Party Over: Did Mobb Deep Permanently Damage Their Legacy?
Two editors weighed Mobb Deep's legacy and influence in and out of the booth against their catalog and tried to come to some sort of conclusion.
“I don’t know / I don’t like to go that road / If that’s your clique / I suggest you stay with ’em yo / While some say break up to make up / I say stick together god until we all cake up…” —Noreaga, “It’s Not A Game.”
Like many people that regularly visit this site, HipHopDX’s Editor-in-Chief, Jake Paine, and I have been Mobb Deep fans for the better part of two decades. So it was disappointing on a lot of levels to see their fauxbreak up via Twitter earlier this week. After some fake tweets, and a really convincing audio sample, the M-O-B-B gave two explanations—and one of them was actually reasonable. Hav apparently left his phone after a Knicks game. The other explanation seemed to be Grade A bullshit; we set traps.
But the dismantling of your favorite groups is never pretty. We witnessed the fall of N.W.A. via soundbytes and the respectively scathing diss tracks “No Vaseline,” “Alwayz Into Somethin’” and “A Message To B.A.” Those of us outside the tri-state area got confirmation that A Tribe Called Quest were calling it quits when they announced it via an infamous cover of The Source. Everyone champions the classic Hip Hop group. But how many of them are actually left? And, more importantly, should Mobb Deep be one of them? We weighed Mobb Deep’s legacy and influence in and out of the booth against their catalog and tried to come to some sort of conclusion.
Hooked On Mobb Phonics
“Take a walk jerk / This ain’t LeVert Sweat and Johnny Gill / This is Rap for real / Something you feel / You catch a chill when you hear the Mobb bang through your stereo / It’s heavy metal for the Black people / Rock N Roll but it’s Hip Hop though / My drug music / Is therapeutic to the user / You slam dance to it…” –Prodigy, “Allustrious” by Mobb Deep.
Omar: At their height, there was a very palpable kind of rage and aggression that came standard issue with every Mobb Deep release. I was the product of a low-income, single parent household when The Infamous dropped. The average teen already has plenty of reasons to be pissed off. And even though I was literally on the opposite end of the country, Havoc and Prodigy’s beats and rhymes resonated in a very real way with me. And it wasn’t just a hood or a black thing. I know plenty of non-Black people and suburbanites that feel the same way. For an entire generation that is hovering around the 30-year-old marker, just hearing “There’s a war going on outside no man is safe from…” taps into an energy that few artists can access.
So now, days after the rumors have been squashed, why am I sitting here kind of wishing Hav and P called it quits after all? Maybe I’m just jaded. I figured the best way to find out would be to enlist a fellow Mobb Deep fan for a friendly debate to see if Havoc and Prodigy (and us as listeners) are better off going their separate ways.
Jake: My experience as a Mobb Deep fan was a few years shorter than yours. In the critical Rap year of 1995, besides Tha Dogg Pound's “Respect,” the most-played song for me was Havoc and Prodigy’s “Up North Trip.” Although it was called into question later on by Rap challengers, the Queens, New York duo felt deeply authentic at a time when Hip Hop was starting to go Hollywood. That's always what has made Mobb Deep shine to me–their ability to force the mainstream to come to them with a sound that was rooted in the streets.
Omar: I definitely agree with you there. Their relentless aggression aside, I always thought Mobb Deep stood for a certain brand of stubborn loyalty. Hearing Hav brazenly claim, “No matter how much loot I get I’m staying in the projects…forever,” spoke to that. In hindsight, such a claim was highly unrealistic. Nearly 19 years later, I wouldn’t wish living in the projects on Flo Rida, let alone a rapper I actually like. And I suppose that’s why I prefer to remember Mobb Deep as they were in 1994 as opposed to the current version. Artists are entitled to change. As a listener, I expect them to. But I can’t shake the feeling that Hav and P created an aesthetic that they could no longer live up to—hell, no rapper could. In hindsight, some of the shit they rhyme about lately is as every bit as unrealistic as Rick Ross calling himself a cocaine kingpin. And, now that I’m 32 and definitely old by Hip Hop standards, the moments when I want to start someone’s ending are very seldom. I wonder if they even still believe what they’re selling.
Start Of Your Ending
“Feel me on the road / Feel me at the shows / Feel me what I stand for / And I’ma do it to the death until I can’t no more…” –Havoc, “Delt With The Bull” by Prodigy.
Jake: I think they do, if nothing more than in their past. That past has led to a bond and that's what they’ve been selling in the last few years. In August of last year, I spent some time with Mobb Deep backstage at Philadelphia’s Theater Of The Living Arts (TLA) on South Street. Although the resulting interview was not what I was hoping for (as is the case interrogating anybody minutes before going on stage), I left that evening with a deep respect for these guys’ loyalty to each other. Prodigy’s teenage son was referring to Havoc as an uncle; Havoc called Prodigy "the best" emcee in Hip Hop. In spite of all the changes, beefs, jail sentences and label struggles, the Poetical Profits (as they were first known) looked like the ideal trajectory for a Hip Hop duo coming from the golden-era. After Prodigy’s three-year sentence, not a step was lost and if anything, the air in the room as well as in last year's headlines appeared as though it was definitely time to get to work. I feel what you’re saying in the sense that content like last year’s “Dead Man Shoes” feels a bit extreme for a couple of 40-somethings, but I looked at it as more of respecting the fans’ wishes. Raekwon already proved the power of the nostalgia effect three years ago with Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II, and although Mobb Deep hasn’t released anything together in the late 2000s that stacks up against their early work, they definitely seem connected to the fans. I’d rather that "stuck in the projects" corner they painted themselves into years ago than a “I Know I Can” Nas moment from the two Rap war-mongers.
