Mobb Deep’s début album Juvenile Hell was nothing special and it didn’t make much of an impact, but when the Queensbridge duo regrouped after being dropped by their label, they came back hard with their second LP “The Infamous”, in fact the word ‘hard’ is probably an understatement when it comes to this album. With their gritty tales of street life, the pair Havoc and Prodigy created an album that permanently etched the idea of violent thugism into 90’s music, in fact it’s impact was such that The Infamous affirmed Queensbridge’s status within Hip-Hop music forever. All thirteen tracks on the LP were instant classics, and every single song was played almost constantly on pirate radio stations and on people’s Walkmans. Even today it sounds as rugged as the day it was released, in fact with so much watered-down muzak created these days, an album like The Infamous has the ability to sound refreshing when played amidst the atmosphere of bland contemporary Hip-Pop.
The Infamous starts with a steady, slightly mellow “The Start of Your Ending (41st Side)”. It serves as a great introduction to the duo with Prodigy giving a subdued and unruffled delivery and Havoc possessing a more boisterous style, Havoc is also responsible for Mobb Deep’s rugged sound and he keeps the production consistent throughout the album. With lyrics like “The Grim Reaper holdin’ with nothin’ but big batters and big heaters, blow ya three times leave a mark like Adidas” the pair brought a new slant to hardcore Hip-Hop in the mid-nineties, the rhymes weren’t complicated but they felt authentic and they were brimming with realism, both members painted pictures so vivid they almost leapt from the album and stuck-up the listener.
After a quick interlude titled “The Infamous Prelude” (with Prodigy reinforcing his street cred and threatening a few people) comes the second song and first single from the album. “Survival Of The Fittest” is an undeniable classic and the song is a great example of the group’s grimy sound and street-centric lyrics. With Prodigy’s opening line “There’s a war going on outside no man is safe from” the track is simply filled with Hip-Hop quotables and the song has been referenced by many MC’s since. When the video for Survival Of The Fittest was first shown on Yo! MTV Raps it was the hardest thing I’d seen since Wu-Tang’s Protect Ya Neck, it even left fans of the Mobb wanting to know what the “untold fact” Havoc’s brother Killa Black told Prodigy.
“Eye For A Eye (Your Beef Is Mines)” features fellow Queensbridge Rapper Nas and Loud label-mate Raekwon. Both Nas and Raekwon showcase their smooth flow (which was a new style during the early nineties) and Mobb Deep bring their usual hardcore rhymes to the table. The track which features an Al Green sample is a mean, head-nodding joint with a catchy hook, Havoc’s production-trademark of an overt vinyl crackle is also present to create a golden-era gem.
After Big Noyd (a Mobb affiliate) and Prodigy each give a quick verse on “Just Step Prelude” comes “Give Up the Goods (Just Step)” an upbeat and almost tranquil sounding track thanks largely to the sample of “That’s All Right With Me” by Esther Phillips. “Temperature’s Rising” featuring Crystal Johnson then follows, it’s another relaxed track akin to “Give Up The Goods”. The lyrics are very similar to Nas’ “One Love” in that they speak to someone in prison, but since this is Mobb Deep the solemnity is broken by the violent lyrics… “That snitch nigga gave Police your location, we’ll chop his body up in six degrees of separation”. The remix version was a personal favourite of mine during the summer of ’95 as it was played on Tim Westwood’s Radio 1 show and subsequently became embedded into the mood of the season.
“Up North Trip” then follows and this was another summertime favourite for me personally with its laid-back samples from “To Be With You” by The Fatback Band and “I’m Tired Of Giving” by The Spinners. The lyrics touch on the topic of being sent to jail but the juxtaposed production makes you forget about what should be depressing lyrical content.
Then its “Trife Life” which opens with a hypnotic intro, but the track brings a more hardcore sound as Prodigy tells a tale about being set up for an ambush. The only reprieve from the unfolding violence is every time the sample of “You Are My Starship” by Norman Connors kicks in.
The next track “Q.U. — Hectic” is a gritty and sometimes poignant tale of growing up in Queens with Prodigy rapping…
“I open my eyes to the streets where I was raised as a man, and learned to use my hands for protection, in scuffles, throw all my blows in doubles. I’m coming from Queens motherfucker carrying guns in couples, and wilding, a Q-U soldier, from Lefrak to Rockaway back to Queensbridge black. It’s only crack sales makin’ niggas act like that, back in the days we would scrap, now you lay on your back. As things changed with time I traded in my knuckles for a Mac-10, and rather live the life of crime…”
The quick saxophone sample and the xylophone strike make for another summer banger, the track also features a sample from “You Are My Starship” and when the production is married with the chorus its one of those memorable musical moments that instantly transport you back to the nineties.
