Released just a week after the one year anniversary of Nas’ Illmatic, Mobb Deep’s Loud debut, The Infamous, is nothing short of a masterpiece. Although historically, Illmatic has been held to the standard as the best rap album of all time, it’s fair to consider The Infamous as the equivalent of Da Vinci’s Virgin and Child with St. Anne, to his former Mona Lisa.. Illmatic. Imagine younger, mischievous twin brothers to your high school’s star quarterback/prom king.. that’s them Mobb Deep boys Hav and P, compared to Esco (yes, even though Nas was wavin’ automatic guns at Nuns). Well enough of the analogies, we’ll leave that to our words and their raps, as featured in today’s special edition of Rewind Wednesdays. Big shouts to our guest contributors Robbie from Unkut, and Doug Cohen of Flud Watches.
The Infamous was a soundtrack for a new era of anti-social, hardcore Hip-Hop, driven by Havoc’s accomplished sampling techniques, tight drum programming and bleak moods, and the heartless microphone techniques of Prodigy at his most ruthless. Outstanding assists from Q-Tip, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, and Nas made it clear that this was “the realness” personified, in terms of cutting edge street music for 1995. -Robbie, Unkut
1. “The Start of Your Ending (41st Side)” (prod. by Havoc)
Steez: The sample use of Grant Green’s “Maybe Tomorrow” by Havoc on “The Start of Your Ending” makes for one of the most ominous album intros I’ve ever heard. It’s as if you took the red pill and were immediately pulled into their world.. your hooptie became the Nebuchadnezzar and you were now meandering around the Queensbridge Houses. For those already familiar with Juvenile Hell, you knew their was a new formula, for first time Mobb listeners, it was gonna be a long night.
2. “[The Infamous Prelude]“
Kev: Back in the day, you weren’t allowed to rap about certain “activities” if you didn’t grow up in the
right wrong neighborhoods and therefore, exposed to violence and the mercy of the streets. And just to make sure no one got it twisted, Prodigy takes a couple minutes to clear the air of any doubt regarding what Mobb Deep has really seen and done. Call it a street resume, if you will. The most intimidating parts of this speech? The casualness and elevated state of mind Prodigy has achieved. He coolly says you don’t have to waste your “time, or your money, or your hospital bills,” if you want to put their words to the test and step to them. And Prodigy doesn’t suffer from hubris. He knows very well that his life could end just as easily as yours. It comes down to “who gets who first.” And when he’s totally okay with punching you square in the face on some “old high school sh*t,” you might want to make sure your bars are tight and that you come correct, or you might lose more than your reputation. I’m just glad I wasn’t a struggling rapper in 1995…
3. “Survival of the Fittest” (prod. by Havoc)
Kev: This is some Rachmaninoff meets “strictly Timb boots and Army certified suits/ puffin’ L’s/ laid back” type ish. The anxiety you should get from this track is similar to the calm seconds before the storm comes knocking down your front door, along with the rest of your house. And if it doesn’t get you shaking in your boots like there’s an invisible bully, you’re either Bruce Lee or too dumb to know what fear is. You could front on being tough, facing Prodigy’s riot gear, mac one double, and the promise of “not much to go home with,” but then you have to let Havoc give you nightmares about spending some time “upstate bleeding” by yourself. And if you think you can get away with your life after dealing with Mobb Deep, learn from the prior suckers- “they scarred, so they will never forget me.”
4. “Eye for a Eye (Your Beef Is Mines)” [feat. Nas] (prod. by Havoc)
Laura: “Eye for a Eye” would introduce us to an early Nas just a year after the release of his premier album, Illmatic. The piano progressions coupled with the chopped up sample courtesy of Al Green’s “I Wish You Were Here” (1975, Al Green Is Love) gives it an eerie feel, reminiscent of the acoustics on Cypress Hill’s 1991 self-titled debut album, Cypress Hill, turned down a few cranks.
