Back in 1995, Mobb Deep, two 21-year-old stick up kids from Queensbridge, created The Infamous, a bleak rap masterpiece that detailed the daily struggle of living in one of America’s roughest housing projects. Likening the 41st Side of Queens to a war zone, the album weaved together a hellish cast of corrupt cops, crack fiends and shady drug dealers against a back drop of hard knocking eerie beats chopped together from old jazz and soul records by Herbie Hancock, Patrice Rushen, and Teddy Pendegrass. Featuring anthems such as “Shook Ones Pt II”, “Give Up the Goods” and “Eye for an Eye”, Havoc and Prodigy laid their lives open in the most brutal fashion possible, and in the process became flag bearers for the East Coast rap scene.
As part of Red Bull Music Academy’s Five Out of Five tour, a series of hip hop gigs and seminars taking place this week around NYC’s five boroughs, the Mobbsters took over Webster Hall on Sunday night to talk about their classic record, followed by a show packed full of their greatest hits. Dazed Digital caught P and Hav before they hit the stage to find out why The Infamous still packs a punch, 17 years after its release.
Dazed Digital: On The Infamous you rhyme about the bleakness of your situation; what did you find inspiring about that environment?
Havoc: The tenacity of the people in the neighborhood, people who don’t have a lot of money, and they still survive and have a smile on their face. That’s inspiring in itself. Some people from different walks of life would probably see the way that we were living and hang themselves. We had to face a challenge, face death. This inspires me, knowing that we’re strong enough to make it through.
Prodigy: We were just in it and living it. It was fun. A lot of people might have seen it as dangerous, they would not take those types of risks, but we were just having fun. Everything was fun, that’s the way we looked at it. You know you get older and you look back like, wow!
DD: Were you really that bad?
Prodigy: Yeah, we were troublemakers!
Havoc: Yeah, for sure! We put in the record so many things we were going through, it was drama everyday.
DD: When you look back at this record now in your mid-thirties, why do you think The Infamous caught so many people off guard?
Prodigy: At that time there was nothing like it at all, it was in a class of its own. It stood out from everything else that was out yet, we definitely were something new that the world never heard or seen before. It was attractive to people: the life style, the style of the beats, the style of the lyrics, the dress code, slang, everything that we did was really attractive to people because a lot of that stuff they had never seen before.
Havoc: I believe that they were attracted to the honesty, more than anything. You felt the honesty from the music, so naturally people are going to be attracted to something that is honest.
DD: Was writing these hardcore experiences down your way of escaping the craziness of your situation?
Prodigy: Yeah it’s definitely good way to vent, using lyrics and music to get a lot of your frustration and pain out. Actually doing a song, going to the studio and just getting out on paper your anger makes you feel a little better sometimes. It’s like punching the heavy bag in the gym to get your frustration out instead of punching someone’s face.
Dazed Digital: Is ever be the time when you think that the music you made could get you killed?
Havoc: Everyday going out there performing, you might run into someone who’s at your show just because they don’t like you, so everyday we were performing we were always taking the chance! That’s what we signed up for. It’s all good.
DD: On the record you liken your neighbourhood to a war zone. Was that what it was really like?
Prodigy: I would say it’s actually worse than the record because there is a lot of things you cannot put on the record, a lot that you cannot talk about. Violence, certain things that actually happened, murder…
Havoc: Shootouts… it’s like you may be cool with two different people but if they have beef with each other and you’re hanging around with one of them you could catch the shots too regardless, andvice versa.
DD: How does that affect you as people?
Prodigy: It can turn you into a cold person.
Havoc: Yeah, that’s what I was going to say.
Prodigy: It can make you cold hearted and antisocial because your mind is always on animal mode because that’s the environment we come from. We’re stuck in that animal mode, and you’ve got to learn to adjust once you step outside of that world to the different platforms where the music takes us.
DD: How do you stay tied into the Trife Life as you put on the record, are you still tied into the kind of stuff that you are writing about in 1995?
Havoc: We’re going to be forever connected to it. We’re always will be from the streets, we’re in the streets; our studio’s in the hood. You have business, the music business, you have the real life and you have got to balance the two.
DD: How do you think you changed from the kids who made this record, to where you are now?
Prodigy: We definitely are more business-oriented. In the beginning, we might have been focused on totally just music and being famous, just wanting to have fame and make hot music, but as we got older we had to understand that this is a business and that our moves need to be calculated. It’s like a chess game, you have got to make sure you make the right music, so that the business continues to be successful.
I guess that is how we changed most. Our first name was the Poetical Prophets, before we changed it to Mobb Deep, and when I look back on it now that was like a ill name for us because that is what we really were. A lot of things that we were saying, the success that we wanted and that didn’t have at the time when we wrote the songs, but we made it come true, we prophesized what it was going to be for us.
DD: Prodigy, you came out of prison earlier this year, was it strange to come out and witness all this renewed interest in your music?
Prodigy: Not so much strange but definitely I feel blessed, the success that we have and for the people to love what we do so much, and they are still be interested in what we are doing, I definitely feel blessed. But before I went in, I had already seen the effect that our music had on people and I saw it, it is powerful. That is one of the things that keep us doing what we are doing, that keep us together and focused on doing it because we know how powerful our music is.
DD: What do you think the legacy of this record has been on the wider popular culture?
Havoc: I think the legacy is that it’s a real honest record from the streets – two brothers trying to make it out, describing stories of what we have been through. The music is immaculate, people just love it. It’s like classic material and there will never be another like it. It only could be made once, at one time. People will never hear an album like that again.
DD: Has it been hard to live up to?
Havoc: I do not try to live up to it, I just keep it going. If you don’t do that you’re setting yourself up for failure. That was one baby, now you have to have another baby – you are not going to make the same baby twice.
Mobb Deep’s new EP, Black Cocaine is out on Nov 25th. ‘Five Out of Five’ is part of the Red Bull Music Academy World Tour. It concludes in London on October 13th with ‘Revolutions in Sound’ - a one-night, 30-gig takeover of the London Eye. Click HERE for more info