Mobb Deep essentially hit the reset button on their careers after 1993’s Juvenile Hell, and their reemergence on the scene came with a vengeance. The duo introduced us to “Survival of the Fittest” in 1995, and on the track’s first verse, Prodigy set the tone: “There's a war going on outside, no man is safe from / You could run but you can't hide forever / From these, streets, that we done took / You walking with your head down scared to look / You shook, cause ain't no such things as halfway crooks.” Even though they lacked the name recognition of Nas or Notorious B.I.G., Havoc and Prodigy asserted themselves as unafraid and true to the streets. It’s why they were a force to begin with and are still holding their own nearly 20 years later.
We all know what Mobb Deep is about. But the perspective they’ve attained over the years is more apparent than ever. They’re still partial to the Gangsta Rap association, but on The Infamous Mobb Deep it’s more Frank Lucas than anything else. That is, for every line about fucking you up, there is a reference to being the bankrollers and behind-the-scenes men (“All A Dream”). Discernibly, their days as street soldiers are over.
After logging time on the apparently now defunct G-Unit roster, The Infamous Mobb Deep is the group’s first full length release since parting ways with 50 Cent. And they appear hungrier than ever. On “Dirt,” Prodigy speaks to fans and rappers alike: “I ain’t seen none of these niggas, and we out here / Wannabe celebrity thugs, a lot of mouth, yeah / Oh my god, we cannot be fucked with / Real shit look at our life, all in the public / We under the microscope, they all watching us / We have no choice but to keep it trill, they sizing us.” Killing two birds with one stone, Havoc offers a critique of current Rap trends, while also speaking on the much publicized spat he had with Prodigy in 2012. Prevailing wisdom suggests the group is tight again, with the culture of competition fostering their artistic ambition. They aren’t afraid of a challenge, much like when they went up against Tupac in 1996.
It is also worth noting the slew of guest appearances on the album. Snoop Dogg, The LOX, Bun B, Juicy J, Busta Rhymes, French Montana and Nas all supply verses, and no one disappoints. In particular, Snoop and Nas shine, sounding like their versions of old. Havoc and Prodigy are certainly elevated rapping alongside emcees of such stature, but they never waver, admirably capturing the vibe of each artist.
Production represents a return to previous trends, with contributions from Havoc, Illmind and Alchemist, among others. And everyone has their moment in the sun. Mobb Deep is using the same formula to build a song; sample-based records with crisp mastering and polishing. The themality from The Infamous carried over to this album beautifully, buoyed by a dark overtone. “Get Down” featuring Snoop Dogg bangs with hard drumlines, while “Waterboarding” is fleshed out with a unique trickling water sample. The consistency of the production certainly adds to the replay value of The Infamous Mobb Deep, and boasts top notch work from some of Hip Hop’s most notable beatsmiths.
A two-disc album, the second act of The Infamous Mobb Deep is a collection of tracks left off of The Infamous. Their hit single “Eye For An Eye” is included with a different beat—sampling Al Green’s “I Wish You Were Here”—as well as a verse from Ghostface Killah. The second disc provides a lot in the way of nostalgia, but also works well juxtaposed with the first. When Raekwon and Eminem released overdue sequels to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… and The Marshall Mathers LP respectively, they spoke about having to return to the headspace that enabled for these original classics. Mobb Deep overachieves in this regard. With hard lyricism and simple, yet contagious production, The Infamous Mobb Deep is a successful continuation of The Infamous.
There are no fun and games here. Just business. Havoc and Prodigy are as dialed in as ever. The Infamous Mobb Deep is a return to the roots of their artistic consciousness, substantiated almost 20 years ago, and with fine precision. With an all-star cast of guest lyricists and a gang of producers, The Infamous Mobb Deep is a loud wake-up call for Hip Hop. The Rap game is survival of the fittest, and Mobb Deep still roams among the strong.