When I started this blog a few years ago, I wanted to make sure that The Infamous was one of the first albums I reviewed. That was back when I showed absolutely no regard for any sort of chronological order. Then, I also reviewed Hell On Earth and Blood Money, fully displaying the disorganized chaos that was my blog at that point.
Now, I figured it was time to make amends, and that's why today's review will be of Mobb Deep's first album, Juvenile Hell.
Those of you who are relatively new to golden age hip-hop (or those of you who don't pay that much attention) may have been under the assumption that The Infamous was Mobb Deep's first LP (let's be real; you probably were under that assumption). Well, you'd be wrong. It wouldn't entirely be your fault, though, as "Shook Ones Pt. II" has been shoved down our throats so much over the past two decades that you'd have almost no reason to believe there was an album before the one that housed that classic.
Both Prodigy and Havoc were 19 years old at the time of Juvenile Hell's release, and, interestingly enough, the project hardly featured any production from Havoc. As a matter of fact, the one beat that Havoc did have a hand in crafting is credited to "Mobb Deep," and Prodigy is actually the one who laced a couple of cuts without the assistance of Hav. Weird, huh?
Also notable is the fact that DJ Premier and Large Professor contributed instrumentals to Juvenile Hell.
As you can see, this was not a prototypical Mobb Deep album, even though it was their first one.
Juvenile Hell hardly moved any copies, and as a result, Mobb Deep was dropped from the 4th & Broadway record label. That was a smart move by the label, huh? (That was sarcasm, just in case you couldn't tell.)
So, is Juvenile Hell an impressive debut effort from the Mobb, or is it merely a formality in what would become a star-studded career for P and Havoc?
Let's find out.
The background music was decent.
2. Me & My Crew
Mobb Deep sounds like a much more hardcore version of Da Youngsta's on this lead song, and that's pretty funny because of how ridiculous of a comparison that would be just two years later. Anyway, this track is alright. The problem is that the hook is so playful-sounding that I have a hard time believing that this is a Mobb Deep record...even though it is. Also, spanning nearly five minutes in length, "Me & My Crew" runs a bit too long for its own good.
3. Locked In Spofford
The fact that Spofford was a juvenile detention center in the Bronx (it was closed in 2011) should tell you a little something about just how young Havoc and Prodigy were when they recorded this album. This is pretty solid, containing a pretty hard beat by Kerwin Young and Paul Shabazz, and both of the Mobb Deep boys drop awesome verses.
4. Peer Pressure
This was the first single off of Juvenile Hell, and it is the cut that DJ Premier produced. "Peer Pressure" is one of Premo's most overlooked productions, in my opinion. Seriously; did you know that Premo made a beat for Mobb Deep? This is pretty freaking awesome, consisting of a simple piano loop and some great drums. Havoc markedly outshines Prodigy here. He rips this, although hearing P say how he wanted to be an architect before becoming a rapper was pretty intriguing to say the least.
5. Skit #1
6. Hold Down The Fort
This is the only beat on Juvenile Hell that is credited to Mobb Deep. I'm not exactly sure just how much input Prodigy had into making this beat, but considering that he and not Havoc is credited as a producer on a couple of other songs, you have to think he had some sort of influence. "Hold Down The Fort" is decent, even if the instrumental is a bit repetitive.
7. Bitch Ass Nigga
I'm not sure if you can come up with a more generic title for a hip-hop song than this, but I digress. The track itself isn't anything special, either. The beat just isn't engaging enough.
8. Hit It From The Back
This was the second and final single from the album, and it freaking bangs. The production, credited to Prodigy and Method Max, knocks so hard that you'll be left wondering why P didn't pursue more of a career in beatmaking in the future. I especially like the horns. The hook is also ridiculously infectious, even if it basically exemplifies why you should never play this record with your girl around (although the title is pretty much a warning sign in and of itself).
9. Skit #2
I like how Mobb Deep actually labeled their skits with numbers. It's as if even they knew that including them was pretty annoying.
10. Stomp 'Em Out
Prodigy is the lone producer credited for "Stomp 'Em Out," and while this isn't exactly "Hit It From The Back," it's still pretty freaking good. The chorus is pretty addictive here, as well, reminding us all of a time when hooks on rap songs were both simple and effective and didn't have to consist of a popular R&B artist crooning about something he probably has no business crooning about. Plus, Big Noyd makes his debut here, and he sounds great.
11. Skit #3
And we're finally done with those.
12. Peer Pressure (Large Professor Remix)
Take a guess who produced this one. This remix isn't nearly as good as the DJ Premier-laced original, although the beat does fit the lyrics very well.
13. Project Hallways
"Project Hallways" is another one of those "decent" tracks on this album. I really liked some elements of this beat (namely the organ, or whatever the hell instrument that is that surfaces several times throughout), but those elements are too few and far between for me to label this a great record.
14. Flavor For The Non-Believes
I'm not sure why Mobb Deep couldn't just include the "r" in non-believers, but whatever. This cut is pretty damn great. The Kerwin Young instrumental is a real head-nodder, and Havoc rides it like Buckshot (Hav did appear on Enta Da Stage, after all). P was also awesome on this. Great way to close out the album.
Juvenile Hell is a very solid debut album from two teenagers who had no idea what type of impact they were about to make on the genre of hip-hop. There are no truly bad songs on here, and quite a few of the tracks are really, really good, even with limited production from Havoc.
What you'll probably notice is how similar Prodigy and Havoc sounded at this age. It can become a bit hard to differentiate between them at times, but it just serves as more proof that they mesh with each other incredibly well. They also demonstrated their propensity for street-flavored topics right off the bat, hinting at what was to come.
The beats on this project are, for the most part, thoroughly entertaining, even if some of them do get a bit redundant. While there isn't much diversity, the instrumentals blend together very effectively, and that (along with the short length) makes Juvenile Hell an easy, straightforward listen, something that is always an important quality with an album.
All of that being said, Juvenile Hell is not The Infamous or Hell On Earth. Not even close, actually, but that is not a slight. After all, Mobb Deep's second and third albums may be the best one-two punch in hip-hop history, and Juvenile Hell was just the precursor to that.
If only 4th & Broadway would have seen the potential. I can only imagine how stupid they all feel now seeing what Mobb Deep was able to accomplish after their debut.
1. Hit It From The Back
2. Peer Pressure
3. Flavor For The Non-Believes
4. Stomp 'Em Out
5. Hold Down The Fort