A Mercedes-Benz runner pulls over into a crowded summer night on Philadelphia's famed South Street. Smells of grease-soaked beef and cigarette smoke fill the air, as tattooed kids from various sub-cultures troll the sidewalks. A pocket of them are waiting in front of The Theatre of the Living Arts, a historic venue, and Havoc, followed by Prodigy emerge from the black van to greet them.
"Welcome home, P! We missed you, my nigga!" shouts one man, in his forties, smoking a cigar. Prodigy heads in his direction and gives him a pound. Havoc daps it up with a pocket of teenagers, as the pair heads down the sidewalk in search of food, and some quick window-shopping.
Fifteen minutes later, Mobb Deep is in the green-room of the TLA. Prodigy is behind a beaten desk, cycling through three or four chirping Blackberrys. He is next to his teen-aged son, Tshaka, who stares at the wall through his black sunglasses. Havoc leans against the adjacent wall, enjoying a smoke and fidgeting with an impressive black diamond necklace. "It's a light crowd out there," Havoc says cautiously to his partner, as Philly heads filter in for the opening acts. In 25 minutes, it won't be, as Queensbridge royalty takes the stage as part of the Rock The Bells tour this summer, bringing street Hip Hop heroes to a live audience circuit that's missed them for years.
Mobb Deep Explains The Impact Of The Infamous
HipHopDX: It's very cool that Rock The Bells did these side-tours in the week, allowing you guys and Raekwon and Ghostface Killah to perform classic albums in front of smaller crowds. Interestingly enough, your classic LP, The Infamous is your second album. It's funny, as most artists' debut is their fan-championed work. What do you think it is about the second, and the evolution artistically, that pulled so many people in?
Prodigy: The Infamous was the trend-setter, as far as sound and production and lyrics - what we were sayin'. It was like a whole other style, somethin' new that we was bringin' to the table. The quality of music, I would say, was definitely money; it was up there with the top-level shit, 'cause that's what we were pushin' for. We made sure the quality was like that, 'cause we were tryin' to prove ourselves at that time, that we deserved our position.
Havoc: Our backs were definitely against the wall. We were tryin' to make an ill album. [Pauses] Yeah, niggas can't fuck with us.
DX: It's similar to another album being performed on Rock The Bells' stage this year, Enta Da Stage by Black Moon. It's Hip Hop, but it's street, gangsta. P, your whole "Infamous Prelude" track kind of epitomizes that. When you were making The Infamous, how much of it was inspired by the 41st Side, and how much was inspired by the Hip Hop community that might have known you guys from Stretch & Bobbito and whatnot?
Havoc: This may sound like sacrilege, but we wasn't even thinkin' about Hip Hop when we made the album, I kid you not. We was just thinkin' about making a dope album. We wasn't thinkin' about Hip Hop, the genre. We was just thinkin' about makin' a dope, dope album.
Prodigy: Yeah, yeah!
Havoc: So when you hear interludes from P, that's just straight from the heart - straight from the heart.
DX: One take.
Havoc: Yeah. It's not like, "Oh, I fucked up. Let me do it again." If you listen to it, it's not edited. It's straight-through, straight from the heart. So nah, we wasn't thinkin' about Hip Hop. But today, when you ask that question, it is about Hip Hop. "Okay, they did somethin' for Hip Hop." We did it unknowingly.
Mobb Deep Talks About Family, Touring
DX: How important is it for you guys to be on the road together right, since P came home. Obviously, you were quickly in the studio together, but this involves the fans and the Mobb Deep catalog of music...
Prodigy: You definitely gotta stay on your game, man. You gotta always put music out there, always gotta stay fresh. That's what made us last so long; we don't stop. Mobb Deep is like a big touring group, 'cause we definitely have a large catalog of songs to perform on stage, so we definitely take advantage of that, and don't take it for granted.
