A quick reminder for the two readers out there: I do not compare an artist's album with one from another artist. That would be completely unfair. (I imagine that the folks who contribute Reader Reviews do the same, but I can't speak for them.) It doesn't make sense to compare Liquid Swords to, say, Take Care. (No, that's a terrible example, because it somehow draws the conclusion that I think Drake's Take Care is a fantastic album, when the reality is that I haven't even listened to it yet. I may as well be comparing Liquid Swords to YooHoo chocolate drink.) The only comparison that I can make is with the other projects in an artist's catalog: this means that the only act I can compare the fallen rap duo Mobb Deep with is the Mobb Deep of the past.
Which is also an entirely unfair judgment.
Havoc and Prodigy have the misfortune of having recorded two of the finest examples of our chosen genre's brilliance, The Infamous and Hell On Earth. This is considered a negative instead of a positive because all of the rest of their work, from Murda Muzik to their shitty G-Unit-tainted effort Blood Money to their newest EP Black Cocaine, is held up to that gold standard, when there is no way that these two will ever clear that hurdle. In terms of rappers from the mid-1990s era who still work today, I'll go on record as saying that there hasn't been quite a fall from lyrical grace as painful to watch as there has been for Prodigy, whose microphone skills have deteriorated in such a rapid fashion that I'm surprised nobody has questioned whether or not he ever wrote his own lyrics before.
Black Cocaine is the first Mobb Deep effort recorded and released after Prodigy returned home from a stint in prison. It's an EP because the Mobb didn't want to wait to get new product out on the streets: they were looking for instant gratification. In reality, the remaining fans in Mobb Deep's world are thrilled that they severed ties with Curtis Jackson's G-Unit Records, and are confused that they would release an EP that consists of only five tracks when you know they have a shit-ton of songs in the vault. Maybe Havoc and Prodigy are saving their best stuff for their next full-length project; maybe they don't like the majority of what they've already recorded and are actually exercising some quality control.
1. DEAD MAN'S SHOES
The first two phrases heard during Prodigy's horrendous chorus are "Eat food!" and "I'm full!": hardly what you would expect from the guy who wrote...well, any fucking song on Hell On Earth or The Infamous. I mean, seriously, what the fuck, man? Cellblock P's verse is also pretty awful, immediately destroying any potential goodwill that he may have earned from his The Ellsworth Bumpy Johnson EP earlier this year. He isn't alone in shouldering the blame for the rap abortion known as "Dead Man's Shoes", though: Havoc sounds lazy as shit, with his unnecessary taunts that hold no real threat behind them. With just this one song, Mobb Depp have proven that some rap artists really need to retire and move the fuck on, which is a terrible position for my write-up to be in right now, since it's only the first goddamn song on Black Cocaine. The Bounty Killer vocal sample during the hook was an interesting choice for producer Beat Butcha to work into the instrumental (which wasn't entirely terrible), and have you seen the no-budget video Hav and P shot for this shit? It aims for bleak and gory but ends up nailing artless and hilariously awful, especially with the "graphic violence" that's so fake that they may as well have poured the fake blood directly onto your head. Wow, this was a long paragraph.
2. BLACK COCAINE
Methinks Havoc was so thrilled about his partner-in-rhyme being home that he let him record whatever bullshit he wanted for the chorus to both "Dead Man's Shoes" and this title track, and believe me when I say that the hook on here is somehow even worse than on the previous song. However, Cellblock P actually sounds okay during his verse, which was unexpected. Havoc's contribution over The Alchemist's instrumental was pretty inconsequential (hell, the beat annoyed the shit out of me too, as it sounds like Al cribbed the idea from the theme music to The Young & The Restless), but Prodigy actually sounded like a version of his old self on here. Yeah, I said it. A terrible song, but a decent verse, nonetheless.
Havoc's lone production credit on Black Cocaine uses a sample I last heard on LL Cool J's "The Ripper Strikes Back", and pairs it with an equally epic song title, "Conquer". Cellblock P once again nearly loses the entire audience with a lame-ass hook, but he salvages everything in the end with another alright performance. I realize that Mobb Deep will absolutely motherfucking never reach the heights that The Infamous and Hell On Earth (and, to a lesser extent, Murda Muzik) achieved, both musically and lyrically, but all I ask is for an entertaining diversion that doesn't entirely suck. This might be that diversion for you. It is for me, anyway. And yes, my standards have dropped pretty low whenever Havoc and Prodigy are concerned. But I still liked this track okay.
