Mobb Deep – The Infamous Retrospective

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New York City in the 90s was forever changed when hip-hop took off a veil of party anthems, and traded them for a microphone bought at the Goodwill and used pantyhose as a pop filter.

Queensbridge duo, Mobb Deep and their 1995 album “The Infamous” joined the likes of Wu-Tang Clan and Public Enemy as a group that was going to tell their life story on their terms. What makes “The Infamous” stand out is more than just some catchy beats and the superb word flow from MCs Prodigy and Havoc. No, it’s that New York City feels like it’s imbued with the music itself. The city is not only the backdrop; it’s almost a contributing member to the LP.

Several tracks, most notably “Shook Ones Pt.II” and “Trife Life,” feature industrial sound effects that sound like steam rising through a grate or a car horn honking at a pedestrian. Little details like these that are blended with the beats are how the album is able to stand out and has remained a hip-hop staple for over 20 years.

While a majority of the songs on the album deal with guns, gangs, girls and any other hardship you can think of, some tracks wrap these hard to swallow pills in a chill package. “Temperature’s Rising,” a song about increased police activity, has a soulful chorus belted by Crystal Johnson to a hi-hat heavy beat that is poignant to this day.  Another track “Give Up the Goods (Just Step)” has a string sample that gives the song some air and lifts it out of the pit that Mobb Deep have painted the hood to be. The beat is quick, but with the guitar samples, some depth is added to a beat that’s not as hard hitting as others found throughout the album.

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While the album has slightly lighter sides, at its core it’s an album about growing up where everyone in the neighborhood has everything to gain and nothing to lose. This winner take all mentality is especially present on the posse tracks “Eye for a Eye (Your Beef is Mines)” and “Right Back at You.” Both tracks feature Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon, and “Eye for a Eye” features fellow New York MC Nas, fresh off his own debut album “Illmatic.” The track talks about how friends are few and far between in Mobb’s world, but with buddies like Raekwon and Nas, who needs anyone else?

“Right Back at You” features Raekwon’s fellow Wu-Tang member Ghostface Killah with a sample that sounds like a banjo that’s been out of tune for decades. The samples and the clapping beats make the track standout from the rest by throwing a curveball toward the back half of the LP.

Mobb Deep’s most infamous track, “Shook Ones, Pt. II” has transcended more than just the album and the group since its release in 1995. The beat’s been used in “8 Mile,” “Grand Theft Auto” and promotions for the NBA and licensed games for the league. What makes the song so iconic are its combination of an eerie and memorable beat and lines that are hard to believe were written by teenagers.

“I’m only 19 but my mind is old and when things get for real my warm heart turns cold,” Prodigy raps in his verse.

Both he and Havoc play cat and mouse with the listener saying they hate they have to be hard, but in a way it’s all they know and know that’s how they’re going to live their lives.

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“For as long as I’m alive I’m a live illegal,” Havoc proclaims at the end of his verse.

An entire review could be written about this song, and many have. You truly are missing out if you haven’t listened to it at least once. Really that’s how the entire album is at its heart, it feels like something you didn’t know you missed. It’s got heart and will make you feel bad for the upbringing by the duo, but then they say they’ve grown tough because of it and survival is all they know.

With beats that are unlike anything else for its time and even now, samples that give songs all new feelings and lyrics that encapsulate an entire lifestyle of living in the hood, Mobb Deep’s “The Infamous” has withstood the test of time and is required listening for anyone looking to get into hip-hop or genre fans of old.

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