June 7, 2008

Mobb Deep - Free Agents: The Murda Mix Tape (April 22, 2003)


Before Mobb Deep jumped the couch, they could be depended on for gritty street tales accompanied by some trademarked dark-as-fuck theme music. After the balderdash that was Infamy, Havoc and Prodigy lost their grip on the audience, who had already moved on to other ventures, and the duo's sales suffered tremendously. The critical indifference to Infamy wasn't a benefit to them, either. The combination of these effects, plus the fact that their label, Loud Records, was about to fold like an origami moose, led to Mobb Deep being without a record deal for the first time since they were teenagers.

Businessmen that they are, Havoc and Prodigy used their newfound free time to send out resumes to other labels, in the form of Free Agents: The Murda Mix Tape, which they also released to the public, thanks to a one-off distribution deal with Landspeed Records. Considering that only fifty copies seem to have been printed, the album sold out quickly, and is damn near impossible to find on store shelves today: however, since it is a mixtape, after all, everyone that missed out probably already bootlegged it anyway. At least one person that checked their mail on a regular basis was paying attention, though: Mobb Deep soon found themselves signing with Jive Records, home of Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears (which, as you could probably tell, ended up being a huge mistake, but I'll get to that in a later post).

Free Agents: The Murda Mix Tape is far to disjointed to qualify as an actual album, but contains all-new material, in an effort to appeal to the longtime fans that the Mobb still had. Initial pressings of the "album" also contained a second 19-track disc featuring artists that either were somehow affiliated with Mobb Deep (such as producer The Alchemist, Big Noyd, and weed carriers Infamous Mobb) or had done songs with them in the past (all of the other guests). According to Interweb legend, there was even a third disc included with some pressings that featured a bunch of remixes, but I've never heard anything about it until today, so I'll believe it to be bullshit unless someone proves otherwise in the comments.

However, just because this isn't an "album" doesn't mean the critical red pen is put away.

DISC ONE

1. THIS IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE POSITIVE... (INTRO)
An old Ice-T interview is appropriated as the intro for the mixtape. It fits, but all I could think of was when Ice-T played a kangaroo in Tank Girl.

2. SOLIDIFIED
Losing his record deal apparently hasn't caused Prodigy to think about studying his chosen craft, but he doesn't sound altogether terrible over this unorthodox Havoc beat. Speaking of Hav, he sounds pretty refreshed here; looks like someone did the summer reading like he was supposed to.

3. SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST 2003
It's like these two guys listened to The Infamous one day and decided that rhyming over those beats was a good idea for their demo. Except, in this case, these two guys actually were the guys that originally made The Infamous, and completely missed its point. You can skip this one with no feelings of guilt.

4. PAID IN FULL
Yeah, I was expecting Hav and P to spit over Eric B & Rakim's classic track, too, so I have to give them credit for having an original beat. P starts off promising, but his flow would only deteriorate more quickly if he were bitten by a zombie while in the booth.

5. DOUBLE SHOTS (FEAT BIG NOYD)
I get that this "mixtape" album was intended to show prospective labels that Mobb Deep could still be relevant to today's audience, and could actually sell records if they wanted to, so radio-friendly tracks would obviously have to be part of the deal. Big Noyd doesn't really need to be on here, but otherwise, this song isn't completely horrible. It certainly isn't any good, but it's not horrible.

6. WHAT CAN I DO?
Havoc does the best he can with this gimmicky track, and even manages to spit a hot line at the end of his verse: "They say an unoccupied mind is the devil's playground/so I wrote this [song] to kill time." Prodigy, however, fucks it up with some comically violent overkill.

7. FAVORITE RAPPER
This song is pretty awful. Havoc and Prodigy have realized that they aren't anybody's favorite rapper at this point, so it makes sense that they would start threatening the folks that happen to be your favorite rappers. Still, awful. And more than a little bit desperate.

8. LET'S POP (FEAT DOG)
Contains a piece of advice for guys that you would think is common sense, but whatever: "When you in the guts, be sure to hit the g-spot." Dog, the women of the world thank you.

9. IT'S OVER
You know how a lot of people believe that black Michael Jackson was secretly replaced with white Michael Jackson, and that happened around the time when the drop in talent and the alleged child molestation kicked in? I believe that Prodigy was secretly replaced with decaf while he was in the middle of recording Murda Muzik.

10. THE ILLEST
Havoc actually believes that the definition of success would be to co-host a talk show with Regis Philbin. You would think he would brag about fucking Kelly Ripa doggystyle or something. Anyway, Havoc's verses on here aren't bad.