5. “[Just Step Prelude]“
Kev: What made Mobb Deep so timeless is that they couldn’t tell a lie if they tried. Fortunately for us and unfortunately for them, they saw and lived a lot of things a majority of American didn’t know about. While a lot of people worried about taxes and retirement, people in the streets had to worry about racial profiling by the cops and when their next meal would be, if any. And an acapella prelude like this one was more powerful in ways, than a track with a beat. Big Noyd steps in for Havoc, kicking a familiar verse to Mobb Deep and their associates. There’s nothing scarier and taxing on the brain than having to deal with a looming jail sentence. Oh wait, what about three? In three different boroughs? No matter what though, Big Noyd keeps his cool and flips the bird at any Jakes, telling them to catch him at his wake. Prodigy then gives us the opposite perspective of waiting for a friend to get out of jail, after seeing his name in the paper for nothing worth celebrating. In this case, it’s Killer Black. But for now, it’s all good because Killer B is back with his reputation and life can go on. At least until they have to make you give up the goods for survival.
6. “Give Up the Goods (Just Step)” [feat. Noyd] (prod. by Q-Tip)
Doug (Flud Watches): I don’t even know where to start about a song that is my favorite Hip-Hop song ever and almost undeniably one of the greatest Queens anthems ever made. Behind a simple, haunting sample of Esther Phillips “That’s All Right With Me,” this Q-Tip produced song is an incredible example of what made so many things dope- Mobb Deep, Queens, mid 90s Hip-Hop. When those snares hit, and Prodigy starts the song off “Ayo Queens get the money long time no cash” – it just instantly embodied what it felt like it meant to be from Queens. Everyone talks about how Harlem is for fly getting money dudes and Brooklyn was, as Mobb puts it on “Trife Life,” “home of the coffin,” Queens was, is and always will be, the melting pot. We get fly. We get money. Queens was the home of Run DMC, Russell Simmons, Tribe, Organized, but also Kool G Rap, Nas, Mobb Deep, CNN. Queens was the one borough that you didn’t accidentally walk into a bad neighborhood- you almost had to purposefully go to one. Queens had the most 2 fare zones (pre metro card days, if you lived nowhere near a train, you had to take a bus to the train, and pay twice). If you were in a foreign neighborhood in Queens, you immediately were food. It’s funny because most of this song is just regular Mobb Deep lyrics, but there is just something indescribable about the straight up attitude of the song. Its just Queens. It just feels like Queens.
7. “Temperature’s Rising” (feat. Crystal Johnson) [prod. by Q-Tip]
@aboynamedandy: *Fun fact; Biggie encouraged Havoc and Prodigy to release “Temperature’s Rising” as the lead single from The Infamous, but the pair felt it was too R&B-friendly (which is funny looking back; this would be one of the hardest records out in 2013). It was eventually promoted as the third track from the album, but not before the formidable “Shook Ones Pt. II” and “Survival of the Fittest” set the tone for the deadly Queensbridge duo’s sophomore LP. Even though the impeccable balance of Q-Tip’s thumping boom bap and Crystal Johnson’s soulful hook sounds polished-to-perfection, ‘Temperature’s Rising” was a heat-of-the-moment affair; it was conceived after H and P learned that Havoc’s brother, Killa Black, had been caught by the feds. “We laid our feelings on the page and took it from there. As I wrote, it just flew out of my pen,” Havoc once told Complex.
8. “Up North Trip” (prod. by Havoc)
Laura: “Up North Trip” features a dreamy intro courtesy of The Detroit Spinners “I’m Tired of Giving.” To say this occurred nearly two decades before Hip-Hop would turn trippy en masse. Wait a moment, and the beats and rhymes will remind you this LP dropped closer to Fresh Prince than Ab-Soul.
9. “Trife Life” (prod. by Havoc)
Robbie (Unkut): There’s something about this instrumental which conjures images of a dive bar located next to the docks, as the rolling filtered bassline (courtesy of Norman Connors “You Are My Starship”) meshes with industrial growls, a wandering horn and a crisp snare. The narrative switches perspective from Prodigy’s tale of almost getting caught out there as a victim (all for the sake of a broad) to Havoc’s predatory recollection of catching a foolish tourist slipping in a similar scenario, before he launches into random grimy talk for the remainder of the verse. “Trife Life” captures all of the qualities that make this album so great – atmospheric production, quality crime stories and the ultimate in anti-social behavior.
