September 29, 2017

Reader Review: Mobb Deep - Murda Muzik (Unreleased Version) (1999)






(So Taylor provided this Reader Review of the original version of Mobb Deep's Murda Muzik shortly after my Prodigy post, but I've been lazy about posting it. Which is still on brand for me, so huzzah! I'm consistent! Anyway, read on, and leave your thoughts for Taylor below. And as always, the italicized thoughts in parentheses are mine.)



The untimely death of Queensbridge rap pioneer Prodigy has driven many newcomers to discover Mobb Deep, the duo (consisting of P and his partner Havoc) credited with influencing the dark, grimy areas of rap. Of course, I'm referring to the Mobb Deep who brought us The Infamous and Hell on Earth, the peak of what they could accomplish. Aside from Juvenile Hell (their debut album, which shows potential) and Murda Muzik (album number four and their most popular project, sales-wise), one should not proceed with any of their other releases, which should all be erased from history either through time travel or other conventional methods.

I remembered I had a bootleg of the original Murda Muzik project laying around on my hard drive and I wondered, naturally, “What if...?” What if Murda Muzik wasn't a victim of the heavy bootlegging that caused Hav and P to make adjustments to their original artistic vision? What if this version was released instead of the glossy, polished and ultimately compromised take we eventually got?

After listening to the bootleg, I feel like Murda Muzik would have been a definitive classic, capable of altering the trajectory of hip hop to a more inventive, less compromised place. If only we could live in a world where music companies had less control over the product and the artists could do whatever they wanted...

However, we live in this reality, so the best we can do is dream.

1. MURDA MUZIK
This title track, which opens the original take on Murda Muzik (as opposed to the intro that awkwardly transitions into “Streets Raised Me” on the retail), is not only an introduction for Mobb Deep for the newcomers, but an affirmation of Mobb Deep as quite possibly the forerunners of hip hop at the time. This is filled with detailed, metaphoric lyrics, and Havoc's minimalist beat provides the perfect backdrop to showcase rap royalty. This is both celebration and domination wrapped into one nice track.

2. DEER PARK (FEAT. CORMEGA)
After a brief skit, the listener is introduced to a gem of a song, The retail version (known as "What's Ya Poison) is glossy and clean, but on here, the lo-fi, muddy mastering (which is consistent throughout the bootleg) gives this song a sense of urgency and depth that wasn't present before. I have always loved this song, and now I feel like I need to propose: its piano loop alongside dusty drums and heavy bass is audio crack, while Prodigy and Havoc's lyrics about the street life keep you satisfied. Cormega's verse is definitive of a rapper who was never going to be popular in the mainstream, but kept improving even though he was already refined. If this album hadn't been delayed, this would of been a fucking hit street single.

3. FEEL MY GAT BLOW
Havoc's instrumental uses a harpsichord to back up lyrics of being real and never settling despite being on top. The best part of “Feel My Gat Blow” is how Hav and P were still lyrically sharp despite four years having passed between projects: they knew they hadn't yet reached their peak, so they kept aiming high until they got cockblocked by Columbia Records and were forced to switch up their style to sell more records and get more radio play. This does not appear on the retail version for some stupid, idiotic reason.

4. HO'S GONNA BE A HO
You're going to hear a comedy routine by a female in the bootleg version that sets up the song, along with a slightly altered instrumental (but not by much: the horns cut out earlier, that's all). Why the retail chose to go in a different direction is unknown, but the original is not only much better, it will make you respect the fact that Mobb Deep was able to make a “song for the ladies” (in their own way of course). This song isn't about them fucking groupies: rather, it's an allegory for letting people do what they want. Hav and P don't want to change women to suit their needs, nor do they want to let them change Hav and P: they both feel as though the process of changing anyone is an illusion that will ultimately fail. Which is a pretty deep message for a “song for the ladies”.

5. THRILL ME (FEAT. BIG NOYD)
The beat is pretty minimal, with only drums and a bass (some horns and other elements appear sparingly), but this allows Hav, Prodigy, and guest Big Noyd to talk about the life they live, and they don't glamorize any of it, leveling the playing field by just being themselves and describing a day in the life of a Queensbridge native. This description may sound boring, but you'll gain a greater respect of what people have to deal with and what they would be willing to do just to move on to a better life without all that stress and drama. Noyd proves why he is essentially the spiritual third member of Mobb Deep. (“Thrill Me” always has a spot on my personal 'Best of Mobb Deep' playlist.)

