Rewind: Mobb Deep’s The Infamous

Rewind: Mobb Deep’s The Infamous

[I may not be the most likely of  hip-hop writers, but I’ve steadily grown a vocabulary (and a joy) to write about he genre, especially when reflecting on the legacy of older rap that has stood the test of time. This was the first installment of a series I’ve since turned into a weekly feature in TIDAL.]

With TIDAL Rewind, we blow the dust off an old album that’s begging to be heard again. Here, we look back at Mobb Deep’s prophetically titled sophomore album, The Infamous, which celebrated its 20th anniversary over the weekend.

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What is The Infamous?

Released April 25, 1995, The Infamous is the second studio album by Mobb Deep, the hard-hitting duo comprised of Kejuan “Havoc” Muchita and Albert “Prodigy” Johnson, hailing from the emblematic Queensbridge housing projects in Queens, NY. The album features guest appearances from Nas, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, and frequent collaborators Big Noyd and Q-Tip, the latter of whom also helped co-produce. Following their largely forgettable 1993 debut, Juvenile Hell, it marked Mobb Deep’s proper entrance as major-league players in the increasingly serious rap game brewing on the East Coast at the time.

What does it sound like?

Packed with gritty lyrics, hyperbolic storytelling and battle-hardened wisdom, The Infamous reads like diary from the darkest, most cut-throat corners of society. The narratives are graphic, the atmosphere is grim, and the beats are hard. Whereas Wu-Tang had to declare they “ain’t nuthing ta fuck wit,” Prodigy and Havoc are egging you on to fuck with Mobb Deep. Tracks like “Survival of the Fittest,” “Eye for an Eye (Your Beef is Mine)” and “Up North Trip” are manifestos for surviving in the war zone that is the streets.

One such example:
There’s a war goin 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

Following their debut, which actually led to Mobb Deep being dropped from their label, the duo regrouped and reinvented their intricate, razor-sharp and breathless songwriting. The pair also largely handled the production as well, but the album’s sonic perfectionism is also deeply indebted to Q-Tip’s presence. The sweat-inducing beat on penultimate closer “Shook Ones, Pt. II” has been described as “one of rap’s most perfect sounds” by Pitchfork’s Jayson Greene, and was also used as the backing track for the epic final rap battle in Eminem’s film 8 Mile.

Why should I care?

Simply put, The Infamous is a masterpiece of the hip-hop canon. Released on the heels of Nas’ Illmatic and Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers, the album was a cornerstone the hardcore East Coast renaissance that reasserted a threatening dominance in the brooding inter-coastal rivalry. It is also one of the most critically-acclaimed hip-hop albums ever.

It’s a profound statement, for its honesty and flawless execution. The brutal subject matter doesn’t glamorize, nor does it apologize. For understandable reasons, this so-calleed “murder rap” was a prime example of the hardcore hip-hop that both frightened and offended conservative America. But for those with less sensitive ears, it’s unsullied gangster rap that exposes the reality, drama and consequences of the urban hood life.

Where do I hear more?

Released just a year after The Infamous, Mobb Deep’s Hell on Earth is a near-classic follow-up cut from the same lyrical and sonic cloth. ”Drop a Gem on ‘Em” is a biting response to “Hit ‘Em Up,” Tupac’s inflammatory assault on the East Coast, which was made all the more controversial when it was released after Tupac’s death (although it was recorded while he was still living).

Though nothing else has lived up to the acclaim or inherent greatness of The Infamous, the pair have released several other albums over the years, notably 1999′s Murda Muzik, which remains their most commercially successful and includes one of their most singular tracks, ”Quiet Storm.” Both Prodigy and Havoc have also recorded a handful of solo albums to their name.

Following solo work, incarcerations and a short-lived breakup in 2012, the duo rejoined forces and, after prematurely reissuing The Infamous last year, are currently well into an anniversary tour for their most famous (and infamous) gift to the world.

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