Havoc: It's truly special. It's something that I can't describe in words, but to have Prodigy's son with us on the road now, is...just somethin' that I can't describe in words. Just to say that Prodigy's son is on the road with us, and I knew [Prodigy] since I was 15 years old, it just wipes everything that you know, from the books, off. It's like fam. [Laughing] And he's sittin' right there, with his shades on, tryin' to look cool! I knew Prodigy before [he was born]. Now to have him here, and to be on the road, it's an experience that I will never, ever forget in my life.
[Havoc takes the recorder and places it front of Prodigy's son]
Havoc: Tell 'em what you think about me? [Laughs] This is for DX, tell 'em what you think,
Tshaka: You and my father...y'all like best friends-tight. Y'all like me and my friends back home. Y'all tight like brothas.
Havoc: Like brothers. So no matter what type of argument we get into...
Tshaka: ...No matter what type of argument y'all get into, no matter what the situation is, it's blood.
Havoc: That's a young dude sayin' it. He sees it. He sees it a close perspective. You know what? We're really like that.
Havoc Says That Prodigy Is The Best Emcee
DX: Along those lines, how do the words from old albums and eras hit you when you're on stage saying 'em again?
Prodigy: It's just amazin' to see the crowd sayin' the words, knowin' how those words affected they life. You can just tell, "Yo, that's they shit." You can see that look in their face. That's we wrote it for. We wrote it to try and have that impact on the world. To see that it worked, we really did it is just inspiring.
Havoc: I have something to add, that's really gonna be crazy groundbreaking. I never that knew that Prodigy was the best lyricist, ever.
DX: That's something that you're realizing on this tour?
Havoc: Every day I realize it. I know it now. But I never knew that he was the best lyricist; I always took it for granted. [Prodigy nods] It's just crazy.
DX: It's interesting that you're sharing this bill with Rae and Ghost. Do you guys perform "Right Back At You" together on this tour?
Havoc: Nah, not for "Right Back At You."
Prodigy: Usually, we just run through it. It depends on how they feel. Sometimes they come out. Usually, we just do it.
Havoc: I must say though, they do surprise us. Like we'll do a song that we did with them, but we're not anticipating them performing it, and Raekwon''ll just float on stage and you just have act [like you were expecting it].
DX: Growing up in Pittsburgh, your music taught me so much about what mid-1990s Queens was like, and even what New York was like. How do you think that era in the city affected your music?
Havoc: Know what? New York didn't affect Mobb Deep's sound. Mobb Deep affected New York's sound.
Prodigy: That's definitely true. The whole generation of Rap before us inspired us. It affected us, it made us want to do what we do. But at the same time, we wanted to create somethin' brand new. We put somethin' out there and people who loved it took a style off of it - dark beats, crazy [lyrics].
Havoc: We affected New York. That's the bottom line, right-fuckin'-there.
Prodigy: Who could fuck with Mobb Deep? Nobody could fuck with Mobb Deep.
DX: [To Tshaka] Have you read your father's book?
DX: What surprised you about it? Not necessarily controversy, but did anything you learned surprise you? [Prodigy bursts into laughter]
Tshaka: My father will tell me anything.
Havoc: Lucky bastard!
Tshaka: So there wasn't really anything that surprised me.
[Havoc takes the recorder and leans towards Tshaka]
Havoc: I'm askin' some questions,...is Prodigy "Prodigy" to you, as how other people look at him? Just a little bit, a little bit, do you look at him like that?
Tshaka: No. Not at all.
Havoc: Alright. Are you amazed when people come up to him like, "Oh my God, Prodigy!"?
Tshaka: I'm amazed. But I want; people to come up to him and ask him for his autograph.
Havoc: Does it feel good?
Tshaka: It does feel good, 'cause it's my dad.
Havoc: Is it an inspiration to you?
Tshaka: Yeah, it makes me want to get into the studio and work on my music [and enhance] my creativity.
Havoc: Are you into music?
Tshaka: Yes, 100%
Havoc: How did you get into music?
Tshaka: My father.
Havoc: No doubt. That's my last question. [Laughter throughout the room]
DX: In addition to this tour, what are you guys working on right now?
Prodigy: We're workin' on the next Mobb album. That's it.
DX: That's gonna be next year most likely...
Prodigy: Some time soon. Maybe before then.