Yeah, I know right… Been quite a while since the last entry here on DLT90s, but the lights are back on- extra bright, I want y’all to see this. With no further ado, we continue…
Around 1993, you couldn’t tell me shit. I was a youngin with enough time on my hands to stay up on every little new song by every little new group that popped out of the woodwork. At that time, there were still lots of labels, and they were signing lots of acts. Of course, the quantity didn’t always equal quality, but there was no shortage of new music out there. At the same time, it was also easy for an artist to get lost in the shuffle without strong enough music or promo to get over the top. Such was the case with a teenage duo from Queens, NY known as Mobb Deep. Despite production from Large Professor and DJ Premier, and a decent underground buzz, they weren’t exactly setting the world on fire with their debut album Juvenile Hell.
After seeing them come and go in ’93, I (and probably many others) didn’t exactly count on seeing or hearing much from Mobb Deep again. Then, in the summer of ’94, they signed with Loud Records and dropped a single called “Shook Ones”. I would hear it on WEAA every Friday for the remainder of that summer, and read in The Source about how they were about to drop some unexpectedly crucial new shit in the near future. Judging from “Shook Ones” alone, Havoc and Prodigy had taken quite the creative turn from the ’93 stuff. The content was still violent, but with the sound of most East Coast hip-hop heading in a generally darker direction, Mobb’s music was less rah-rah and a lot more haunting than their Juvenile Hell-era work.
Still, the REAL impact the the Mobb was about to make came right at the dead end of ’94, when “Shook Ones, Pt. II” dropped. With all the music that was out around that time, everything stopped for a minute when that one hit. There were songs more popular, songs that got more airplay, but just about anyone that was following hip-hop in early-’95 instantly got put on to Mobb Deep through that one. On the strength of this one track, anticipation was high for their second album, The Infamous. Once it dropped on April 25, they were officially established as one of the elite groups of the time. There were thousands of groups out there talkin’ about street life, so it wasn’t like they’d covered any uncharted ground- they were just doing it better than most.
The Infamous was that shit I couldn’t stop playing throughout the spring and summer of ’95. In fact, as incredible as Raekwon’s Cuban Linx was, it only edges out The Infamous as my favorite album of that year. Havoc’s production (aided by Q-Tip) and Prodigy’s lyricism in particular set them apart from most crime-rhyme acts of the time. From there on out, the Mobb was heavy on the street level, not only through singles like “Survival of The Fittest”, but their unreleased mixtape-only joints as well. Through ’95 and ’96, they stayed droppin’ little heat rocks here and there, leading up to their third album Hell on Earth. Although it took me a minute to get acclimated to Havoc’s new production style, it confirmed that the Mobb was in it for the distance.
The thing that kept Mobb present was that they always dropped new material, at a time when many artists were still just dropping albums and falling back. There was always a new Mobb joint, whether it was on a soundtrack, mixtape, or just randomly floating around. They’d established a sound and a brand, to the point where even though their subject matter never deviated much, it was a formula that always worked. It also didn’t hurt that they regularly worked with other artists who had a strong street audience, such as Wu-Tang and Nas, making for some classic collabs.
’99’s Murda Muzik, an album that I immensely disliked at first listen (but since grew to like), kept the Mobb’s popularity going. At a time when hip-hop in general was huge, it was also their first platinum album. As a group that for the most part had never made many dramatic changes to their musical approach, it was another win for them. Without doing what most artists did in order to attain platinum status, they kept it Mobb Deep and still put up big numbers.
While the years that followed weren’t as kind to Mobb (the Jay-Z feud, declining sales, a failed move to G-Unit, and Prodigy becoming both a constant punchline and punching bag), the late-’90s were the years in which they controlled the dice. Hav and P delivered consistently hard music and had a loyal fanbase that wouldn’t have had it any other way. It’s been a long time since the last Mobb Deep joint that really hit hard… like a real, real long time… but at their peak, they were always reliable to come through in the clutch with that music that’d even make the softest nigga on Earth try to pull off a stickup.