Let me begin by saying that The Infamous is my favorite album of all-time. With very few projects can I seriously sit through the entire thing without drifting off at least sometime, and Mobb Deep's sophomore release (yes; despite popular belief, The Infamous was not their debut; it was Juvenile Hell, which was released two years earlier) is among that select few.
What makes this album so great, you ask? Well, you'll find out as I write the review, but, basically, the production (mostly by Havoc, with a few tracks from Q-Tip) on this record is literally (and I mean "literally" in every sense of the word) flawless. No; Prodigy and Havoc are not exactly the greatest lyricists in the world, but they didn't have to be on this 13-song banger.
The Infamous, along with classic albums like Nas' Illmatic and The Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready To Die, helped bring the east coast back, as the album painted a phenomenal picture of the streets of New York in the mid 90s. Prodigy and Havoc's magnificent storytelling abilities complemented the raw, grimy beats perfectly, resulting in a universally renowned hip-hop classic.
1. The Start Of Your Ending (41st Side)
The album kicks off with what would be one of many menacing beats from Havoc, as heavy kicks, hats, and snares dominate the track. Of course, one would be remiss to ignore the performances of Prodigy and Havoc. Even though they are mainly bragging about how thuggish they are throughout the cut, they do it with an undeniable sense of swagger. Let's keep in mind that these two were only 19 when they recorded The Infamous, too.
2. Survival Of The Fittest
I don't care what anyone says; this, not "Shook Ones Pt. II," is the best song on The Infamous. Havoc's instrumental is ridiculously bone-chilling, consisting of the most ominous piano keys and horns you've ever heard backed by a booming bassline (seriously; play this in your ride and you'll see). Prodigy's first few bars encapsulate the theme of this track and, really, the entire album: "There's a war goin' on outside no man is safe from, you could run but you can't hide forever, from these, streets, that we done took, you walkin' witcha head down scared to look, you shook, 'cause ain't no such things as halfway crooks." Also, in terms of pump-up music, "Survival Of The Fittest" absolutely puts M.O.P.'s "Ante Up" to shame. This is one of the best cuts in rap history; bar none.
3. Eye For a Eye (Your Beef Is Mines)
I'll ignore the fact that Mobb Deep absolutely butchered this song title grammatically and instead focus on the fact that this bangs. Much like "Survival Of The Fittest," this will rip through the speakers in your ride. Unlike it, though, it is a much slower-paced number, but that doesn't mean it isn't fantastic. The track contains a dream lineup, as both Nas and Raekwon make guest appearances and proceed to tear Havoc's beat apart. What's most impressive, though, is how well Prodigy and Havoc hold their own alongside of two clearly superior emcees.
4. Give Up The Goods (Just Step)
Apparently, Mobb Deep likes parentheses. Then again, who really gives a damn? "Give Up The Goods (Just Step)" is the first joint on the album that wasn't produced by Havoc, as Q-Tip gets the production credit here. Consequently, the beat doesn't exactly measure up to some of the strongest records on The Infamous, but given how ill the rest of the beats on this project are, that really isn't saying much at all. Don't get me wrong, either; this song is very good, as Mobb Deep's partner-in-crime, Big Noyd, makes a guest appearance and manages to fit in seamlessly with P and Havoc.
5. Temperature's Rising
This track was also produced by Q-Tip, but it is a lot better than his work on the preceding song. "Temperature's Rising" contains a great beat and a great concept, too, as Prodigy and Havoc write to their friends in person about the state of the streets. I especially like Havoc's verse (which shouldn't come as much of a surprise, as I have always preferred him to P), as his voice fits the instrumental perfectly.
6. Up North Trip
I love this. "Up North Trip" is another one of the many bangers off of The Infamous that you can (and should) cruise to. The song is about how one wrong move can cost you your life, and while that may sound a bit cliché, it matches the overall theme of the album, and isn't that pretty much one hundred percent true anyway? Havoc's beat on this is very laid back and gives off an introspective vibe, and I mean seriously; how can you not dig those kicks and snares?
7. Trife Life
This track is the finest example of Prodigy and Havoc's outstanding storytelling prowess, as both rappers tell different tales of stressful circumstances they were under and how they solved their problems. There is a very good chance that Havoc's banging hats and snares will mesmerize you and cause you to mentally bypass both of their stories, though, so try your best to pay attention.
8. Q.U. - Hectic
Yes; the hook on "Q.U. - Hectic" contains the same sample ("Kitty With The Bent Frame," by Quincy Jones) that is used on the hook of "Shook Ones Pt. II," but honestly, it sounds so damn good that you'll learn to not care. Anyway, this track is pretty damn sick, as Havoc comes with some jazzy production but still manages to make it sound more hardcore than anything else you'll hear during your lifetime (well, anything that's not on The Infamous, at least). This is also another record you can blast in your ride; that bassline is spectacular.