4. GET IT FOREVER (FEAT. NAS)
This was surprisingly good, and I say "surprisingly" because producer The Alchemist throws the beat at the audience unexpectedly amid a dialogue sample, not unlike how Prodigy would threaten to throw a television set at you back in the day. As with Infamy's "The Learning (Burn)", Prodigy comes thisclose to fucking everything up by contributing a piss-poor verse to an otherwise decent (by 2011 standards) Mobb Deep song (although none of his bars are as shitty as "You'se a bitch-ass n---a, I should have you killed", from the aforementioned "The Learning (Burn)"). His chorus sucks, though. It's really really bad. Luckily, Havoc and a wholly-unconnected Nas, who seems to have recorded his verse in a different timeline, brings "Get It Forever" back into the fold. I have a feeling that I enjoyed Nasir's rudimentary verse a lot more than you two did, but oh well.
5. LAST DAYS
Black Cocaine ends just as it began, with a crappy song that may as well have been recorded by entirely different duo. Havoc has never sounded more like Pusha T in his life, and that is a bad thing, kids: the man has been around since the early 1990s and really should have found his own voice by now. Cellblock P's verse begins promisingly, but then dives into his "millionaire problems" that not only isolates him from his few remaining fans, but also shows that he hasn't changed a bit since prison: since the world itself has since changed, Produgy proves that he is incapable of adaptation, which is a huge fucking problem. Young Free's beat is faux-dramatic and not entirely shitty, but isn't good enough to save the song. Or the EP.
The following two bonus tracks are only available on the limited edition version of Black Cocaine that was found exclusively at independent record stores, although they were released as freebies to hip hop blogs long ago, so they're not especially difficult to find.
Well, this was unexpected: Mobb Deep use The Alchemist's uncharacteristically moving instrumental to pay homage to Handsome Boy Modeling School's "Waterworld". I'm only half kidding: Al's beat uses the same Marc Moulin "Tohubohu Part I" sample as what the Automator and Prince Paul gave Encore (to his credit, though, he does use a bit more of the original source material, but the end result is still obsessed with water). Hav and P don't sound bad: this slower, slightly menacing musical backing is their friend. Cellblock P's hook is predictably garbage, but I'm tired of telling you two that: just assume from this point forward that all of Prodigy's hooks are ass. The song itself was alright.
7. STREET LIGHTS (FEAT. DION PRIMO)
Finally, a track that doesn't feature Prodigy on the chorus! It's just too bad that this rare sighting takes place on a song that most of you two won't actually have on your copy of Black Cocaine, as the
site you downloaded it illegally from store you bought it from probably only had the five-track EP. The J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League lends the Mobb a beat that fits them like a pair of jeans that are seventeen sizes too small: "Street Lights" sounds like one of the shittier outtakes from Infamy. Dion Primo's hook could have been assigned to anybody: he sounds okay, but there's no way his chorus was written with Mobb Deep in mind. Hav and P are running out of chances to impress me before I seriously consider ignoring the fuck out of them outright. Besides, it's not like they're bringing anything new to the culture anymore. Come on, fuckers, prove me wrong.
THE LAST WORD: Sporadic sparks of decency over the course of a five- (or seven-) track EP are not enough to justify a continued career in hip hop, but with Black Cocaine, Mobb Deep seem to be hoping that you won't notice how lazy this shit sounds, but instead will simply get excited over the fact that Mobb Deep released some new music. There isn't anything on here that could even be mistaken as crucial: although I liked a couple of the tracks, absolutely none of this shit reaches even the stunningly low bar that I had for the duo after the excruciatingly awful Blood Money. Havoc must have eaten food and gotten full, because he doesn't have that hunger in his voice that helped the last few Mobb Deep efforts at least not completely suck, and his need to have Prodigy perform every single goddamn horrible chorus is questionable enough to have his publishing revoked. Speaking of Cellblock P, he vacillates between terrible rhymes written by a third grader and what amounts to Xeroxes of what he has done on better songs in the past (think "Quiet Storm" forward). Black Cocaine took a while to find a release date after Prodigy left prison, but the fucking thing still sounds like a quick cash-in. How is that even possible? Readers are strongly urged to pretend that Black Cocaine doesn't even exist, it's that useless as a tool for entertainment.