Artist: Mobb Deep
Title: "When U Hear The"
Producer: The Alchemist
Album: Amerikaz Nightmare (2004)
When Loud Records folded like a newspaper, it was the end of Mobb Deep's career as we all knew it. Although their identity as dope rappers with a supportive label home that gave them full creative control was fully facilitated by Steve Rifkind, Prodigy and Havoc's downshifting into their current less-than-stellar rhyming personas was not directly tied in to their move over to Jive Records, home of Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and, at one point, Prodigy's sworn enemy Keith "Keith Murray" Murray. However, both events coincided with one another fairly closely, so you're forgiven if you thought otherwise.
So, anyway, Mobb Deep sucks now. Their music doesn't hit nearly as hard as it once did, which happens as rappers age, but it's especially disappointing when it comes to Hav and Cellblock P, since they have actual classic songs and albums under their collective belt. Prodigy's rhyme skills have rightfully come under fire over the past decade, mostly for being terrible, but he's shown some sporadic signs of improvement with his past couple of projects, although the deep thinker we all loved back when The Infamous dropped is long gone. Havoc, on the other hand, has actually improved his writing, but his beats have taken a turn for the worse. You don't need me to tell you that, but I'm going to anyway.
The duo's sole album for Jive Records, Amerikaz Nightmare, is a nightmare of a rap album, with no real focus from the principal players, random guest spots handed out like candy (Jadakiss! Littles! Lil' Jon?), and hardly any entertainment value whatsoever. There are two exceptions, both of which were produced by Mobb enthusiast The Alchemist: the first single "Got It Twisted", which manages to make Thomas Dolby's new wave leanings on "She Blinded Me With Science" sound sinister as shit, and the subject of today's post, "When U Hear The", whose inclusion on this playlist thing should come as no surprise to anyone that has read this blog with any regularity.
The instrumental for "When U Hear The", yet another claim of assumed victory by Hav and P, is a striking, desolate, and disturbing death march. For me, it ranks in Alan's top five: it grabs you immediately and forces you to pay attention, no matter how much you don't care for what you're about to see. As most rap songs tend to do, it runs as a continuous loop, taking breaks only where predetermined hooks are to be laid down, but in its bleakness lies an energy that our hosts tap into for their respective verses.
Prodigy, naturally, takes to the microphone first, shouting out Alan and delivering both the first verse and the chorus, which ends up being an excuse to keep saying the incomplete thought "when you hear the" over and over again (although the Mobb slips and also throws in a couple of "when you hear that"'s, which is less obtuse to me). His verse is, at times, hilariously awful: he gets saved by the instrumental more than a little bit. For reasons unknown to me, Cellblock P decides to inform listeners that he "need[s] a woman like Christina Aguilery (sic) for a broad" without ever providing any thoughts as to why Aguilera would be the perfect match for someone who lives "the infamous life". Thankfully, he gets all of that bullshit out of the way fairly quickly, switching to boasts about his back catalog that are well-founded, along with threats that are less so, but still, par for the course. Alan even tosses in a perfect callback to The Infamous' "Survival Of The Fittest", although it will most likely cause you two to stop listening to "When You Hear The" and put on that album instead. I implore you, at least finish this article first.
Havoc comes in second, as he has done almost all his life, with the better verse, although, funnily enough, he also brags about Mobb Deep's back catalog, almost as though the two men consulted each other during the writing process. Hav has always needed to try harder to be noticed (which is strange, since he's the one with the more varied guest spots outside of the camp), but it shows in his performance, which is cocky and entertaining. "When U Hear The" is one of the few times that Prodigy was outshined by Havoc on a track, which had to have contributed somewhat to Hav's decision to record and release a number of solo albums: a rapper's confidence level can be a powerful thing. It should be harnessed and used to provide energy in a third world country.
Still, what makes this track for me is the instrumental, which makes it a fine mixtape entry. Not only is it dope, it's also very intuitive, as though it somehow knew that anyone listening to Amerikaz Nightmare up to that point would need to hear something, anything that could potentially remind them of prime Mobb Deep. Sadly, this is one of only a handful of songs from 2004 on that could definitively hold a spot on a Mobb Deep playlist: their material has really spiraled downward since then. But you can still listen to "When U Hear The", so enjoy.
Do you agree or disagree with this selection? Discuss below.
Mobb Deep - Amerikaz Nightmare (review)