6. ALLUSTRIOUS
The mastering on the bootleg makes “Allustrious” sound way better than the retail. The organ is given more life than when Sony polished them up later, and the drums hit harder (obviously). That means no appealing to pop radio, no shiny suit shit, and no fakeness whatsoever. I admire Havoc and Prodigy for staying true to themselves and advising their peers to follow their ideals and not copy their style: while that message may have gotten lost on the retail, it still rings true today.

7. ADRENALINE
I have always loved this song and, after listening to the original version, I can officially confirm that “Adrenaline” is the audio equivalent to fire. This is a hard-hitting excursion with flexible, witty lyrics: Havoc and Prodigy are spitting that real, raw shit and just having fun with it. This is the best song on Murda Muzik by a wide margin.

8. WHERE YA FROM (FEAT. 8BALL)
A step out of Mobb Deep's comfort zone, which is why it's a bit surprising that “Where Ya From”, Mobb Deep's layover in the South, was always a part of Murda Muzik's blueprint and not, in fact, a post-bootlegging addition. Admittedly, it does fit much better on the retail, where it was polished to no end, but that's only because it doesn't take any risks and plays it safe.

9. WHITE LINES
This is the original version of the song you know now of as "Quiet Storm", a track that would eventually be used to market perfume. I have to say that this original take is so much better (I know I'm saying that far too often, but what do you want, it's the truth), mainly because it feels like something that could be on the soundtrack to Scarface, with a sense of paranoia and urgency driving the performances, lending a sense of cold, calculated vulnerability. If Murda Muzik is a statement of domination, “White Lines” is an admirable change of pace.

10. WHERE YA HEART AT
I play “Where Ya Heart At” whenever I feel down, as it always helps reverse that trend. Mobb Deep isn't known for making uplifting songs, so it is admittedly jarring to listen to the first time, but I guarantee that this will become one of your favorite Mobb Deep tracks. Havoc and Prodigy portray the lows of life in a way that will connect with the listener: if you thought they were emotionless, heartless bastards, this song will change that perception forever. You'll want to skip this one if you want to keep thinking of them as emotionless, heartless bastards, though.

11. YOU FUCKIN' WITH (FEAT. BIG NOYD)
“Noyd Interlude”, which originally had no purpose on the retail, is given purpose, as it now leads into this Noyd-featured track, with its guitar-tinged instrumental that screams "Queens". With the level of aggression presented here, it's clear that it's best to leave the Mobb alone in real life.

12. THUG MUZIK (FEAT. INFAMOUS MOBB)
An old-fashioned posse cut taken to another level with a piano loop (provided by The Alchemist) that is low-key and hard as fuck. The Infamous Mobb (the weed carriers formed into a side group of their very own), of course, take advantage: their intent isn't to best each other, but to prove to the audience that they are capable of standing on their own. It's entertaining, it's immersive, and best of all, it's definitively Mobb Deep.

13. THE REALEST SHIT (FEAT. KOOL G. RAP)
Another one of my favorite tracks from the retail that's made even better in the bootleg version; the grit and rawness of the bootleg makes me appreciate guest Kool G. Rap's lyrics more than before. He's spitting as if he was still with DJ Polo with intensity, intricacy and meaning. You'd think that Havoc and Prodigy wouldn't be able to keep up, but you'd be 100% wrong, as they hold their own and manage to spit at the same caliber, if not better. They were clearly trying to branch out and prove that they were more than just the same old act.

14. THIS ONE
Better known as “U.S.A. (Aiiight Then)” on the retail, where it was polished beyond recognition. Without the gloss, viewers are invited to partake in Mobb Deep's version of the party lifestyle, which invokes the usual tropes but interjects violence and an overall survival instinct. The beat would fit in a club setting, but the Mobb's low-key and decidedly deep lyrics shatter that dream fairly quickly, which makes this a success for them, but a failure for those who tried to make Mobb Deep into a pop act.

15. THAT TRUE SHIT
The track that was used to open the released version of Murda Muzik (again, “Streets Raised Me”) is used to close it out. The Mobb utilize a somber-but-inspirational instrumental to spit lyrics about the perils of street life and what one could do to avoid it. Havoc and Prodigy really seem intent on teaching the youth to not follow them down that path. If this song (and the entirety of Murda Muzik) doesn't signify the emotional and intellectual maturing of Mobb Deep at the time, then nothing will.

