VIBE spotlights some of music’s most essential timepieces for Gen Y to get hip to
The Infamous (1995)
Memorize These: “Survival Of The Fittest,” “Shook Ones Pt. II,” “Eye For An Eye (Your Beef Is Mines),” “Temperature’s Rising”
RapGenius This: The metaphorical “Drink Away The Pain (Situations),” which finds Mobb Deep personifying booze and Q-Tip name-dropping fashion brands high and low.
Most Slept On: “Up North Trip.” Havoc and Prodigy spend much of The Infamous narrating trife life in the Queensbridge Projects, including but not limited to sticking up the stick-up kids, selling crack and popping off at The Tunnel (it was a storied ’90s nightclub in New York, dunn. Keep up!). But all that crime catches up to them on “Up North Trip,” which details a state-sponsored vacation in one of upstate New York’s majestic penitentiaries. This ain’t Orange Is The New Black, but Havoc’s “rusty-ass razor” will have you seeing Red.
Kanye Moment: Murder, not marginalization is on Prodigy’s mind as he lets a rant rip on album interlude/extended intro “The Infamous Prelude.” (Sample: “I’ma have to get on some ole ‘high school’ shit. Start punching niggas in they face just for living”)
Lines Best For Status Updates (For G’s): Are you kidding me? Prodigy virtually raps in tough-talk tweets. Here are a few:
-“There’s a war going on outside, no man is safe from” —Prodigy, “Survival of the Fittest”
-“Your simple words just don’t move me, you’re minor, we’re major” —Prodigy, “Shook Ones, Pt. II”
-“Mad man, my sanity is going like an hourglass” —Nas, “Eye For An Eye (Your Beef Is Mines)”
-“I might crack a smile but ain’t a damn thing funny” —Prodigy, “Survival of the Fittest”
-“It’s just another day, drowning my troubles with a 40” —Prodigy, “Trife Life”
-“Fuck a fantasy I’m living in reality” —Prodigy, “Q.U. — Hectic”
-“You talk a good one but you don’t want it” —Havoc, “Shook Ones, Pt. II”
-“Damn, why the situation go down like dat?” —Prodigy, “Temperature’s Rising”
-“I got you stuck off the realness” —Prodigy, “Shook Ones, Pt. II”
-“Stay intoxicated, never sober” —Prodigy, “The Start of Your Ending (41st Side)”
Bet You Didn’t Know: Jay Z isn’t the only MC who’s turned a hot line into a hot song. The Notorious B.I.G. was so inspired by Prodigy’s prose on “Q.U. — Hectic” (“Them niggas bleed just like us so show em where we come from”) that he lifts the lyric for the chorus of Life After Death’s classic yarn, “Niggas Bleed.”
Bet You (Also) Didn’t Know: The version of “Shook Ones” that we all know and love—those spooky keys that Mariah Carey made cotton candy sweet on “The Roof” and B. Rabbit castrated Papa Doc to in 8 Mile’s final battle and, most recently, The-Dream borrows for “Cold” from his Royalty: The Prequel EP—isn’t the original “Shook Ones” at all. The first rendition is a promotional single that’s more sparse and gritty than it’s successor, and features an original verse from Prodigy (Hav’s is nearly identical to that of “Shook Ones, Pt. II”). The group’s first release after signing to Loud Records, “Shook Ones, Pt. I” eventually found a home on the international version of Mobb Deep’s 1996 album, Hell On Earth.
Synopsis: Mobb Deep was barely voting age when the debut album Juvenile Hell dropped in 1993. After underwhelming sales and a tepid underground single “Hit it From the Back,” the twosome was dropped from 4th & B’way Records, left to find a new label home and, more importantly, a signature sound.
The duo reemerged hardened on The Infamous, their voices darker and milder, presumably from years of pulling blunts and taking underage E&J swigs. Havoc took production into his own hands, embracing thick-ass bass lines and eerie piano loops that’d help shape the sound of New York hip-hop. Even ATCQ jazzman Q-Tip got down with the gritty production style on tracks like “Temperature’s Rising,” a paranoid, audio jail mailing to Killa Black, Havoc’s now-deceased older brother, vowing to cover up criminal evidence (an updated flip on Nas’ “One Love”).
While Hav began his legacy of production genius, P’s penchant for unforgettable opening lines take root on this masterpiece. He’s hands down H.N.I.C. of kicking off a rap. Prodigy yokes you up by your ears with his opening words, rhymes like (“I got you stuck off the realness…” or “There’s a war going on outside no man is safe from…”). It’s so poetic. So gangsta.
Raekwon, Ghostface, Nas and Big Noyd all contribute stellar guest verses (“Right Back At You” is a gem), but this is Mobb Deep’s show. Some of hip-hop’s hardest tracks live here, from “Shook Ones, Pt. II,” to robbery anthem “Give Up The Goods (Just Step)” to “Survival of the Fittest,” articulating the Darwinist mentality required to endure life in the concrete jungle. This is the stuff of culture vulture wet dreams. With its graphic imagery and macabre narratives, The Infamous might be the grittiest depiction of criminality in the Queensbridge Projects. It’s certainly Mobb Deep’s greatest work, an LP that rounds out the mid-90s New York classics like Wu-Tang’s 36 Chambers (1993), Nas’ Illmatic and Biggie’s Ready to Die (both 1994). The Infamous is raw, because it’s real. —John Kennedy