July 1, 2007

Mobb Deep - The Infamous (April 25, 1995)

The former Poetical Prophets were in a tight spot. Juvenile Hell was a considerable flop, and Havoc and Prodigy were without a record label. Their careers were seemingly over before they started. They were granted a rare second chance to get their message across by the mighty Loud Records, where they would ultimately stay for several albums, and the duo did the one thing that nobody could have expected from them.

They released one of the best songs in hip hop history.

Then they released another one.

Then they released a classic fucking album, which was hard to do in 1995, since hip hop actually sounded great back then.

The Infamous is considered by most as their "true" debut album, and it completely wipes the memory of the gimmick of two kiddie rappers rhyming about robbing, stealing, and fucking, as if they were Kris Kross on meth. With this album, Havoc and Prodigy pulled off the image reinvention that eluded even MC Hammer: you believe that these guys have been around some shit and will fuck you up if they need to. Musically, Havoc slowly becomes the monster behind the boards that we would eventually know him to be, and Prodigy's lyrical game takes a dramatic step forward, with his visceral storytelling and imagery that burns into your brain. And, of all people, Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest, a fellow drinker of the Queensbridge water supply, comes with the production assist (on a handful of tracks) and the guest vocal, although he's credited as 'The Abstract' in the CD booklet, which is just about as gangsta a name as 'Q-Tip'.

The Infamous has since appeared on "Essential Albums" lists from magazines as diverse as Rolling Stone, The Source, and Highlights For Children. Along with Biggie and the Wu, Mobb Deep is credited for shifting hip hop's focus from Dr. Dre's G-funked West Coast back to where it all started, on the East Coast. When brought up in conversation, nobody can dispute its classic status, by penalty of you putting your foot into their ass. Havoc and Prodigy pulled off an impossible feat, one which I'm sure we probably won't ever see again, unless we find out later that The Game originally played 'Mathman' on Square One, bumped his head (oh, and got shot), switched it on us, and reinvented himself as a name-dropping Blood.

Does it still hold up? I'm guessing yes, but I haven't started listening to it yet. So let's find out.

Rap album intro? What rap album intro? Havoc's flow has already advanced beyond his Juvenile Hell antics, and the beat is the perfect way to advise listeners that this isn't your little brother's Mobb Deep. Oh, and Prodigy's on here, too.

Oh, here's the intro. Should I give it a pass since it's not the first track? Fuck no!

Single number two. Havoc's beat lends this song (and the whole album, actually) a grimy authenticity, as if he recorded the album in some alley late at night while robbing a guy. Prodigy becomes one of Queensbridge's best rappers with this song.

For the record: the Nas Escobar moniker made its debut here, NOT on Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... True story: I once convinced a friend of mine to buy The Infamous by playing this one song in the car. Nas sounds great on here, and Raekwon would build upon a friendship with the Mobb that would pay off in later collaborative efforts.

Still not a big fan of acapella rhyming on rap albums, but this is passable.

Q-Tip provides one of my favorite songs on The Infamous, mainly due to the Big Noyd feature, with a scene-stealing verse that reportedly scored him his record deal with Tommy Boy Records for that Episodes Of A Hustla EP that I reviewed a few months back.

Hav and P recite their letters to friends who are in hiding or recently incarcerated, respectively. In his letter, P mentions that he disposed of a gun used in a murder and did away with the man who snitched on his friend. Later on that day, Prodigy was arrested for destroying evidence and for the murder of the snitch, all based on his 'confession' in his letter. Oh well. This song rocks; the beat is simple yet effective, and the rhymes prove that Havoc and Prodigy can make shit up with the best of them.

This album, so far, has a timeless quality. You know how you'll be sick of the beat to "This Is Why I'm Hot" by tomorrow? Well, Havoc made these beats back in fucking 1995, and they still sound great. The Infamous is one of the only hip hop albums where I feel comfortable calling nearly every song a 'composition'.

