Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Prodigy and Havoc (the duo better known as Mobb Deep) have been together for as long as they have. Even hardcore heads erroneously point to their seminal 1995 release, The Infamous, as their debut album, when in actuality they dropped the lightly regarded Juvenile Hell about a year and a half before that.
Yet despite more than a decade of street dominance, Mobb Deep’s mastery of the mainstream has yet to materialize. Follow-up albums in 1996 (Hell on Earth) and 1999 (Murda Muzik) cracked the Billboard Top Ten upon their respective debuts, which is truly a testament to their fanatical following. Yet it would take a startling shift in the group’s gritty lyricism, before they would finally receive the coast-to-coast rotation that was long overdue.
2001’s Hey Luv (Anything) single was a huge hit, but was such an obvious act of pandering to the pop-rap realm, that many thought the duo had sold out themselves and their legions of loyal fans.
Was Mobb Deep still the same duo that dueled with both Jay-Z and the late Tupac Shakur, while painting the grimiest gallery of imagery from their Queensbridge base of operations? Some subsequent label drama (the pair are now off the defunct Loud Records and moved to Jive) and the release of the critically acclaimed Free Agents in 2003 has positioned M.O.B.B. for big things in 2004.
Their latest LP is Amerika’z Nightmare and it kicks off with the Havoc-produced title track. Equal parts cynical and sinister, it’s a quietly powerful opener layered with electric guitars and drum snares. For anyone who still doubted them, it’s a resounding return to their roots.
Curiously, the duo switches up for a hook-heavy sample on the next track, Win or Lose. Alchemist laces the beat on this one while Jean Plum’s chorus from Here I Go Again serves as the backdrop for three minutes of materialism and machismo. And surprisingly, it works as the sum of Prodigy and Havoc’s give-and-take gives this an extra boost.
Speaking of samples, the album’s first single has already been christened a certified smash. Got It Twisted leans on Thomas Dolby’s She Blinded Me with Science, but don’t dismiss this one so easily. Mobb Deep is on point with their wordplay, whether it’s the sarcastically clever approach by Havoc:
Peel snowflake outta that Abercrombie
I’m tryin’ to rip Britney, so I made Jive sign me
Or the more dark and direct approach by Prodigy:
You bein’ man slaughtered, right in front of my kids
A little blood get on my daughter, it’s nothin’, she’ll live
Twista shows up on the remix, but really doesn’t add much more than his usual mile-a-minute mishmash of non-stop nothingness. Still, it’s worth a listen as Mobb Deep changes up their lyrics from the original, giving this one more of a club feel.
The last few years in Hip Hop has been synonymous with the “special guest star”. A few years ago it was Ashanti or Alicia Keys and this year it’s Kanye West and Lil’ Jon. The former is behind the boards on Throw Your Hands (In The Air). Kanye takes an old Cold Crush Brothers sample and spins it nicely for a new audience. And if anyone is surprised that I’m praising the generally overrated Mr. West, this one’ll stun ya: Lil’ Jon’s contribution isn’t all that bad.
Sure, Real Gangstas might not sound like the”¦”deepest” cut you’ll ever hear, but credit where it’s due: Havoc and Prodigy prove once again that they can keep tempo with just about any style and sound out there. As a plus, Lil’ Jon is only on the intro and outro of this one.
You don’t have to be concerned with any caveats on some of the other cameos, though. Jadakiss absolutely kills on One of Ours (Part II) with references to Ted Koppel and Wilson the Volleyball(!) from Cast Away. And, of course, Nate Dogg is his usual hook-tastic self on Dump.
That’s not to say that there aren’t a few missteps along the way to excellence, however. Flood the Block sounds like something out of a session with the talentless Cash Money Clique, including a monotonous hook that sucks the little bit of life out of this one. While We Up is just a dumbed-down version of Mobb Deep’s much better efforts on the same old thug themes.