East Coast rap trailblazers Mobb Deep return to claim their legacy
Not all hip-hop fans will recognize the name Mobb Deep, but chances are they’ve heard the pioneering New York duo’s beats sampled or lyrics quoted.
At the very least, they’ve heard the influence this collaboration of Prodigy and Havoc have had since their 1995 release, The Infamous, delivered a sound unlike anything that had been heard in rap music.
This month, more than two decades since the pair first began working together, Mobb Deep have reissued the record that put them on the map, along with an album of new material and 10 unreleased tracks from the original Infamous sessions. They’re in the midst of a 32-city nationwide tour in support of the album, which will bring them to the Catalyst Friday, April 18.
As one of the key progenitors of the East Coast hard core hip-hop sound, the duo from Queens have influenced a generation of rappers and producers with their stone-cold tales of life in the largest housing project in North America, the Queensbridge Houses. Along with contemporaries such as the Notorious B.I.G. and Nas, Mobb Deep told stories America had not yet heard—those of the everyday struggle of life in the NYC projects.
While West Coast gangster rappers like Snoop Dogg and N.W.A. were rhyming over bright and bouncy beats, with squawking bass and whistling synthesizer tones, East Coast hardcore rap was gravitating toward sparse, cold production—choppy, lo-fi piano loops, dry bass and dusty drums.
The accompaniment paired well with the deadpan and matter-of-fact telling of the stickups, drug deals, violence and mayhem, which Prodigy says were just a part of daily life in Queensbridge. The result was a sound and lyrical style that wasn’t just aggressive—it was haunting.
“The way we was livin’, and the way we were going through our life—it obviously came through in our music,” Prodigy says, telling GT that he and fellow MC Havoc were simply reporting what they were seeing. He thinks people responded to it because it was raw, powerful, real, and, for the most part, unheard of. “What we brought to the table was something new—it wasn’t really out there before … Queensbridge is like a whole ‘nother planet. There was so much concentrated energy and creativity. It was wild growing up. People wasn’t used to hearing that. People didn’t know there were people actually living like that.”
Though the two have publicly feuded in recent years, Prodigy and Havoc appear to have reconciled. Prodigy says they’re looking forward to the new album, which will ultimately take them overseas. Prodigy hasn’t left the country since he was arrested in 2006 on weapons charges. “We’re definitely excited,” he says.
As for the fans, Prodigy says they shouldn’t expect anything short of a traditional Mobb Deep record and a good, old fashioned Mobb Deep show when the group comes to Santa Cruz.
“When you buy a Mobb Deep album, you’re buying it because you are looking for a brand name,” he says. “You’re buying a hardcore rap album. We look at ourselves like Coca Cola. People buy it because that’s what they like.”
Mobb Deep performs at 9 p.m. on Friday, April 18, at the Catalyst Atrium, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $19/adv, $23/door. 423-1338.