Violence changes you. Optimistic, happy, children can become seething, vacant-eyed, murderers after enough exposure to violence, and pain, and unmet needs. Prodigy and Havoc of Mobb Deep represented a generation of young men scarred by the war-torn streets of blighted urban communities nationwide.
After releasing their largely ignored debut album, the group redefined themselves with their sophomore outing The Infamous. Havoc and Prodigy painted a photo-realistic picture of the world in which they lived. A world where a short trip to visit an old fling could quickly turn to bloodshed. A world where pain was a way of life. This nihilistic view of street life would become their trademark.
Haunting and callous in their lyrical approach, Mobb Deep took the rah-rah out of NY Hip-Hop and replaced it with a quiet sense of danger. Havoc, was a straight-forward bruiser on the mic, and an innovative producer. Prodigy was a compassionless killer who dropped earnest threats without a hint of remorse. Together, the pair formed one of the greatest Hip-Hop groups of all time.
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1. “Shook Ones, Vol. II”
The diminutive hell raisers from the “Hit It From The Back” video had clearly been through some serious shit by the time “Shook Ones Vol. II” released. Prodigy’s chilling verse brings to mind a war weary child rebel numbed by daily exposure to violence. Havoc’s snarling verse and somber production strikes just the right tone for two soldiers fighting in a conflict that has no winners.
2. “Eye For An Eye”
The battle for rap supremacy in the mid-90s was a bloody one. The elusive crown changed possession several times, with each new album raising the proverbial bar for the next. “Eye For An Eye” was a gathering of Rotten Apple rap royalty, with each emcee making a convincing case for themselves as holders of what was then Hip-Hop’s highest title: King of New York.
3. “Give Up The Goods (Just Step)”
Though the majority of The Infamous was produced by Havoc, Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest also provided some outstanding beatwork, including this high energy ode to armed robbery. Piercing snares cut through a soulful Esther Williams sample for the perfect balance of rugged and smooth. Rapper Big Noyd also provides a scene-stealing debut verse so good, that it garnered him a record deal with Tommy Boy records.
4. “G.O.D. Pt. III”
The duo didn’t soften their tone following the success of The Infamous. Utilizing a sample from the movie Scarface, Hav and P fill their verses with a snuff film level of sordid violence, but deliver it with the calm and familiar tone one might use when double-checking a grocery list.
5. “Drop A Gem On ‘Em”
Mobb Deep waded waist deep into the murky East vs. West rap wars of the ’90s. This dark diatribe was aimed directly at Tupac in the midst of their personal feud, and resonated loudly on both coasts.
6. “Quiet Storm” (Remix)
On the original, P went for dolo in classic fashion over Havoc’s clever reworking of “White Lines,” but Lil’ Kim’s aggressive guest appearance on the remix had the world wondering if B.I.G. was feeding her lines from the afterlife.
7. “The Realest”
On “Three” from Prodigy’s solo album H.N.I.C., he weaves a tale of a late night in Queensbridge. At one point in the story, he states “we gotta stop at the store we need D batteries for the theme music.” I’d be willing to wager that “The Realest” got more than a few spins on the crew’s portable CD player. Kool G. Rap’s multi-syllable massacre of The Alchemist’s stripped down production is a highlight.
The hood is home base for Mobb Deep, but circumstances may result in long trips to far away cities on unfamiliar roads. Imagine this playing in a non-descript car as two pairs of eyes nervously glance at the rear view window, wondering if the law or revenge seeking foes are close behind.
9. “Got It Twisted”
On “Got It Twisted,” Hav and P get as close to having fun as you will hear in their entire discography. Longtime collaborator The Alchemist turns an ’80s new wave pop hit into gold, as we get the Mobb’s take on a club anthem. Still, being fully dedicated to street life means that you can never truly be off the clock. Even a night at the club can turn dangerous, when wannabes and haters have a little too much to drink.
10. “Pearly Gates”
50 Cent claiming to be able to talk his way into heaven. Havoc’s dark revelation that he’s snatched so many souls, dogs bark at him as he walks by. Prodigy’s vitriolic anti religion rant. Exile’s heavenly beat. It all works here.