About a year-and-a-half after dropping the critically acclaimed and renowned classic The Infamous, Mobb Deep came back with Hell On Earth, an album that actually turned out to be the duo's swansong, as Prodigy and Havoc would never, ever come close to matching this kind of performance again.
Hell On Earth's formula was very similar to that of The Infamous: hardcore, gritty beats by Havoc and vivid street tales by both Mobb Deep members. Unlike the duo's sophomore effort, though (which was The Infamous, in case you didn't know, in which case, you wouldn't be a true Mobb Deep fan; sorry), this project was entirely produced by Havoc, as the preceding album featured some beats by Q-Tip.
Expecting Mobb Deep to reproduce the perfection of The Infamous is almost absurd, but it managed to create the next best thing on its third album, Hell On Earth. While it is not on the same level as the project that is home to "Survival Of The Fittest" and "Shook Ones Pt. II," is still is an outstanding piece of work that can put most other hip-hop albums to shame.
What Hell On Earth is probably most known for is "Drop a Gem On 'Em," one of many 2Pac disses that east coast artists released during the whole east coast/west coast feud during the mid 90s. However, although the track was recorded while 2Pac was still alive, the album was not released until after he was murdered, so he was never given a chance to respond.
Other than "Drop a Gem On 'Em," though, the album did not really have any major hits, and that is one of the reasons it will always be a couple of notches below The Infamous.
1. Animal Instinct
Havoc opens up the album by laying down a menacing beat for he, Prodigy, and guest artists Ty Knitty and Twin Gambino of the group The Infamous Mobb. Each and every participant does their part in making "Animal Instinct" a great way to kick off Hell On Earth.
2. Drop a Gem On 'Em
The aforementioned 2Pac diss. The beat on this is crazy, as Havoc lays down an eerie piano loop with subtle kicks and reverberating snares. Even though I like Havoc better than P, I will admit that Prodigy's verse was considerably more scathing. It is much longer than Havoc's and goes into much more detail, including these lines: "Rikers Island flashback of the house you got scuffed it in, you would think you gettin' your head shot's enough but then, now you wanna go at my team, you must have been drunk when you wrote that shit, too bad you had to, did it to your own self, my rebellion, I retaliate, I had the whole New York state, aimin' at your face." One of the most underrated diss tracks in rap history.
Havoc's beat consists of very modest horns, so the hats and snares really dominate the instrumental. The production is pretty good, although this is the first (but certainly not the last) cut on Hell On Earth that would have sounded entirely out of place on The Infamous. I don't mean that in a bad way, though.
Method Man makes a guest appearance on this cut, and he rips it to no end: "I blaze your britches, P.L.O. extortion, you forcin', the hand that rocks the cradle, caution before you enter, this Shaolin representer, carry thirty-six deadly shits, you fuckin' with, top contenders." Havoc's beat crawls, but it's damn good. Great record.
5. More Trife Life
This is pretty much a sequel to The Infamous' "Trife Life." It's better, though. Havoc's snare in this is ill, and he raps solo on this track. He tells the story of rendezvousing with a girl without knowing he was being set up, and the dark beat he laces complements the tale perfectly. One of the best songs on the album.
6. Man Down
I've never cared for this cut too much. Havoc's drums are pretty solid, but the rest of the beat just doesn't seem to work. Big Noyd guest raps, but he is unable to add much, as I just can't get past the underwhelming production.
7. Can't Get Enough Of It
Now that's more like it. Havoc's production on this is sick, as he samples Gary Burton's "Las Vegas Tango" and somehow manages to make it sound like the most ominous thing in the world. He also tears his beat to bits, rapping: "I love this rap shit, got me fillin' mad clips, what happens to fake rappers, but they damn good actors, from population, through the math I subtract them, you hear no laughter, QBC the thug factor, you niggas ain't worth the punch, back snatch ya, pitbull attack ya, and half snap ya, Kodak moments I capture." This is one of my favorite Mobb Deep tracks, period.
8. Nighttime Vultures
Havoc has made better beats, but Raekwon's guest verse makes this a solid cut. It's not even that he kills it lyrically, but he just sounds phenomenal over the production. As usual, Havoc's snares are top-notch.
9. G.O.D. Pt. III
This was Hell On Earth's third single, and I've never understood why. Personally, I think this track sucks. It doesn't sound like a Havoc beat at all. I know I might be going against the grain with my thoughts on this song, but it is what is. I think this is easily the worst cut on the album.
10. Get Dealt With
Back on track. Havoc puts down a very good beat, and both he and Prodigy sound great over it. This is a typical Mobb Deep record, so I really don't have much else to say. Nice cut, though.
11. Hell On Earth (Front Lines)
I effing love this. The instrumental by Havoc possesses a melancholic quality, and the duo effortlessly goes in on it and shreds it. I particularly love these lines by Prodigy: "Jail niggas sendin' kites to the street, over some beef that wasn't fully cooked, finish 'em off, well done meat, then sent twenty-two slugs to your head, travel all the way down to your leg." Sick, sick song.
12. Give It Up Fast
Havoc's drums on this bang, but the rest of the beat is just alright. Nas and Big Noyd drop guest verses, but it's Havoc who steals the show, as he sounds the most comfortable over the instrumental. That's understandable, too, seeing as how he did produce it.
13. Still Shinin'
This is the best song on Hell On Earth; bar effing none. Havoc takes a Willie Hutch sample ("Hospital's Prelude Of Love Theme") and flips it wonderfully, throwing on some banging drums for good measure. Both he and Prodigy sound equally spectacular over it, too. "Still Shinin'" is the definition of a head-nodder. Also, you need to bump this in your ride to fully appreciate it.
14. Apostle's Warning
The production by Havoc is very subdued, and both Mobb Deep members do it justice and close out Hell On Earth in fashion. That's all I've got.
While it's fairly obvious after one listen that Hell On Earth is not on the same level as The Infamous, it's still damn good and is a borderline classic. The production by Havoc had certainly become "busier" by this point, but it was still able to provide an appropriate backdrop for Mobb Deep to continue its mafioso-themed raps.
Much like it is unfair to compare any of Nas' albums to his masterpiece, Illmatic, it is simply unreasonable to expect Hell On Earth to come across with as much authority as The Infamous. I understood that aspect going in, and that was why I wasn't too disappointed when I came away with a "meh" feeling on a couple of tracks on this album.
I have also learned to really, really appreciate Hell On Earth because, let's face it; it was Mobb Deep's last good album. You can say whatever you want about Murda Muzik, but I think it sucked; plain and simple. I'm not even kidding when I say it wasn't even that much better than Blood Money. Mobb Deep's fall from grace wasn't a gradual process; it was akin to dropping an anvil off of the Empire State Building. I don't know what happened in the three years between Hell On Earth and Murda Muzik, but whatever it was, it destroyed Mobb Deep as a group.
The best songs on this project are ridiculously great and can certainly stand next to any records on The Infamous, but, on that same token, nearly every track on The Infamous is a classic while nearly every track on Hell On Earth is merely good. Again, though, I'll stop comparing their third release to their masterpiece and just focus on the album as a whole, and the fact is that it is a very, very impressive piece of work that should be a part of any hip-hop fan's repertoire.
TOP FIVE TRACKS
1. Still Shinin'
2. Hell On Earth (Front Lines)
3. Can't Get Enough Of It
4. Drop a Gem On 'Em
5. More Trife Life
G.O.D. Pt. III