9. Right Back At You
The collaborations on The Infamous seriously could not have been any better, as Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, and Big Noyd, the latter two making their second appearance on the project, stop by to drop some bars here. The manner with which Ghost and Rae do it is great, as they choose not to spit individual verses but instead to trade lines back and forth, Jadakiss and Styles P style, over the course of one verse. It is Havoc, however, who steals the show on "Right Back At You," spitting a great verse and a sick hook, not to mention the fact that he was the dude who laid out this knocker of a beat for all five rappers to go in on. P.S.: Does anyone else think Noyd's flow (and even voice) sounded very similar to Ghostface's on this?
10. Cradle To The Grave
The formula here is somewhat similar to what it was on "Up North Trip," but more absolute, as both Prodigy and Havoc pay homage to their fallen comrades over a crawler of a beat from Havoc. I've gotta be honest; this is probably my least favorite song on The Infamous. Once again, though, given my undying love for this album, that really isn't much of a knock on "Cradle To The Grave" at all.
11. Drink Away The Pain (Situations)
Q-Tip not only spits a verse on this track but also crafts a jazzy, upbeat instrumental for Mobb Deep, even though the subject matter does not exactly follow suit (just look at the title). Back in 1995, the concept that Prodigy and Havoc used here was largely original, as they both talk about alcohol as their companion rather than a female. I'm thinking Q-Tip must have missed the memo, though, as he inexplicably decides to rhyme about clothing brands. Yeah; I'm just as perplexed as you are, as I'm pretty sure the song's title is "Drink Away The Pain" and not "Shop 'Til You Drop." Anyway, despite that, this sounds really good. At least Q-Tip provided a damn good beat.
12. Shook Ones Pt. II
That brings us to one of the most famous songs in rap history: "Shook Ones Pt. II." Honestly, if you've never heard this cut, better yet, if you don't friggin love this cut, then you are not a fan of hip-hop; period. Point blank. Havoc's beat is as ominous as some cumolonimbus clouds in the Tornado Alley, and the rhymes that both Mobb Deep members spit are equally sinister. I mean, who could forget P's "rock you in your face, stab your brain with your nosebone" one-liner? Much like "Survival Of The Fittest," "Shook Ones Pt. II" is one of the greatest rap records your ears will ever have the pleasure of hearing. The fact that it isn't even one of my top two favorite songs on this album (that's right; you heard me) should tell you something about the quality of this project as a whole.
13. Party Over"Once we step through the door, party over, that's the endin'," spits Havoc on his opening salvo, as he concludes The Infamous with yet another banger of a beat, and Big Noyd makes his third (and, obviously, final) appearance on the project. There are a lot of great producers in hip-hop, but none of them, and I mean none of them, have better snare drums than Havoc. They just knock.
I don't think I need to tell you again how much I like The Infamous, nor do I think you need any reassuring that you need to get and get this now if you haven't already. It is, without question, one of the best albums to ever grace hip-hop, and I'm pretty sure most hip-hop heads would agree. The beats knock, Prodigy and Havoc do their thing, and the array of choices for guest artists is nothing short of brilliant.
During this time period, the east was well on its way back up after the west had been dominating the rap industry for several years. The east's answer to gangsta rap was mafioso rap, and that is exactly what subgenre The Infamous falls under; as do Illmatic, Ready To Die, and the Wu-Tang Clan's Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers.
Sadly, Mobb Deep would only proceed to drop one more phenomenal album in Hell On Earth before its downfall started. From that point on, Prodigy and Havoc sold their souls to commercialism, releasing projects like Murda Muzik, Infamy, Amerikaz Nightmare (the spelling alone should tell you how bad that one was) and Blood Money (which I reviewed here) to transform themselves into essential laughing-stocks in the rap game (although, even though he is not what he once was, Havoc still is a heck of a producer).
Their colossal missteps after Hell On Earth aside, there is absolutely no arguing that The Infamous was a truly great piece of work. I think it rivals Illmatic based on production alone, but due to the fact that Nas is obviously leaps and bounds ahead of Prodigy and Havoc in terms of pure rapping ability, most would disagree that its superior production (yes; the production on The Infamous was better than that of Illmatic, DJ Premier and Pete Rock be damned) puts it on the same level of Nas' classic debut.
Anyway, I think I've said enough. I'm sure you will formulate an opinion similar to mine if you listen, and if you already have given The Infamous a spin (and I hope to God you have), then you already know precisely why I've been gushing for the duration of this review.
TOP FIVE TRACKS
1. Survival Of The Fittest
2. Eye For a Eye (Your Beef Is Mines)
3. Shook Ones Pt. II
4. Party Over
5. Up North Trip
Go to hell.