Prodigy and Havoc describe set-ups that have been attempted on them. This song still sounds good, but truthfully, after the first five songs, this is the weakest one here so far. I like the instrumental fake-out at the end, though.

10. Q.U. - HECTIC
Like "Living In The World Today" off of The Genius's Liquid Swords, this is one of those badass songs that you will only hear if you let the CD play straight through. The chorus features what sounds like the same sample used on "Shook Ones Part II", which forever links that seminal track with this song in my mind.

I once convinced a different friend to buy The Infamous when he heard this song in my car. This was no small feat, because (Wu blasphemy alert!) the tag-team of Ghost and Rae does not work on this song. I love Ghost and Rae, but I want to hear full verses from them, not the two of them sharing less than 16 bars with an annoying back-and-forth. Luckily, Big Noyd and the Mobb more than make up for the weak guest spot.

Skit. Meh.

Good news, "Trife Life"; this song is the weakest song on the album. I guess they can't all be winners.

Rumor has it that Q-Tip had to snatch twelve chains, fuck that bad chick from that pizzeria on Lexington and provide photographic proof, steal exactly thirteen gold bars from Fort Knox, and take a balloon away from a small child, all in order for Havoc and Prodigy to even allow him to record his verse on this song. Can anyone provide any clarification, please?

The first single. One of the best rap songs, nay, one of the best songs ever made. Ever. That's all I need to say.

A great way to end the album.

In 2004, The Infamous was remastered and re-released with the following two bonus tracks:

A much darker, grimier, and, oddly, sluttier vision of life in the ghetto, than "Part II" provided. Great song if you ever hear it.

Doesn't sound as good as the original. But really, there's no way that it could.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The Infamous is one of the best hip hop records in history, and it still holds up today. Even people who don't like rap should have a place for this album in their collection, just as proof that any genre of music can provide listeners with a surreal soundscape for you to get lost in. Well played, Poetical Prophets. Now don't do anything stupid like sign with Curtis Jackson, and your careers will forever be cemented in the annals of hip hop history. What? You mean...? Goddammit!

BUY OR BURN? If you read this entire review, which I admit turned into some weird lovefest for The Infamous, and you're questioning if you should buy this album, then I don't know how to help you.

BEST TRACKS: This may sound ridiculous, but I mean this with every fiber of my being: every song EXCEPT for "Trife Life" and "Cradle To The Grave".

(Disagree with the above review? If you do, then we'll all question your taste in hip hop, and you probably shouldn't even be on this blog, but your comments are always welcome anyway!)


Mobb Deep - Juvenile Hell
Big Noyd - Episodes Of A Hustla
Nas - I Am...
Nas - It Was Written
Nas - Illmatic
Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...
Ghostface Killah - Ironman



  1. EF Huttin'July 02, 2007

    Yeah, twelve years later, this CD is STILL nothing but fire from start to finish.

    And the worst part? I had no idea that there was a video for "Give Up the Goods" until like two weeks ago. Figures...

    "take a balloon away from a small child..." Now THAT's what's gangsta!

  2. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessJuly 04, 2007

    This is an undeniably great album. Prodigy's rhymes reveal the paranoia and vulnerablility that can cause someone to lose regard for the value of life. "I'm only 19 but my mind is old/ and when the things get for real my warm heart turns cold." Therefore he'll, "rock you in your face, stab your brain with your nosebone." These outlandish claims were lent credence by Havoc's hypnotic menace on the boards. Needless to say, I was stuck off the realness. I even like the skits.
    About the Q-Tip appearance, not only does his appearance seem a little out of place, his verse on "Drink Away The Pain (Situations)"<--[I JUST learned that this is part of the title] is very out of place. Hav and P rhyme about drinking but Q-Tip predates GZA's "Labels" with a verse that might be called "Fashion Labels". He uses the names of designers and labels as the players in a caper.
    I'd like to know if GZA's song was out on the radio before his CD dropped because I don't remember thinking that he bit the idea from Q-Tip when I heard it in '95. Anyone have info on this? Does anyone still care about biting? Finally, what the hell happened to Mobb Deep?