“Right Back At You” is next and it features Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, and Big Noyd. The thumping drums and bassline is a perfect accompaniment to the mean lyrics. Ghostface and Raekwon give a nice back-to-back verse and Prodigy’s fantastic verse in particular sets the tone for the song…
“I’m lost in the blocks of hate and can’t wait, for the next crab nigga to step and meet fate. 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 heads with kids that’s lifeless. I live by the day only if I survive the last night, damn right, I ain’t tryin’ to fight. We can settle this like some grown men on the concrete floor, my slugs will put a stop to your hardcore, ways of action, I grab the gat, then, ain’t no turning back when I start blastin’. Pick up the handle and insert the potion, cock the shit back in a calm like motion. No signs of anger or fear ’cause you the one in danger, never share your plans with a stranger”
“The Grave Prelude” features a quick interlude of a shooting in a gloomy rain-soaked thunderstorm, this then blends into the track “Cradle to the Grave” which speaks about crime, backstabbing, and killing for revenge. P raps…
“…it’s hard acting like everything is alright, get the chills when I see that nigga in my sight. A dead man walking, not only that he’s still talkin’, about how and what he did very often. You don’t know how much I fiend to put his ass in a coffin”
“Drink Away the Pain (Situations)” is a more uptempo sounding song, it features Q-Tip who also produces and this gives the song more of a A Tribe Called Quest vibe rather than a typical Mobb Deep sound. That being said it’s still a great track that contains creative lyrics that liken alcohol to the opposite sex…
“I used to be in love with this bitch named E&J, don’t fuck with her no more now I fuck with Tanqueray. Tanqueray introduced me to her first cousin Gold, last name was English and the first name Olde”
Since there isn’t any other way to describe the penultimate song, I’m going to say it once more… “Shook Ones Pt. II” is a classic. It’s a song that spawned widespread use of a new slang word (“shook”) and the lyrics themselves (especially the chorus) were and still are quoted and imitated even to this day. Lyrics like “every line I write it’s twenty five to life” are just brilliant, in fact almost every line uttered by Hav and P are Hip-Hop quotables and the production has been used in freestyles and ciphers ever since.
The final song is “Party Over” featuring Big Noyd and it’s another great song. The production is rugged and the lyrics are raw. Once again the chorus is memorable and the line “Party’s over tell the rest of the crew” has since become legendary, forever embedded within golden era history. It’s a strong way of ending a flawless album from the Queensbridge duo.
Since its release in 1995, lines have been sampled and choruses have been referenced, The Infamous was and still is hugely influential. The overused description of “classic” is for once justified, in fact every track is a classic, if you were around when this album was originally released you know for a fact that this LP was played over and over by every single Hip-Hop head, and this was way before all the mainstream suck-ups got wind of how The Infamous was received by the Hip-Hop community. On the subject of suck-ups, it has to be mentioned that many publications have since changed their initial rating of the album. If you ever needed proof that Rolling Stone don’t know shit about Hip-Hop it’s the fact that they had to retrospectively amend their original rating of 3 ½ to a perfect 5, even The Source Magazine changed their score from 4 ½ mics to 5 mics. Everybody that I know who heard the CD in ’95 already new it was a perfect album, I guess only when a decade passes and you can plainly see the effects this release has had on Hip-Hop music and Hip-Hop culture, only then do interlopers like Rolling Stone rectify their gross underrating. Also on the topic of ratings, if Nas’ Illmatic hadn’t been released a year earlier, I think most Hip-Hop magazines would have given this album a perfect score, but people were so engrossed with an intelligent, scholar-enticing LP that they couldn’t bring themselves to give an album with gritty and violent content five out of five too… god forbid two CD’s from out of Queensbridge attain a perfect score; and if they did the mainstream’s pet in the form of G-Funk may have been forgotten completely.
The Infamous can be played from start to finish without skipping past a single song, the skits or interludes are short enough as to not impede on the overall flow of the piece and each song is satisfying enough that they can be played in isolation and still have the same effect as hearing the entire LP. Mobb Deep’s second offering The Infamous is one of their best, throughout the nineties the duo were responsible of making some of the best Hip-Hop music of their generation, plus they kept up their flawless album creating for two more releases (Hell On Earth and Murda Muzik). I’d rather forget about the sub-par stuff they created during the time they were signed to 50 Cent, but for most of the nineties, Mobb Deep made hardcore East Coast Hip-Hop that everybody now misses ever since a southern influence took over the five boroughs. The Infamous is a perfect example of what New York Hip-Hop used to sound like during the Golden Age of Rap music, it’s an amazing and everlasting piece of work.
Ain’t No Such Things As Halfway Crooks.