11. JUST GOT OUT THE BOX...(SKIT)
...

12. NARCOTIC
Now that's what I'm talking about. If "Narcotic" were included on Infamy, maybe I would have liked it a bit more. Nah; that project was doomed from the jump. But this song is pretty good.

13. CLAP FIRST
Wouldn't it actually be cooler if you clapped last, after the other guy runs out of bullets while you're showing off your flexibility and skills at adapting to the situation, and he knows that he's fucked? Maybe I've been watching too many action flicks these days.

14. WATCH THAT N---A
Sure, okay. What am I watching for? Oh. Is that it? That's nothing special. I've seen rappers make bad rap songs before. I like how Prodigy just gave all of the Mobb Deep fans permission to bootleg their shit, though, so you heard the man: get to work, my two readers!

15. CAME UP
Hav and P use the same sample that The Rza gave to Method Man and Redman on their "Cereal Killa". The team of the Abbott, Meth, and Reggie wins the race hands down.

16. DON'T CALL TASHA
Don't you do it! Don't you put that curse on me, Hav and P!

17. ONE TRIBE...(SKIT
...

18. CRADLE TO THE GRAVE FREESTYLE
Uh oh. Hav and P found some of their old beats and decided to spit over them again. This time, they decided to go with a track from The Infamous that wasn't as well-known, but that's still no excuse.

19. TOUGH LOVE FREESTYLE
The beat from "More Trife Life", from Hell On Earth (Mobb Deep's other almost-perfect album), is pinched, but they changed up the title in an effort to trick you. Don't you worry, though: Max is here to pull the rubber masks off of the thieves that robbed the amusement park, and I brought my dog, too.

20. CAN'T FUCK WITH US FREESTYLE
It's like Bizarro Hav and P, or even like listening to the Fugees's "Killing A Soundbwoy With This Song" instead of "Killing Me Softly". Mobb Deep redoes their own song, this time from the Murda Muzik album, and actually come off okay.

21. RIGHT BACK AT YOU FREESTYLE
The original from The Infamous featured both Raekwon and Ghostface Killah. Why try to re-do greatness? Speaking of which...

22. SHOOK ONES FREESTYLE
This is fucking blasphemy. I actually had to choke down vomit during Prodigy's verse. My favorite Mobb Deep song (and yours too, I would guess) will be forever tainted if you hear the older-but-clearly-not-wiser P rhyme about all of the R&B chicks he wants to fuck over this classic beat, completely destroying the original intent of the track. Oh wow, this was a misfire.

DISC TWO

1. BURN SOMETHING (MOBB DEEP FEAT LITTLES)
Other than the guitar, this sounds like an outtake from Infamy. Is that a good thing, though? Not really, but I will admit that Littles, who I am usually not that impressed with, seems to have gotten a smidgen better behind the mic.

2. GET BACK (REMIX) (MOBB DEEP FEAT BIG NOYD)
This is actually pretty good. The Godfather Don beat is very engaging, and Prodigy sounds almost energized, as if he drank six Red Bulls and inhaled a box of Sour Patch Kids before getting to the office that morning.

3. SERIOUS (THE NEW MESSAGE) (1ST INFANTRY FEAT PRODIGY)
1st Infantry really just means The Alchemist on this bonus disc, but even that explanation makes no sense, since 1st Infantry was the name of his album, not his alias. Anyway, Prodigy is buried underneath the instrumental, which is fantastic when it comes to the chorus (which, as you might imagine, rapes and pillages Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five), but not so good when it comes to the rhymes, on which a sleepwalking P runs down a grocery list of societal ills, at least in his first verse.

4. THE MIDNIGHT CREEP (1ST INFANTRY FEAT HAVOC & TWIN GAMBINO)
I usually like Twin's voice, but I'm not really liking his contribution to this beat. As a matter of fact, I wasn't very impressed by the song in general. You can only rap about the same shit so many different ways before you start repeating yourself.

5. FOURTH OF JULY (1ST INFANTRY FEAT EVIDENCE, PRODIGY, & TWIN GAMBINO)
Al has a knack for making his instrumentals sound like they could double as the score to some 1970's crime flick. You'll notice that I didn't say one word about the rappers on this song, though.

6. BACKWARDS (1ST INFANTRY FEAT MOBB DEEP)
Boring-ass raps dressed up in a brand new white tee, crisp khakis, and a fresh pair of Nikes are still boring-ass raps.

7. BANG BANG (BIG NOYD)
This track was renamed "Shoot 'Em Up (Bang Bang) Part 1" on Big Noyd's sophomore release Only The Strong, which was released later in 2003. Kind of gimmicky, but not bad, even though I've always felt that Noyd shouldn't have been the first choice for the instrumental.

