Artist: Mobb Deep featuring Nas and Raekwon
Title: "Eye For An Eye (Your Beef Is Mines)"
Producer: Mobb Deep (as credited in liner notes; most likely Havoc, with an uncredited assist, most likely from A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip, but I'm just speculating here)
Album: The Infamous (1995)
One bizarre night, I found myself driving a friend of mine to retrieve his car from his house. If I'm remembering correctly, it was because his father "stole" it from him while it was parked at his workplace. The word "stole" is in quotation marks solely because what his dad did to him certainly wasn't illegal (he shared ownership of the vehicle with my friend), but it was a massive dick move, since he didn't even bother to tell his son that he was taking the car, leaving my friend panicked throughout the day as he wasted time calling the cops. This isn't even the weirdest thing that happened that night, but ultimately, the story isn't about that: it's about the ride back to his house.
My car was equipped with just a cassette player, but all I bought at the time were CDs, which means I spent an inordinate amount of time recording mix tapes just so I could listen to something other than the goddamn radio, which, by the way, sucked back then, too. Like most music nerds, I felt what I was listening to was just as important as when I was listening to it; some songs were tailor-made for driving around aimlessly. This particular night, I was listening to my Wu-Tang Clan tape, because of course I would have a tape devoted solely to the Wu. My friend occupied the passenger seat, while another dude took up the back. That guy was more of a hard rock fan, so he, as usual, tuned out whatever was playing on my speakers, but that didn't matter to me, as it was my fucking car.
As a technicality, I included Mobb Deep's "Eye For An Eye (Your Beef Is Mines)" on the mix, simply because Raekwon was a featured guest, and last time I checked, he was still a member of the Wu. It's a flimsy excuse, and these days Mobb Deep's catalog has grown to such a degree that there's no need for such technicalities on my iTunes playlists now, but they only had two albums out at the time, only one of which was really worth a shit, so play along with me for a bit. Once the dusty and monotonous, yet hypnotic, melody kicked in, with the cold drums to match, I noticed him trying to pay closer attention, which had to have been difficult, because you don't sit in a car with your boys silently unless you're either pissed off at each other or you're in the midst of a soul-searching road trip in your art-house movie.
"Who is this?", he asked. I told him Mobb Deep, but he was specifically asking about who was actually rapping at the time. It was Havoc and Prodigy's QB brethren Nas, dropping his classic verse (with one of the first, if not the first, references to his 'Nas Escobar' persona) with blunt rhymes written from the mindset of a jaded mafioso, which makes no goddamn sense considering how young the guy still was at the time. This one song enticed the dude so much that he made me stop at a Blockbuster Music (kids, that is a store that used to exist that sold music, and yes, it was owned by Blockbuster Video, which also is a store that used to exist) just so he could buy it. They had one copy of The Infamous sitting in their racks, and given that this wasn't a discount seller like Best Buy, my friend ended up paying $18.99 plus tax for the classic album. So Hav and P, I'm solely responsible for at least two units sold of The Infamous, let alone any that happened to be purchased after I started this blog. You can send my gift basket through UPS.
I've written before that "Eye For An Eye (Your Beef Is Mines)" is my favorite Mobb Deep song, and that fact hasn't changed. Whenever I think of the on-again, off-again duo, this stark beat (with its sample of Al Green's "I Wish You Were Here" buried within) plays in my head, and it's a bitch to get it to stop. The Infamous is well-known for containing classic composition after classic composition (like the unmatched "Shook Ones Pt. II" or the follow-up, "Survival Of The Fittest", which the duo recently re-recorded for ESPN for play during the NBA Finals, but to diminishing returns, as it sounds awful, folks); shit, every other song is a fucking contender for this playlist, and the ones I'm leaving off are still better than most "music" released today. (The word "music" is in quotation marks solely because I'm an asshole.)
But I always go back to "Eye For An Eye (Your Beef Is Mines)", four verses of matter-of-fact intimidation and proclamations of dominance: Raekwon closes out the track with the weakest contribution and it's still hot. (What makes this song even more special is that it isn't even the first take on the concept: the original version, included on the bonus disc for the duo's last album, The Infamous Mobb Deep, contains different verses (except from Nas) and an extra cameo from Rae's partner-in-rhyme Ghostface Killah. Which would make you think that I would be predisposed to liking that version better, what with it having two Wu-Tang members on it and all, but you'd be wrong.) The hook is simplistic, but it gets the point across: if we happen to be friends, your problems become my problems. It's a song about loyalty, as each artist raps about their day-to-day, which includes what amounts to out-and-out warfare each and every goddamn day because 1990s hip hop. With that, Cellblock P kicks things off with a lengthy diatribe, dropping threats like coins into a fountain with the apathy of a Republican for a poor minority. Havoc bats second, and while he wasn't as good with the pen as he is now, he still makes an indelible mark, while Raekwon the Chef takes an early opportunity to expand his delegation outside of Staten Island.
Nas Escobar is the real winner, though. His short verse slaughters all comers as he speaks in clipped descriptions ("Tailor made ostrich, Chanel for my women friend", "Mad man, my sanity is going like an hourglass") that tell you everything you need to know about his lifestyle (on wax, granted, but still). I know I'm not the biggest Nas fan: he does take this rap shit far too seriously (a fact not dispelled on his actually-pretty-good documentary Nas: Time Is Illmatic, although he at least explained why he was so fucking single-minded while he was recording Illmatic). Hell, the name of this very blog is an indirect swipe at the guy. But when he connects, he's on, and I'm not afraid to say that, even with my misgivings, he's still one of the best rappers working today. He just needs better production and the ability to stick to a given concept, two ingredients he receives on this banger.
Do you agree or disagree with this selection? Discuss below.