May 21, 2019

My Gut Reaction: Mobb Deep - The Safe Is Cracked (April 7, 2009)

This week I’m running a series of posts in honor of the late Albert Johnson, better known in the hip hop community as the rapper Prodigy. These reviews will close out both his and his group Mobb Deep’s respective catalogs, so if you’ve been following this blog, you likely know what projects will be popping up this week. Enjoy, and leave your comments below!

In 2007, Prodigy began serving a three-and-a-half year prison sentence, which, as one can imagine, severely limited the man’s ability to keep his name active in hip hop circles. (He did manage to release a solo effort. H.N.I.C. Pt. 2, in 2008, but he had recorded that one in a rush knowing that he wouldn’t be around to promote it.) This turn of events was unacceptable to his rhyme partner Havoc, who mostly relied on Mobb Deep royalties in order to pursue his hobbies, so in order to maintain his status quo, he embarked on his own solo career, releasing The Kush in 2007 and Hidden Files in 2009, while continuing to sell his beats to artists outside of his circle such as Eminem and Method Man & Redman.

I’m sorry to report that none of this really explains why or even how The Safe Is Cracked dropped in 2009.

Hardly an official Mobb Deep album, The Safe Is Cracked is a compilation of previously unreleased songs recorded at unknown times. It wasn’t released through either Havoc or Prodigy’s label deals, though: instead, The Safe Is Cracked was distributed by Siccness,net, an independent Internet-based label on the west coast, whose catalog includes a bunch of no-names and also Styles P., Suga Free, Brotha Lynch Hung, and Afroman for some reason. While it’s a toss-up whether or not this is even an official release from Mobb Deep, neither member has ever disputed its right to exist, unlike the double-disc compilation The Infamous Archives, which Prodigy had actively contested during his lifetime. A collection of Mobb Deep’s vaulted songs and tracks off of the cutting room floor is nothing new to hip hop heads: there are tons of mixtapes out in the wild purporting to include Havoc and Prodigy’s unreleased “classics”, as though their actual discography can be rivaled by the stuff they didn’t deem worthy of appearing on any projects. Which is wrong, but you can’t stop that machine.

The Safe Is Cracked is twelve songs (and two bookending interludes) consisting of straight-up Havoc and Prodigy giving listeners the grimy street shit we’ve grown accustomed to. Production credits are contradictory online: some sources imply that Hav handled every beat, while Wikipedia believes that The Alchemist, a longtime Mobb supporter, contributed a single instrumental. There’s only one guest rapper, affiliate and designated umbrella holder Big Noyd, adding to the illusion that this (a) is an official Mobb Deep project, and (b) is a throwback to the early days of the group, before major labels and 50 Cent became heavily involved in the day-to-day.

Your guess is as good as mine as to whether or not these songs are worth pulling out of the darkness, but luckily, that’s what the rest of this post is designed to confront.

More of an interlude than a proper rap album intro, one where Prodigy calls DJ Envy from prison to discuss his mindstate, how his blog was being updated as frequently even though he was locked up at the time, and how he absolutely did not, but probably really did, order an attack on rapper Max B. while behind bars. Well, there are weirder ways to kick things off, I guess.

I could easily see “Heat” being recorded sometime after Americaz Nightmare, possibly for Blood Money (or maybe Havoc’s solo debut The Kush, as he has far more screen time than Prodigy on here): just like that G-Unit project, “Heat” is long-winded, somehow managing to tick all of the “generic street rap” boxes while still being pretentious as shit. The actual verses don’t even start until a full minute into the audio track, which is uncalled for, especially when one hears just how weak and lazy the chorus is. I will concede the fact that both halves of Mobb Deep sound engaged enough, at least in that manner where neither man had anything worth rapping about but they still enjoyed the process as a whole. But “Heat” didn’t make any proper album for a very good reason, and the instrumental sounds like Hav merely went with the first file he found on his laptop.

Fares a little bit better, but still crumbles underneath the weight of its own sense of self-worth, and that’s before I mention the “Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor” sample that Havoc deploys predictably throughout “Watch Yo Self”. Our hosts manage to squeeze four verses and a far-too-overlong hook into a hair over three-and-a-half minutes, but before you assume otherwise, you two should know that both Hav and P are still running a marathon without having prepared in any fashion, as this track ultimately goes nowhere. When a song features Cellblock P giving absurd pieces of advice such as, “get a car with some power steering,” you know you’re in for a good time shaking your head in disbelief. Yep, these are the same guys that once released Hell On Earth, but you wouldn’t be able to tell on the surface.

