A grimy classic straight from the heart -and the streets.
Mobb Deep‘s ‘The Infamous’ was not supposed to happen. Albert “Prodigy” Johnson and Kejuan “Havoc” Muchita had already gotten their shot, releasing a forgettable debut called “Juvenile Hell” in 1993 that sold 20,000 copies before being dwarfed by Illmatic, which had already traveled the world as a demo before its official release in April of ’94. At every radio interview, Havoc and P found themselves answering questions about Havoc‘s Queensbridge neighbor Nas. In his 2011 memoir “My Infamous Life”, Prodigy recalls “Halftime” pumping out of the speakers at what was supposed to be a Mobb Deep in-store in D.C. Shortly afterward, Mobb Deep were dropped from their label. They retreated, licking their wounds, to Havoc’s mother’s house. In New York, things were getting increasingly serious–Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), also released in ’93, had already shipped platinum by May of ’94. A revolution was brewing in their own city, and the authors of puerile kiddie sex raps like “Hit it From the Back” were in danger of getting left behind forever. It was out of this brew of desperation and determination that “The Infamous” began to take shape. Their music took on a grimmer, darker tone.
The now-legendary gritty single, “Shook Ones Pt. II” blew up tremendously, first in the underground and then on the charts; its killer lyrics and hypnotizing beat pounded a warning into the heads of the masses to stay real. Jarring drums and ominous guitar loops open up “Survival of the Fittest” as Prodigy compares the duo’s situation in the hood as akin to Vietnam. “Up North Trip” also describes the hectic streets of New York as a war zone where the constant struggle is to stay alive. Mobb Deep also joined forces with two of rap’s most intense lyricists, Nas and Raekwon, on “Eye For A Eye (Your Beef Is Mine).” Adding to the all-star cast, Q-Tip makes his cameo appearance on “Drink Away The Pain (Situations),” a clever track dedicated to an unlikely first love. With the help of the ATCQ member, Mobb Deep, and in particular, Havoc crafted a musical backdrop that was akin to a ghetto nightmare. And to think when they first met him, Havoc screwed up big time.
All of New York was embracing degraded production at the time, but they pushed beyond the low-resolution samples of RZA‘s “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” into near-total abstraction, producing a masterpiece of low, muffled, and malevolent sounds. The stand-up bass sample on “Trife Life” sounds like it has cotton balls behind the strings. “Q.U.-Hectic,” boasts a glowing, pulsing piano echo that feels nearly sentient, like some kind of slit-eyed pet monster Havoc is resting one hand on to keep calm. And of course, Prodigy’s ability to cold-heartedly narrate brutally violent situations and criminal mindsets shines throughout the album. “I just let the beats guide me [when I wrote my verses]. Whatever I felt when I heard the beats, that’s exactly what I wrote” he says.
The making of Shook Ones Pt. II.
Prodigy: “I remember that clearly. We wrote that in the crib high on drugs. [Laughs.] Probably weed, probably was some dust in there, mad 40s, getting twisted. That was one of the first ones where we were like, ‘Whoa. This shit is ill. This shit sounds crazy right here. This is some other shit right here son. This ain’t normal.’ So we knew we was making some shit with that song. The first song we had made was cool. Then we made this new beat and I think the chorus was similar. It was probably like Matty C and them niggas that was like, ‘Y’all should call this ‘Shook Ones Pt. II.’ So that’s why we did that shit. “We had a lot of songs. When we first signed to Loud we had a 20-song demo. So all of those songs we wanted to put on the album. But we started making new ones, and through process of elimination, we wanted all the new ones. We didn’t like the old ones no more. [Laughs.] “We made that beat at my crib in Long Island. Hav found the sample. Hav was down there fucking with the records, he was like, ‘Listen to this.’ I was like, ‘That shit sounds ill right there.’ He did that and then we were fucking with the bass and the drums together. I seen that whole shit where they found the Herbie Hancock shit. That’s crazy. I didn’t know it was a mystery or that it was that serious to people. They were really trying to figure out where that came from.”
Havoc: “A huge chunk [of the album was recorded after ‘Shook Ones Pt. II’]. As soon as we got the deal, ‘Shook Ones’ was one of the first songs we made. We were being tested like, ‘We signed on the dotted line and made a little bit of money. Now go in there and make some songs.’ So we made ‘Shook Ones’ and the response was lukewarm so we’re like, ‘Here go this bullshit again.’ But we knew we couldn’t let it go to waste because it was just a dope concept and we said, ‘Let’s make a part two.’ So we did part two and boom, it was buzzing. And that gave us a boost of confidence.”