|1996||Hell on Earth||7/10|
|2006||>>Best in the Bizness||.../...|
|2014||>>The Infamous Mobb Deep||.../...|
Review last updated: March 11, 2021
To be 19 in Queensbridge public housing, Queens, New York City, 1995. How much death, violence, and crime were the power duo of Prodigy and Havoc actually involved in? Have they murdered people, and if so, how many? Their environment was severely stricken with poverty, and they grew up deeply entrenched in gang activity: selling crack, pimping, robbing, killing. Whether they wanted to be involved in it or not, it was happening all around them. The Infamous is not the best hip hop album ever made, but it's one I feel compelled to write about because of how captivating, sincere, urgent, and philosophical the various tales and stories are. This album is just real. Realer than Wu-Tang, realer than Public Enemy, realer than Kendrick even. There's no nonsense about getting high, having sex, shoes, or whatever else rappers like to rap about, no political tirades or sermons, just straightforward and honest storytelling about their lives, and all the dramas and lessons involved. The skits are not comical: two of them are direct messages to the audience with no music, one of them is a harrowing death scene, the aftermath of a shooting. I just appreciate the purity and devotion to quality songwriting. Nas, Raekwon, and Big Noyd appear to deliver captivating monologues on "Eye for an Eye" and "Give up the Goods". Ghostface Killah spits on the posse cut "Right Back at You", and for some reason Q-Tip is featured on "Drink Away the Pain", sounding a little out of place, but still on point. It's easy to forget he is from the same neighborhood.
Havoc's production on this album is immaculate. The beats are crisp and hard-hitting, the melodies are atmospheric, jazzy, soulful, and tasteful, without diving off the deep end into revivalism, the background vocals from Crystal Johnson on "Temperature's Rising" are luscious and intoxicating. There are not even any vocal samples or qwips that a lot of acts like De La Soul and Gang Starr rely on, just strictly rhymes and music. It is difficult to decide which of the songs are better than others, it feels like one big work of art, split up into various chapters of equal importance.
Something I have grown to adore about hip hop, is one of the most alluring elements of art in any medium: The contemplation about and associations with death - one's own death and the deaths of others - and the possibility of afterlife. This topic tends to make any work of art it is prominent in, relevant for uh, millennia really: relevant until humans stop dying and start living forever. They have so many euphemisms for death in this album. "I'll make your visit to the bridge a motherfuckin short stay", "I guarantee you it'll be your very last time breathing", "I'm putting holes in your body like ya bossin a party". This, and the very real threat of interacting with law enforcement/the criminal justice system (though it is common), keeps my attention going throughout The Infamous. "25? Naw kid ya gettin' life", "I wish I had three different faces, I'm going to court for three cases in three places", "I should've got a bid, but the case was acquitted", "Even pack my gat when I go to see my P.O."
Despite all of their bragging and boasting, I feel sorry for anyone who has to go through life like that. Sleeping with one eye open, not trusting anyone, not allowing yourself to have feelings. Being indoctrinated into gangs. Constantly worrying about police and snitches, and any evidence they might have against you. I am grateful Prodigy and Havoc rapped their way out of the projects, and were then able to share their stories with sheltered white people like me.