8. AIR IT OUT (BIG NOYD FEAT HAVOC)
Another song that Noyd would save for his own album. Noyd completely wastes Al's fantastic beat, which was later used by both Curtis Jackson and Jadakiss for back-and-forth disses that made for better songs. Might be interesting for folks that had no idea that Noyd had dibs on the beat first.

9. BUMP THAT (HAVOC FEAT 50 CENT & BIG NOYD)
Technically a Mobb Deep song, but whatever. Hearing this today, it makes perfect sense that Mobb Deep ended up ditching all of their weed carriers in order to start handling the golf bags of Curtis Jackson themselves; it's pretty obvious that Curtis was setting everything up from the jump, with this spot on their track (which I believe was deleted from Infamy, but I may be wrong).

10. THE FAMILY (SKIT)
Oh, goody. The Mobb managed to fit a skit onto a disc that was supposed to be a bonus disc with extra songs. However did they find the time?

11. MOBB N----Z (INFAMOUS MOBB FEAT PRODIGY)
Swiped from Infamous Mobb's debut album Special Edition, but half of the title has turned up missing (it should actually be called "Mobb N----z (The Sequel)"). If I remember correctly, the original track was just a Jay-Z diss song. This sequel, with such pressing issues having been abandoned, pretty much fucking rocks.

12. KILLA QUENS (INFAMOUS MOBB FEAT BIG NOYD & PRODIGY)
Sounds like a retooled Mobb Deep beat populated by D-grade Queens rappers that didn't have any access to their water. Not bad, but not good; it just is.

13. WE DON'T GIVE A... (INFAMOUS MOBB FEAT HAVOC)
I don't give a ... either.

14. B.I.G. T.W.I.N.S. (TWIN GAMBINO)
Even though the beat sounds like some direct-to-video DJ Premier, the song still sounds really good. The fact that Twin was able to keep this instrumental all to himself is even more impressive: you would think rappers from the world over would have pilfered it for use on their own mixtapes thousands of times over by now.

15. THUN & KICKO (CORMEGA FEAT PRODIGY)
This is the same song that I already reviewed on Cormega's The Realness. Don't make me review it again.

16. WHAT'S POPPIN' (TRAGEDY KHADAFI FEAT HAVOC)
The beat sounds a bit too radio-friendly for the former Intelligent Hoodlum to spit to. Otherwise, it's okay, I suppose.

17. THE HEAT IS ON (UNRELEASED VERSION) (POET FEAT GODFATHER DON & HAVOC)
The original version of Glenn Frey's hit song finally finds its way out of the vaults. At the time of its recording, controversy reared its ugly head, as the song is more overtly violent than anything else in his catalog, but the passage of time can make even the most deviant material sound almost Disney-esque.

18. WHERE YOU AT? (KOOL G. RAP FEAT PRODIGY)
Meh.

19. THUG CHRONICLES (UNRELEASED VERSION) (KOOL G. RAP FEAT HAVOC)
Havoc's only function on the song vocally is to fill in the gaps while G Rap takes a sip from his water bottle. Sadly, there isn't anything particularly memorable about this track.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Free Agents: The Murda Mix Tape is a potpourri or randomness that the Mobb plucked from their vaults, with very little thought given to cohesion or consistency, evidenced by the fact that too many of the songs sound the same, right down to the generic subject matter. This makeshift resume may have garnered the Mobb a new record deal, but this release is in no way representative of what the Mobb was once capable of.

BUY OR BURN? There is no reason that anybody should buy this, and I'm not just saying that because you wouldn't be able to find it to purchase anyway. Mobb Deep's day in the sun has passed, and all this "album" does is bring that fact right up to the forefront. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

BEST TRACKS: "Narcotic"; "Get Back (Remix); "Mobb N----z"; "B.I.G. T.W.I.N.S."

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Read all of the Mobb Deep write-ups by clicking here.

3 comments:

  1. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessJune 07, 2008

    I had high hopes for this shit when it dropped. I don't know anyone who really liked Infamy and it wasn't exactly a hit factory either. I assumed that Infamy was Mobb Deep's attempt at gaining a wider audience and that they would learn from that failure and put out some bangers like they used to. Not the case. This is just more crap.

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  2. I actually liked this album but I actually bought this LP for the bonus disc...all of my favorite shit is on there.

    BTW, "Backwards" is a classic!

    One.

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  3. pretty on point review!
    Love the H.E.A.T is on,

    Kudos on disc 2, but I didn't mind their 'freestyles' over recycled Classics on disc 1.

    its true, though they are/were trying to keep up with the times, but the times aren't what they used to be.

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