SHOULD YOU TRACK THIS DOWN? If you read up on the history of art, it is apparent that corporate interests have made a lot of effort to control its message and distribution. Art is supposed to be expressive. Art is supposed to be a statement, and isn't supposed to be used to make money for people who don't understand. When Murda Muzik leaked, that marked the death of Mobb Deep as an independent entity and the birth of Mobb Deep as unwilling corporate shills. Had the album never leaked, Havoc and Prodigy would have been categorized as one of the finest rap duos in history, but Sony not only did nothing to prevent the leak, they also took the opportunity to dilute the overall message, destroying the intention of Murda Muzik and, in the process, sending Mobb Deep onto a career trajectory that would ultimately destroy their legacy. Think about it: if bootleggers hadn't gotten themselves involved, Infamy, Amerikaz Nightmare, and (especially) Blood Money would never have existed. The original take on Murda Muzik is a continuation of the same themes presented on The Infamous and Hell on Earth, but it's an evolution for Mobb Deep nonetheless.

Since the retail version of Murda Muzik is the only one you can (legally) buy, I've provided Max with a download link for anybody who requests it (side note: this is a limited-time offer, as download links expire, and I'm not putting the link in the comments: if you want this, you need to send me an email at the address in the sidebar. Do not leave your email address in the comments, I will ignore it). But if you're one of the readers who enjoy hearing Nas sing a rendition of Brandy and Monica's "The Boy is Mine", then don't bother: you wouldn't understand what Hav and P were going for anyway.

-Taylor

(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below.)

16 comments:

  1. Honestly it's pretty cool that you finally got around to posting review for this, even if it's a reader's. The first review that I ever read from this site was for Murda Muzik, I think around 2011. Everyone kept talking about how much better the bootleg version is. I'd have to agree, there's multiple songs that didn't make the retail version and I have no idea why

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  2. I agree with this. Murda muzik would be considered a classic if it did not leak. I still think it was a great album tho

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    1. I listened to it straight through recently (the retail version), and found myself not liking entire chunks of it. I don't personally feel that it holds up well. Even "Quiet Storm" has its issues (although those issues are not Prodigy's verses).

      Conversely, The Infamous and Hell On Earth still sound timeless.

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    2. My major issue with Murda Muzik (all versions, really) is Prodigy's performance: He's not early/mid-2000s levels of awfulness on here, but it's a marked step down from his previous work on Hell on Earth/The Infamous – on most of the songs, Havoc outraps him fairly easily.

      The version of the Murda Muzik demo I was going to (and eventually might, dunno) review was compiled from various fora detailing the tracklisting. That version contains eight tracks not on the retail which are reviewed separately from the retail; from what I found, "This One" also referred to "Pyramid Points," which featured Noyd and a prominent sample from Schoolhouse Rock's "Figure Eight" (the latter which Havoc would use to GREAT effect on the following year's "Suspect Ni--az.") Between work & school I haven't quite managed to finish it, as I was also combining it with a Nastradamus re-review.

      As for "Feel My Gat Blow's" absence on the retail: It seems to have been cut because it appeared about a year before, on the Slam soundtrack. I'm not too upset over its loss, as I thought it was one of the weakest tracks on all the versions.

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  3. This review is... problematic:

    * Who thinks Adrenaline is the best song on Murda Muzik, especially with that horrific hook?!

    * Pretty sure the reviewer forgot about Hell on Earth when writing about "Feel My Gat Blow" (track 3).

    * This is the closest thing to a thesis in the review, and the reviewer never really proves his point: "Think about it: if bootleggers hadn't gotten themselves involved, Infamy, Amerikaz Nightmare, and (especially) Blood Money would never have existed."

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  4. The only 'bootleg' of this I remember was the album sampler with copyright tags all over it - is yours different?

    I always felt this album could and should have been better, perhaps this is what I was looking for?

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  5. I appreciate this cuz Max essentially shits on anything post Hell On Earth when it comes to Mobbb Deep.
    And either version of this album is dope

    Odd though that ur version doesnt have Nas on USA

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    1. With a few exceptions, everything Mobb Deep has released post-Hell On Earth has been substandard. And that's putting it nicely.

      Maybe one of these days I'll compile a list of essential Hav and P, but until then.

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  6. Did those links go out?

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    1. I sent them to those who shot me an email request. I assume they're still working as of this writing.

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    2. Ah, I did email but didn't see any links... will send again :)

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  7. Max we need Diamond D's first 2 albums reviewed

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  8. Thrill me is just so low key and nasty. Love that shit

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  9. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SK757mIIn1A

    Figured this was important enough to pass your desk.

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  10. Max, give us the new Wu-Tang review for old times sake!

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