4. M.O.B.
A goddamn mess, and not just because it seems like neither Havoc nor Prodigy were capable of spelling the first word in the name of their musical group correctly. Hav attempts a more experimental sound, the tempo of the instrumental switching up in between verses in order to gel with the more conventional tone our hosts adopt to talk their shit (there isn’t really a “chorus” on “M.O.B.”, unless one counts Prodigy’s recitation of the song’s title toward the end of the track), and it just. Doesn’t. Work. The pacing is whiplash-inducing, although, to be fair, your head wouldn’t have been nodding to this dollar-bin Havoc concoction anyway, so perhaps you won’t need to seek medical attention after all. Unless you attempt to stab your eardrum with a knitting needle in order to stop this foolishness, Max.

Generic as hell, even by shitty Mobb Deep-circa-Blood Money standards: Havoc utilizes an overused drum break to build an instrumental that threatens to smother the listener with its aggressive blandness, while Cellblock P promises to murder every single person that runs up on him… unless it’s obvious they’re a cop. It’s a weird flex, but I guess, Albert. “Can’t Win 4 Losin” fulfills its destiny as yet another piss-poor song in the Infamous playbook where neither Havoc nor Prodigy ever manage to meet eye-to-eye on something as simple as a song’s overarching theme. Ah well, you can’t win them all. Oh hey, I literally just got that.

I… didn’t entirely hate this one, even though it has many flaws. “Yea, Yea, Yea” has what might be the most ludicrously asinine chorus of the entire Mobb Deep pantheon, but at least they exercise truth in advertising here: the song title is the hook, essentially. Havoc’s verse is also problematic in that “why were you still using that word at the time this shit was recorded, seriously, you couldn’t come up with anything else?”-type of way. I liked Cellblock P’s contribution, though: he starts off by asking rhetorically, “What the fuck is gangsta rap without Mobb Deep?”, and then proceeds to gift listeners with a performance that was rare during this era, one where he clearly gives a shit, both for his own work and as a label owner (Infamous Records receives a shout-out). This song was plenty bad, and P’s stanza in no way saves it, but weirdly, it is still worth listening to at least the one time. Funny how that works.

Fits absolutely nowhere within the Mobb Deep catalog, but our hosts’ homage to old school hip hop is actually… charming? Pretty damn enjoyable? I know, I’m scared, too. Havoc and Prodigy sound like they were having a laugh in the studio, or at least were enjoying themselves somewhat, because while “That Crack” does still contain the typical boasts and threats of your average Mobb Deep song, the underlying music (provided by Havoc) bringing with it a fun sound that clashes with the bars with a fascinating manner. Think of Blood Money’s “The Infamous”, except lighter and more in a 1980’s vein, and you’d end up with “That Crack”. And if that last sentence still doesn’t convince you to listen to this one, well, shrug?

Although likely trimmed from whatever project it may have originally been recorded for due to a late-game realization from our hosts that they already had a song titled “The Infamous” in their back catalog, this song wasn’t bad, even with Cellblock P’s throbbing migraine of a hook and Havoc’s bizarre announcement at the start that “Infamous” is “another one of those other ones.” (The hell?) The underlying instrumental is pretty nice  ̶  it reminded me of a segment of Ennio Morricone’s work on the score for The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Hav outright looped that shit. Mobb Deep always sound best over moody, dark, sinister instrumentals, and to that end “Infamous” is successful, and both of our hosts are imperfect, but engaging. So this was enjoyable, too. Weird.

One of Mobb Deep’s infrequent “songs for the ladies”, albeit one that must have been labelled by a studio engineer who clearly was paying zero attention to what either the vocal sample or Prodigy were actually saying at the very beginning. Of course, Hav and P can’t write a song without trying to also appease their hardcore fans, so “What Goes On” is much more aggressive than most love raps, but not toward their romantic interests  ̶  instead, our hosts glamorize their (alleged) violent lifestyles in order to sound more appealing as a sexual partner. Which, you know, whatever, I’ve heard worse. At least these guys focused on the song’s concept throughout. If you really need to hear this kind of content from Mobb Deep, may I direct you to Infamy’s “Hey Luv (Anything)” featuring 112?


Kind of slaps, really. “Get Out Our Way”, which is not what is said during the hook but I get why they might have wanted to clean it up a little for mass consumption, hangs its every word on a fuzzy guitar-driven instrumental that, for whatever reason, causes the rage in both Prodigy and Havoc to come across as laser-focused and threatening as all hell. Cellblock P especially benefits from the musical backing, turning in his finest verse of the project thus far, sounding his most calculating and sarcastic. Hav is no slouch behind the microphone, either, in case you two were wondering. How has this song never made it to any of those millions of Mobb Deep mixtapes boasting unreleased songs? (It probably has, but again, “millions”, so I won’t be bothered to check.)