Beyond just the music, Mobb Deep stands the chance to be one of the few groups from the golden-era staying together. From N.W.A. and A Tribe Called Quest to Slum Village and Gang Starr, too many groups have not been able to weather the storm. The next generation of acts, whether we're talking about G-Unit or we’re talkin’ Little Brother, has followed suit. A group's shelf-life is shorter in Hip Hop than in any other genre of music. In the words of Jay-Z, “Why throw everything away over ego?” Like Method Man and Redman, these guys can make their living doing the Rock The Bells circuit, and as we both just saw last month, the live show is as sharp as ever.
Omar: I don’t think anyone can deny the Mobb Deep legacy. I just don’t want them to stay together strictly for the sake of staying together. In my opinion, that legacy has already taken some hits over the years. For all that talk on “The Infamous Prelude” of foes supposedly getting “shot, stabbed or knuckled down,” there were numerous reports of crew members getting duffed out by the likes of Saigon, Keith Murray and others. Even as the group continued to grow with tracks like “Quiet Storm,” I found them continuing to milk a tough guy act that had already worn thin. Throw in their losing track record for handling beefs with Nas and Jay-Z, an uncharacteristic and unsuccessful stint with G-Unit, Prodigy’s gossip-style, tell-all biography and a decade of hit or miss music, and there’s not much left to throw away.
Get It Forever
“I don’t want beef / I’m like Pookie it’s just callin’ me / I ain’t with that Twitter shit / Niggas try to follow me…” –Havoc, “Evil Deeds” by Wu-Tang Clan.
Jake: Twenty years removed from Juvenile Hell, I think that this week revealed that Mobb Deep is in a predicament. Where do they go from here? The group always taking umbrage with somebody finally turned the guns on each other. Surely, anybody following the storyline can point to one member's rumored drinking and another's notorious paranoia. However, I wish both parties listened to their fans right now (or some of us, anyway) to understand the big picture: disbanding is not the way. And as a fly on the wall for the last 10 years, I deeply suspect what’s going on behind the scenes.
Like you, I am not one to champion Mobb Deep’s music of the last decade. Although a few solo and side projects were definitely worth purchasing (Free Agents: The Murda Mixtape, Return Of The Mac and Product Of The 80’s come to mind), the post-Loud Records years have displayed a group that lost its sound even if the message stayed the same. I found Black Cocaine to be one of 2011’s biggest disappointments, but the recent live shows I witnessed in the last year remind me that Mobb Deep has a deep value to Hip Hop.
Omar: I would agree with you to a certain extent. I just wonder if the current version of Mobb Deep has equal or greater value than us just remembering the Mobb Deep of the early-to-late '90s. Because to me, the group as I remember them ended around 2006. Regardless of what the fallout from earlier in the week is, I sincerely hope Hav and P keep making music. But for the last six years, I haven’t been particularly interested in most of what they’ve made together. And if they need to separate in the name of artistic growth, that’s cool with me. I’m no longer young and naïve enough to think they’re living in the projects and knuckling down every rapper they have beef with. But the landscape of Rap has changed, and it’s a detriment to them to hang on to a bygone era when they can function perfectly well but separately in a new one.
An Eye For An Eye…Your Beef Is…Mine
“I’ll take the life of anybody trying to take what’s left / And through all that a nigga ain’t scared of death / All y’all brand new niggas just scared to death / I spent too many nights sniffing coke getting right / Wasting my life / Now it’s time to get things right…” –Prodigy, “Quiet Storm” by Mobb Deep.
Jake: As you pointed out, beef has been a lasting trait within Mobb Deep’s history, and the history of Queensbridge Hip Hop. As MC Shan and Marley Marl are hashing out their own 25 year-old issues lately, a circle of talent in Nas, Cormega, Capone-N-Noreaga, Tragedy Khadafi, Infamous Mobb, Nature and others appears to be headed towards a peaceful era, if nothing more than for the fans. Although the last week is as embarrassing to longtime followers like us as it is to the Mobb brand, it’s endurable–especially in this fast-moving, easily-forgotten 24-hour news cycle era of Hip Hop. While I too roll my eyes at Havoc’s explanation for what happened this past week, we’ve also continued to buy EPMD albums after Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith reportedly attempted murder on each other 10 years before Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy. We have conveniently forgotten Daz Dillinger’s tireless attacks on Kurupt in the early 2000s, seemingly over a label contract. Lastly, we have watched a largely forgotten beef between Joe Budden and Royce Da 5’9 fuel controversy into the formation of Slaughterhouse, which has put millions in the pockets of four drastically overlooked lyrical giants. Beef is temporary in this fickle WWE-like industry, Mobb Deep is (hopefully) forever.
Drop A Gem On Em
The fact that Monday’s news of what was ultimately a fake Mobb Deep break up was one of HipHopDX’s most-trafficked stories means a number of things. Obviously, people still have an insatiable appetite for scandal and conflict. But the fact that peers such as Fat Joe called the split “a sad day in Hip Hop” speak to Havoc and Prodigy’s collective influence. Despite our jobs here, people like Jake and I aren’t the ones who will ultimately have the final word on Mobb Deep’s legacy—you are. After all, it’s the paying Hip Hop consumer that determines the tide of public opinion and popularity with every purchase and mouse click. All of which begs the final question: do you think Mobb Deep should stick together or have they ultimately tarnished their legacy with the events from earlier in the week?
Omar Burgess is a Long Beach, California native who has contributed to various magazines, newspapers and has been an editor at HipHopDX since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @FourFingerRings.
Jake Paine is HipHopDX's Editor-In-Chief. He has worked for DX since 2007, after five years as Features Editor at AllHipHop.com. He has contributed to Forbes.com, The Source, XXL, Mass Appeal and others. He lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter (@Citizen__Paine).