(Republished from DefineARevolution.com, By @CherchezLaPorsh)
Tracklist Mobb Deep – The Infamous
- The Start Of Your Ending (41st Side)
- The Infamous Prelude
- Survival of The Fittest
- Eye For An Eye (Your Beef Is Mines)
- Just Step Prelude
- Give Up The Goods
- Temperature Rising
- Up North Trip
- Trife Life
- Q.U.- Hectic
- Right Back At You
- The Grave Prelude
- Cradle To The Grave
- Drink Away The Pain (Situations)
- Shook Ones Pt. II
- Party Over
A very short time ago, we took a look at Mobb Deep’s “Hell On Earth” album. I went into that knowing how great Mobb Deep is, their lyrics, beats and the way they reinvented themselves after a not so great debut was impressive. I barely mentioned the album that served as the platform in making “Hell On Earth” great, so here I am, revisiting one of the greatest rap duos of all time and taking a look at their 1995 release “The Infamous”.
Easily ranked as a classic and definitely belongs in the “all-time best” categories, it was the album that captured the essence of the gangster rap era. It was vivid with the most perfect soundscapes, it was lyrically amazing and almost entirely self-produced with near flawless beats, and if that wasn’t enough to cement “The Infamous” as an exceptional album, Mobb Deep collaborated with rap titans to cement this as an incredible album. Let’s look at the tracks that made Havoc and Prodigy phenoms while catapulting their commercial visibility and success after their debut.
They kick off the album with “The Start Of Your End (41st Side)” which is essentially the groundwork for the album. This is where the story starts as Havoc and Prodigy give us a quick glimpse into their neighborhood in Queens. There’s a ton of name dropping, specific locations are mentioned, so immediately we get an understanding of their surroundings. This is also the first time we are exposed to the piano instrumental loop that Mobb Deep is so famous for. This was a great intro track and nice way to ease listeners into the dark streets of New York.
Right after, we get 2 minutes of “The Infamous Prelude”, normally I would simply mention this in passing and move on to the next track, but this merits a few lines. Basically Prodigy is “telling it how it is”, but he comes across a little excessive when he says things like “If you see me at a show, or a stage or on the street I definitely have the gat on me, you know what I’m sayin” and then follows it up with “I ain’t trying to be a tough guy”. I don’t know how much truth there is to the claim, but what I do know is, if you’re someone to be worried about, you don’t need to be advertising it. In my opinion, I find it a bit unnecessary, although I think it helps with the overall image that Mobb Deep was going for and definitely captures the gangster rap era, so for that reason I let it slide.
Track number 3 is “Survival Of The Fittest”, which is fantastic. The dark soundscapes I talked about earlier is evident again here. The sampled piano loop coupled with their raw, gritty street story is brilliant. I also cannot say enough about how perfectly titled this is by applying Darwin’s theory to the reality of street life. The first verse is where P lays it down perfectly and Havoc reiterates it:
“There’s a war going on outside, no man is safe from
You could run but you can’t hide forever
From these, streets, that we done took
You walkin witcha head down scared to look
You shook, cause ain’t no such things as halfway crooks”
“No doubt, watchin my back and proceed with caution/
Five-O lurking, no time to get lost in -the system/
N***** using fake names to get out quick”
I absolutely love the layers of meaning in every line, it seems simplistic, but each time you listen to it, it resonates a little more. Conceptually, this song is a masterpiece. With its flawless lyricism, their delivery and how well the entire song flows from beginning to end, it truly deserves the credit it gets.
Remember when I said they feature some rap titans…well track number 4 is where we get the first two. “Eye For An Eye (Your Beef Is Mines)” features Raekwon and Nas. This is the epitome of NY rap in every way and is an exceptional track overall. I’ll start with beat selection. Sampling Al Green was a smart choice obviously for the piano component, increasing the tempo and adding the raspy scratches is great detail, and very reminiscent of both Nas and the Wu. The beat also aligns to create nearly perfect cadences. Lyrically they couldn’t have done better, they truly capture what “your beef is mines” means. Using the hook to highlight the theme of the album, it’s clear:
“As time goes by, an eye for an eye
We in this together son your beef is mines
So long as the sun shines to light up the sky
We in this together son, your beef is mines”
Lyrically on the verses, each artist captures a component of gangs, drug dealing, hustling, money making, and of course women with impressive imagery. Here’s what I mean:
“If I’m out of town, one of my crew’ll take care of ya
The world is ours and your team’s inferior$”
“On my road to the riches
Hitting snitches off with mad stitches
Your last resting place’ll be a ditch kid”
“Mad man my sanity is goin like an hourglass
Gun inside my bad hand
I sliced tryin to bag grams
I got hoes that used to milk you”
“They swing an axe, the new routines, be my eyes black’s
Playing corners glancing all up in your cornea
Corner ya, seen cats snatch monies up on ya
But late night
Candlelight fiend with a crack right”
Of course, this would be a dope song since four of the best storytellers in rap are building on each others’ verses. The track is laid back, easy to listen to and very engaging. So well done.
Next up we have another prelude “Just Step”, only this one works as the perfect precursor to the track “Give Up The Goods” and both have Big Noyd, who we know from Mobb Deep’s debut album “Juvenile Hell”, in fact we see him on almost all the duo’s albums since he’s from the same neighborhood as Prodigy. His perspective is like an extension of Prodigy’s, so it’s nice to see him here. Both the prelude and the track work very well together and highlight the aspect of “stick up kids” and robbing people. On the production side, it’s the first that isn’t self-produced. We have Q-Tip on production and surprisingly enough, it is true to Mobb Deep’s sound. The tempo is a little bit faster than anything we’ve heard, but it fits the content and Havoc, Prodigy and Noyd keep up well.