A fairly trite take on the old “hater hate to see me shine” chestnut, this one with a lifeless instrumental driving you to your destination. Havoc’s opening verse is surprisingly dark, so kudos to the man for at least trying to work in a different angle, however briefly, but Cellblock P’s contribution is so generic and frustrating that banging your head against the wall would ensure an more enjoyable sound. And as far as guest vocalist (and frequent Mobb collaborator) Chinky (seriously, nobody has ever thought to tell her she may want to change that name?), her chorus is bland and, while not off-key, she struggles to reach notes that don’t exist in this dojo. Moving on.

The only (rapping) guest feature of the evening comes from longtime affiliate Rapper Noyd, who delivers the first verse on the poppy, peppy, and altogether garbage “Don’t Play”. (Another guest pops in to contribute a hook, but I couldn’t tell you who it is, as thorough song credits are impossible to find online.) Everyone involved sounds embarrassed to be here, having been dragged away from the grimy street life in QB in order to participate in some utter bullshit that plays like a beat 50 Cent would have tried to convince the rest of G-Unit to spit over. It wouldn’t surprise me if “Don’t Play” was originally cut from Blood Money, as it’s on the same level of shitty as that project was.

Cellblock P and DJ Envy end their conversation, which, conveniently, also ends this project. No new insight is drawn, so it’s questionable why anyone thought this framing device was a good idea in the first place, but whatever.

THE LAST WORD: As expected, most of The Safe Is Cracked was locked away on Havoc’s various hard drives for a reason: the better part of my evening has just been spent listening to both Hav and Cellblock P spinning their wheels, trying to come up with new ways to present the exact same street shit they’ve grinded down to make their bread. A lot of the music here is also on the bland and boring side: Mobb Deep fanatics hoping for outtakes from The Infamous or Hell On Earth will find themselves disappointed, both with the duo and with themselves for allowing their expectations to be heightened so artificially. (By the way, whatever happened to Havoc’s attempt at re-releasing Hell On Earth with a bonus disc of demos and alternate takes, just like they did with The Infamous?) However, The Safe Is Cracked isn’t a complete wash: there were a handful of songs on here I found myself enjoying the shit out of, which I’ll be adding to my Mobb playlist posthaste. “Get Out Our Way” was an unexpected banger, and I dug “Infamous” and “That Crack”, the latter mostly because I really like cheesy slabs of the 1980’s sound brought forward into the twenty-first century. The intro and outro were completely unnecessary, though: hearing from Prodigy while he was imprisoned adds nothing to the proceedings, and was likely included just because the label got a hold of the audio and figured they had an exclusive. I can’t in good conscience recommend that anyone actually purchase this album (although at the prices listed below, I wouldn’t fault you if you did  ̶  hell, that would actually help me a bit, why would I complain?), but if you’re a Mobb Deep stan who is a little burned out from listening to the albums on repeat on your phone, The Safe Is Cracked would at least keep things sounding fresh for about an hour or so. At least look into the songs I specifically mentioned above, anyway.


You can catch up on the Mobb Deep story by clicking here.


  1. AnonymousMay 21, 2019

    I can't think of the last project that was full of "unreleased tracks" that was any good. Obviously it's not crafted to be a cohesive project, but usually most of the songs just aren't high quality either.

    1. Obviously and definitely. But some of the unreleased tracks from the Infamous era on the special edition of The Infamous Mobb Deep were pretty solid, so it's not cut and dry.

  2. The beat to Infamous wasn't really that good. Get Out Our Way ain't really even worth streaming the full album. Yeah, this albums really proves Hav's production skills are over and done.

    1. AnonymousMay 24, 2019

      'Yeah, this albums really proves Hav's production skills are over and done.'

      which isn't objectively true, but hey

  3. AnonymousMay 23, 2019

    I remember reading that the tracks here were stolen by a former Mobb affiliate, but now I can't find the source. Who knows?

    1. This sounds completely plausible, and would explain how it was released on a label neither Havoc nor Prodigy had anything to do with. But I agree, who knows?

  4. Damn, Hav has totally ripped off that Sean Price track on 'Heat'. Can't recall the name of the song but it was on GTA. When I say ripped off, of course what I really mean is ruined it.
    As with the previous review, this is my first time listening. It's not as bad as that one but I'm left feeling that it just doesn't sound like a Mobb Deep album... likely as you allude to in the review about timings of the recordings. Most likely G-Unit influenced.