automatically sends chills down your spine, because you can tell in the first 20 seconds how raw this album is. The Start of Your Ending (41st Side) is a bone chiller of an opener, making you visualize the dark streets of Queensbridge on a rainy night as the air is filled with violence. Havoc doesnt even hesitate dropping the dope rhymes, It’s the semi auto/You can bring it on yo/I’m pulling out/Stripping niggas just like a porno flick/I’m sick/The Mobb rolls thick/Cross paths with my clique/And get vic.
Prodigy wastes no time either, I use to drive an Ac and kept a Mac in the engine/Little painted it black with crack sales intentions/To blow up the whole projects the Infamous/Our sons will grow up to be murderers and terrorists. This is Queenbridge, home of the infamous M-O-B-B.
The album only gets creepier with every track. Survival of the Fittest follows, being one of the more popular songs on the album. A bass line straight out of the projects commences, while you can envision the blunt smoke rising to Havocs production. Prodigy discusses the war going on in their part of the city, while Havoc spits what he and his crew are all about. Lines like, As long as fiends smoke crack/Ill be on the block hustling/Counting my stacks, are quite witty, and his overall description of people is priceless, I’m strictly Timb boots/And army certified suits/Puffin L’s/Laid back/Enjoying the smell/In the Bridge getting downIit ain’t hard to tell. That shit is as gritty as New York hip-hop could get.
The album only gets better. Eye for an Eye features guest appearances from a young and very poetic Nas commenting that Queensbridge will bring forth the apocalypse. Meanwhile, Raekwon the Chef drops rhymes about peoples corneas. Give up the Goods has that classic New York sound, plus an appearance from Big Noyd, as Mobb Deep raps about robbing people just to survive day-to-day life. Temperatures Rising is a spectacular letter to a friend lying low for murder. Prodigy and Havoc express how much they miss him and how they wish he could come back to be with the crew, but the cops are out looking.
Q.U. Hectic is a jazzy number, and probably my favorite track, which sounds like a storm brewing over New York City. The classic and sociological line, Fuck a fantasy/Im living in reality, comes from this track, while Prodigy and Havoc insist that, Up in Queens/Shit is for real/Its about to get hectic, and you have to know they mean it. Drink Away the Pain is an alcoholics anthem for a lifetime, featuring a verse from the legendary Q-Tip.
Mobb Deep had it right, even in 1995, when they said, I think the whole worlds going insane/I fill my brain up with liquor/And drink away the pain. The classic Shook Ones Pt. II follows with some of the greatest lines in rap (As long as Im alive/Im gonna live illegal) and a hook that keeps you on your toes from fear. This was the most known song on the album and will generate lots of street credit, if you turn this on at a party (since only hip-hop die-hards seem to remember this song). The final song is Partys Over, and one can take the title any way they want. Either the real party is over, or Mobb Deep is robbing a bank screaming those exact two words. The lyrics hint to either scenario.
This album says a lot since it came from two teens in Queensbridge who had a love for cognac, an art-school background, a friend named Nas, and an album that nobody thought would take them anywhere. In the years since, the group has collaborated with Nas on several tracks, released a plethora of decent songs (note on Quiet Storm) and still tour from time to time. However, they are no longer the same intellectual, jazz-influenced pair that they were in 1995, which is sad because it was how I will always remember them. Prodigy and Havoc will always be infamous, despite the reason behind that infamy changing completely.