April 25, 2021

Mobb Deep "The Infamous" (New York Daily News, 1995)

It's a telling tale for rap duo Mobb Deep. Out of the rugged, raw South Queensbridge Houses, Prodigy and Havoc come to the world of hip hop with a message of survival in the 'hood. They do not arrive with candy-coated tales of living large. They deliver narration that spins tales of survival as they roll through the urban jungle. Their defense: it's their reality. "I've seen people get killed, my best man. Young kids is murderers, going out there and killing kids for selling crack on their corners," says 20-year old Prodigy, aka Chaka Johnson. "It's nothing, like, spectacular about it. You can say, 'Dag, he's 20 years old -- how could he go through that?' A lot of us do. There are a lot of 20-year olds just like me -- they just don't know how to put it in words." So Mobb Deep did it for them. Barely legal and with an album already to their credit, Mobb Deep enter with their sophomore album, "The Infamous," an ice-cold portrait of life in the darkest corners of NYC. Mobb Deep's truth comes to the music via the South Queensbridge Houses, where Havoc grew up. Havoc still lives there, and vows to stay. Prodigy's mom sent him to live with his grandmother on Long Island at age 15 after he was arrested for selling drugs near his childhood home in the Lefrak City complex. Prodigy first spotted Havoc -- description identical, save a couple of inches -- jacking up a guy twice his size in the lunchroom at Manhattan School of Art and Design. "He was real little back in the day -- a shortie," recalls Prodigy. "A little short n!gg@ beatin' on some big n!gg@. I saw him the next day, told him he was wrecking that kid nasty-like. "After that, we would be rhymin' with each other. Everybody was, like, 'Y'all need to get together and form a group.' We battled everybody in school -- we was the illest." Their first album, "Juvenile Hell," came in 1993. Though its only single "Shook Ones Part 1," still has hard-core rap enthusiasts nodding their heads, paltry sales, sloppy business practices and a lackluster push from their label sent the album nowhere -- fast. Cont'd...

Havoc admits the culprit was the duo's misguided illusion of dollar bills and quick fame -- an immature business sense that sent the high school dropouts back to Queens empty-handed. "The bottom line is that we wasn't on top of our game," Havoc once confessed. "We wasn't handling our business the way we was supposed to. We [were] young." Now, armed with G.E.D.'s and a few extra years in the business under their belt, Mobb Deep find themselves in the middle of a Mobb Deep craze -- their songs all over the charts, their videos all over music television and 500,000 people across the country listening to their tales of life in the 'hood. A cursory listen tells you their music is everything your mother forbade you to hear. It's just what conservatives, parents groups and the likes of presidential candidate Sen. Bob Dole have been bashing. But Prodigy repeats what most defenders of gangsta rap have already said: They're just rapping about what they see on the streets. "I feel that Bob Dole and Bill Clinton make me like this. How can they complain when I write songs about what they put me through? Ironically, it's not only the streets that are putting Prodigy through it. He has a serious case of sickle-cell anemia, a blood disease that dehydrates him and threatens his bone strength. He already has a bad hip that he must have replaced. "My leg is f***** up," Prodigy says. "But that doesn't affect my performing." Prodigy says they study the Koran, the Bible, and even quotations from Mao Zedong, sharing views with their project counterparts. "You got to keep it to the street. Keep the phat beats, but knowledge -- read up on books, talk about everything," Prodigy said. "Right now, we got 500,000 ears, so we're going to make some use of that." - New York Daily News. July 23, 1995. R.I.P., Albert "Prodigy" Johnson!