  3. nice review, but i gotta say this, its abit obvious to choose one thats a undeniable classic. I still play this album and it sits proud in the collection.....i just want to see reviews from stuff i dont know so i can go buy or burn it and see what i been missing.

  4. So how the hell are you rating Hell on Earth better than this?

  5. RUDOLPH LYRICSApril 03, 2009

    hold up, "trife life" is the weakest song? hahahahahahahaha. ok. aight man

  6. trife life is one of my favorite tracks, love the beat and storytelling, but otherwise good review. my point of view couldn't be more different than prodigy on most issues, but his emcee skills are undeniable.

  7. AnonymousJune 23, 2009

    trife life has good storytelling, but they both delivered it in a weak ass way

  8. A great album.. i seriously think prodigy could be one of the best story tellers in hip-hop out there.. i take that back.. one of the best story tellers ever!! Havoc and Q-Tip did a great job on the beats but the lyrics bring it to perfection not the beats because prolly w/out the lyrics ppl would mistake the music for some new classical music mixed w/ holloween backdrops.. (somethin i got when i was kid..) but the beats on here prolly could be the anthem of new york hip-hop.. another great review and a great album!!!

  9. I hate when I read a thorough review about a classic album, and there's a moment where the reviewer disses my favorite song. In a classic album every song is someone's favorite, so leave the subjectivity out. There is absolutely no way in hell 'Cradle To The Grave" is anything but a beautiful melancholy masterpiece. If only for Prodigy's "..drama what I got to say is short not long" verse. C'mon man. "Trife Life" has that wicked Norman Connors sample, and is the basis for Pt. II on Hell On Earth. "Drink Away the Pain" is the happiest song on here, but I still wouldn't dare say it doesn't belong.

  10. Personally, I think Shook Ones Pt. I is better than Part II. better beat. The hook isn't as intrusive, which is always a good thing.

  11. DUUUUDE MAX, I hate you for saying Hell on Earth is more consistent. I have a love/hate thing for your reviews! Ugh i just want to cuss you off for that!!! lol peace nigga.
    This album is another TOP FUCKING NOTCH. Its definitely Original, "straight from the dungeons of fuckin rap. where fake niggaz dont make it" type. yeah i just used nas to describe it. :)

  12. whooops typo. LOLLLLL type of thing*** my heart was totally pacin typing that comment. Excusessss lol

  13. Why do you feel the need to call a weakest song on an album that is dope all the way? Cradle To The Grave is a great song.Shook Ones Pt. II is the best song ever in my book.

  14. after reading many reviews by "Max" on this site, am surprised at his total endorsment of this album, not that its a bad thing, just came as a shock he would totally endorse an album. seems the older albums get more points in your books.

  15. I don't understand what's so surprising. The Infamous is an awesome album.

    Thanks for reading!

  16. Frikkin love this album one of the dopest ever. Wanted to see what you thought of this one. Prodigy's voice sounded so sinister back then and when teamed with Hav's beats it's over. You ain't a crook son, you just a shook one!

  17. dope album but i dont know how you can hate on 'its just another day downin my troubles wit a 40' thats some classic shit right there.

  18. Freddy Nice GuyJanuary 02, 2012

    the OG temperature's rising:

    not released due to sample clearances!

    have you heard the q-tip remix also? it's butta

  19. AnonymousJuly 08, 2012

    cradle to the grave is fucking awesome. it's a perfect example of mobb deeps storytelling skills. the beat is atmospheric as fuck.. you liked temperatures rising for its beat being simple and effective but not cradle to the grave?.. it's one omy favourite song from mobb deep

  20. A masterpiece, and arguably the best hip hop album to come out of New York. Although when i listen to it today i kinda sorta like Hell On Earth better, because if you go song by song, Hell On Earth wins in my opinion, although the best tracks on this are better than the best tracks on Hell On Earth.

  21. CRADLE TO THE GRAVE the weakest song on the album? that's it . your're deaf. im not reading further of any of your reviews