10. “Q.U. – Hectic” (prod. by Havoc)
Steez: “Q.U. – Hectic” comes around the two third marker of The Infamous, and serves as a clear reminder that you’re still knee deep in the bridge. Like waking from a pleasant dream while on a tour of duty, only to realize that you’ll be on the front lines by noon. In other words, no time to get comfortable. Hav’s use of moody saxophone sirens, wooden glockenspiels, and his sinister sample use of Quincy Jones’ “Kitty With the Bent Frame” provides the backdrop for some of the most apocalyptic lyrics on the album: “Don’t try to play me, if you do you better D.O.A. me/ Son I got ‘em shook, grabbin’ little babies for shields…” True.. you don’t wanna bump heads with the Havoc.
11. “Right Back at You” (feat. Ghostface Killah & Raekwon the Chef) [prod. by Mobb Deep]
Laura: “Right Back At You” featuring both Rae and Ghost rocks the chops of two featured artists who would go on to have illustrious careers. Although there are many nuances that place it in its historical context, this is one that feels as fresh now as it did at the time.
12. “[The Grave Prelude]“
The skits on The Infamous can seem so intense at times, that I can remember driving around aimlessly with friends (high as shit..) on a Friday or Saturday night, while listening to this album, and things could start getting a bit bugged out. It becomes more than the music.. that’s what’s so crazy about this album, it really takes you on a ride for better and for worse, and this skit, at least to me, epitomizes that realness. Makes you wonder what you would do, or how you would react if shit went down, or worse yet, if you were the victim.. yup, this one’s a real mind f*ck.
13. “Cradle to the Grave” (prod. by Havoc)
@aboynamedandy: Even in a medley of menacing cuts like “Shook Ones, Pt. II,” “Survival of the Fittest” and “Eye for a Eye,” “Cradle to the Grave” stands out as one of of the purely terrifying records on The Infamous. It’s that first strike of the drum — barely two seconds into the song — that sets the tone immediately, while the crackling, festering bass sends you a dozen levels deeper into hell. It was only right that H and P describe the street life in almost X-Rated detail: “Got grazed in the arm, one slug hit my son/ He was bleedin from the head, I couldn’t believe it.”
14. “Drink Away the Pain (Situations)” (prod. by Q-Tip)
Steez: If there was a soundtrack to the summer of ’95, “Drink Away the Pain (Situations)” would’ve been the single. The Q-Tip featured and produced spirits x fashion anthem could be heard throughout car speakers and house parties from May through August, and then some. This of course depends on where you’re from – but as a recent high school grad from Suffolk County, Long Island, “Drink away the Pain” was the backdrop to many good memories. The Headhunters “I Remember I Made You Cry” sample used by Tip is one of the most refreshing, nostalgic use of a sample I’ve ever heard, making Situations one of my favorite songs of all time.. yup, all genres. What’s so amazing about this song besides everything, is that it balanced the LP, giving it that Tribe vibe while still maintaining that 41st side edge. The combination Hav & P’s raps about their love of liquor disguised as a woman, with Tip’s incredibly penned fashion caper, had everyone reciting their favorite lines.. you know you’d love to scan the room and see shorty lip syncing “…Donna Karan was cryin’ cause mad shells was flyin’” – timeless.
15. “Shook Ones, Pt. II” (prod. by Havoc)
@aboynamedandy: “Shook Ones, Pt. II” is not just Mobb Deep’s flagship song; it’s one of the greatest Hip-Hop records of all time. Its recipe of hard, gritty drums, cold, hypnotic keys (the melody of which is also derived from Quincy Jones’ “Kitty With the Bent Frame”) and a subtle Herbie Hancock sample was simple, yet devastatingly effect. Havoc’s bone-chilling beat and Prodigy’s terrifying threats (“Rock you in your face, stab your brain with your nosebone”) can still amazingly teleport listeners to the heart of those hellish Queensbridge Projects to this day. In fact, the magical “Shook Ones, Pt. II” session provided inspiration for the remainder of The Infamous.
16. “Party Over” (prod. by Mobb Deep, Co-prod. by Matt Life)
Robbie (Unkut): This is one of the highlights of The Infamous. A no-frills display of heartless rap nonchalance with a bonus vintage performance from loyal weed carrier Big Noyd, who makes special mention of the fact that he was using a “cellular” phone, which was kinda a big deal in 1994. Thanks to a clever use of the intro to Miles Davis’ “Lonely Fire,” the beat has an eerily hypnotic quality that combines with the timeless chant of the hook. Menace To Society Rap at it’s finest.