Another Q-Tip produced track is at almost the halfway point. “Temperature Rising” is one of my favorite tracks on here because the storytelling from Havoc and P is of course amazing, but they have the vocal talents of Crystal Johnson as an accompaniment. The beat is interesting, there’s a pronounced hard drum which accentuates the rapping AND there’s a soft instrumental loop that is perfect against her voice. What makes this song even better is the back story and real life component. There was a murder charge that Havoc’s brother (Killa Black) was dealing with so the duo decided to dedicate a track (in the form of a letter) to him and his situation. It’s raw and vulnerable and with the vocal accompaniment they convey the emotions well. This is what I mean:
“They said they just wanna question you, but me and you know
That once they catch you
All they do is just arrest you
Then arraign you, hang you, I don’t think so
It’s a good thing you bounced for now just stay low
Once in a blue, I check to see how you’re doin”
“What up Black?
Hold your head wherever you at
On the flow from the cops with wings on your back
That snitch n**** – gave police your location
We’ll chop his body up in six degrees of separation
Killer listen, s*** ain’t the same without you at home”
Definitely the most emotional track on the album and to most people in the same lifestyle or exposure, it would be the most relatable. I think this track makes the stories more believable and gains these guys a ton of credibility. This reality is much needed on an album entirely focused on the ways of the street.
I’m going to skip a couple tracks “Up North Trip”, “Trife Life”, and “Q.U. – Hectic” are the ones that follow. I will say that they build the story very well. After just having heard of Havoc’s brother being wrapped up in some murder charges “Up North Trip” would touch on (the fear of) going to jail. These two are incredible story tellers so of course these tracks would build on each other to create overall cohesiveness.
That brings us to track 11, “Right Back At You” with Ghostface, Raekwon and Big Noyd. As any fan of The Wu knows, in the ’90’s the members didn’t typically appear as featured MC’s on anyone’s albums outside of the Clan so to have both Ghost and Rae on this is amazing. Sure enough, the beat on this one is a bit different, it stays true to the hard drums and instrumental loops but this is a bit more abrasive. It is perfectly reflective of the lyrics. This is straight up, no bullshit and an extension of the prelude we heard at the beginning: Reiterating that they don’t back down, will do what they gotta do only this time with some Wu representation. I won’t get into it, but there’s an interesting back story to this track which furthers the believability. Here are some snippets:
“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”
“C*** the s*** back in a calm like motion
No signs of anger
Or fear cause you the one in danger”
“Around my way, n***** don’t got no remorse for out of towners
Come through fronting and get stuffed wit the 3 pounder
The loud sounder, ear ringer”
Rae & Ghost:
Drop your gun, son, now surrender
Get ninjaed on the island, plus the Bridge, boy remember”
“You must be crazy, pulled out the heat and almost blazed me
Then he was Swayze
The shot must of dazed me”
Next we have “The Grave Prelude” followed by “Cradle To The Grave”. This is the most cinematic track on the album. The prelude is dark and the soundscape is incredible. The gunshots, the rain, the thunder, the reactionary adlibs… they all create a backdrop to the track which continues along the same lines. The title gives us exactly what to expect. The beat is a Teddy Pendergrass sample which works well and emphasizes their flow. The storytelling here is great as well, since it starts off with a real life incident and the duo build on it. Their consistency of theme and their lyricism is undeniable and the short verses create great variation to build this story. They executed this flawlessly and truly brought the streets to the forefront.
We’re almost at the end of the album and we get Q-Tip once again. On production and as a feature on “Drink Away The Pain (Situations)”. This is a very clever track, but a bit disunified at first although I appreciate this. It speaks to the multi layered lyrics that we’ve already multi-layeredly. It takes a second before the listener realizes that everything mentioned is being compared to some social aspect of the streets. Havoc and Prodigy reference alcohol which is a metaphor for women and Tip compares designer brands with his crew. It’s fun and it works! Here are my favorite parts:
“Tanqueray introduced me to her first cousin Gold
Last name was Ides and the first name Old
But Gold couldn’t take the d*** and made me lazy
We split apart and now I met this new trick Dany”
“Diesel drove the the beamer, the hatchback of course
Nautica’ll navigate to keep us on course
Polo’s acting bolo trying to say he the Boss
I said shut the f*** up, the kid is out where the loot’s at”
Like I said, it’s fun and it works well here. The second to last track is also my favorite Mobb Deep song of all time..of course it’s “Shook Ones Pt. II” It’s definitely better than the original which was released as a single in 1994. Widely considered a classic, they did absolutely everything right with this song. The beat is phenomenal which is thanks to a combination of 4 samples which has become the signature loop and sound of Mobb Deep. The piano works so well with their voices. These guys knew how to highlight their strengths and executed it well.
Lyrically, there is not one negative thing I can say bout this, it’s a gem. I would quote the entire thing if I could, but everyone is familiar with it I’m sure. Havoc and Prodigy tag-team the hook which just makes it that much better. This song is to thank for one of the most quoted lines in rap:
Cause ain’t no such things as halfway crooks
Scared to death, scared to look
The last track is “Party Over” which is appropriately titled and placed. Continuing with the fighting component of their lifestyle they go through their experiences of random fights breaking out when trying to enjoy a party. Much like when that happens, everyone sort of disperses and it closes out the night…they close out the album. Once again, a clever way to end the album and bring it full circle.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, both Havoc and Prodigy had a less than successful debut when they released “Juvenile Hell”, but they knew exactly what Hip Hop needed at a time when gangster rap was finding it’s place in the industry. They came with real life experience, lyrical skill and incredible hunger and poured that into “The Infamous” and gave the industry one of the most gritty, consistent and perfectly executed albums of the decade. These two secured their spot as a legendary duo and (IMO) it started with this album.