Review #369: The Infamous, Mobb Deep

Karla Clifton
3 min readApr 5, 2023

#369: The Infamous, Mobb Deep

Prodigy and Havoc, the duo that made up Mobb Deep, were only nineteen years old when their sophomore record was released, but they already had a flop under their belt. So they staked it all on this record.

Despite their relative inexperience, the two of them decided to produce this record themselves. Much of their samples came from P’s grandfather’s jazzy record collection — his grandfather being the saxophonist Budd Johnson, who had been inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1993. But they didn’t have to do it all on their own, after catching the attention of Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest, who swooped in and doctored it up. Tip (under alias The Abstract) helped the green rap duo hone their producing instincts, mentoring them through the production of songs like “Drink Away the Pain (Situations).” Still, Havoc is the sole producer credited on the album’s biggest hit, “Shook Ones, Pt. II,” so it’s not like their instincts weren’t already sharp.

Mobb Deep was very concerned with sounding like the baddest dudes on the block. Imagine being nineteen and giving a big ol’ speech about murdering your enemies, like Prodigy on “(The Infamous Prelude).” Seriously, this kind of chill, easy confidence should be studied. I mean, look at “Give Up the Goods (Just Step),” which is built around a sample from Esther Phillips’ “That’s All Right With Me.” According to Prodigy, the reason they went with that sample was because LL Cool J had previously used it on “Pink Cookies in a Plastic Bag Getting Crushed by Buildings.” In P’s words, “We was like, ‘Fuck that. We’re going to make it some hardcore shit.’” They rap about prison (“Up North Trip”) and parties that end in a fight (“Party Over”). For even more nut-grabbing, lower-lip-jutting confidence, listen to “Survival of the Fittest” and “Right Back At You.”

In fairness, all this postured badassery comes from a genuine place. All the references to the “41st side” (see “The Start of Your Ending (41st Side)”) are references to Queensbridge, a public housing development where Havoc grew up. (I’ve always loved NYC rap that celebrates the city, even though I’ve never lived there — I just like music that transports me, you know? See “Q.U. — Hectic” and “Trife Life.”) And “Temperature’s Rising” is about Havoc’s brother, Killa Black, who was briefly hid by Havoc while on the run from the police. Black would eventually take his own life.

That brings up another lyrical theme — brotherly loyalty, which extends to everyone in their crew. I wish I had friends as cool as them on “Eye for a Eye (Your Beef Is Mine)” or enemies as cool as them on “Cradle to the Grave.” They uplift their friends in an enviable way. Case in point: Big Noyd, named for the Domino’s Pizza mascot The Noid, which is absolutely insane. According to Noyd himself, he preferred drug dealing, but was goaded into rapping by Prodigy and Havoc. Good thing, too — on his big feature on “(Just Step Prelude),” he admits to having three [court] cases in three places. Rapping is definitely a better gig.

There’s a few sad addendums to Mobb Deep’s career. Prodigy would eventually spend three years in prison for possessing a weapon, which would lead to a rift between him and Havoc. (The two eventually made up and released more music together.) In 2017 Prodigy passed away after a battle with sickle-cell anemia. In fact, the hospital he died in was sued by his family for negligence. Havoc, however, is still alive, and is considered one of hip-hop’s best producers. It’s bittersweet that his legacy outlived him. He was 42 years old.

Fun Fact: Prodigy & Havoc formed Mobb Deep (first called the Poetical Prophets) while the two were classmates at Manhattan’s High School of Art and Design — the same school that produced Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, and Harvey Fierstein. I don’t know why, but that tickles me so.

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