Rewind The Rhyme: Mobb Deep

With everyone talking about bringing New York back, we continue “Rewind the Rhyme” with some cats that know a thing or two about being on top when it comes to rhyme skills. Known for dark beats and sinister rhymes, Mobb Deep is no stranger to the game. With their second album, The Infamous (1995), they […]

With everyone talking about bringing New York back, we continue “Rewind the Rhyme” with some cats that know a thing or two about being on top when it comes to rhyme skills. Known for dark beats and sinister rhymes, Mobb Deep is no stranger to the game. With their second album, The Infamous (1995), they solidified themselves as lyrical legends. Speaking candidly about their surroundings and experiences as young Black men in New York’s crack-ridden streets of the 80’s and early 90’s, they quickly emerged as some of the most skilled emcees in the Rotten Apple. Although they have over 10 years in the game, their new connection with 50 Cent’s G-Unit label has die-hard fans questioning if Queensbridge’s favorite duo will leave lyricism and a celebrated past in favor of catchy hooks for future fame.

I recently met up with Prodigy and Havoc and got a chance to cruise back in time and discuss where their heads were when they penned some of their most classic records to date, "Survival of the Fittest," "Quiet Storm," and "Shook Ones Part Two." We also uncovered their thoughts on those records continued significance, their new album, if lyrics still matter and if they’re still the live n****s who rap. Aight, now, I know a lot of rappers never get to like, listen to their songs. I mean they may perform them. Ya know ya’ll may perform your records but you don’t really get to listen to your records that you’ve done in a minute.

Prodigy: True. So I want you to take a second, sit back cause you said you had a long morning. So you can zone out for a second. I want you to just listen to this record and then we can talk about it. Bet?

Prodigy: Let’s do it.

[“Survival of the Fittest”-The Infamous (1995)]

[Mobb Deep explains “Survival of the Fittest”]

Prodigy: [Song plays] Whoo! That’s a good record.

Prodigy: That was crazy. So tell me where y’all were at, you know, mentally when you did that record? If you can take it back there?

Prodigy: We was heavily sedated. “Spark the lye!” Heavily sedated?

Prodigy: Heavily sedated. Dead serious. So you all were what nineteen?

Havoc: Yeah. Nineteen when you all did that record?

Prodigy: I mean eighteen, nineteen, around there. I mean, y’all are sayin some s**t though. You gonna start the record with, “It’s a war going on outside. No man is safe.” Like, what was going on? There was a war?

Havoc: N****s was getting bodied [killed]. What did you want people to get from it? I mean was it just like a n***a writin’ rhymes?

Prodigy: Basically, we was just painting a picture of what was going on in QB, know what I’m sayin’? So as MC’s at that time though, how important were your words to you? ‘Cause I think the deeper you get in the game, more aspects come into it. Ya know, lyricism becomes just like a piece of like a hundred part puzzle as opposed to when you first start and your rhymes is all you’ve got.

Prodigy: Yo, we was dead serious about that. I remember when I first came around, you nahmean they took me around the whole projects to battle everybody. A lot of n***as was like, “That n***a P weak. Hav need to go solo.” Nahmean? And then maybe like a week, few weeks later, we started makin’ these songs right here, “Survival of the Fittest.” And that’s why I was writin’ like that. I was like, “Nah, that’s not going down.” And you?

Havoc: I mean lyrics, words, you know what I’m sayin’, it’s important how you put your rhymes whateva. I mean, you in the hood, you know what I’m sayin’? And you sayin these rhymes. N***as is gonna tell you if the s**t is wack. Like, “This s**t is garbage son. Straight up.” So when you spittin’, you better be painting an accurate picture of what’s going on, ‘cause if you sayin’ some s**t that’s false or wack, your n***as is gonna let you know.

Prodigy: You gotta grab n****s instantly. As soon as you start spittin’, that s**t gotta affect people, you know what I’m sayin’?

[“Quiet Storm”-Murda Muzik (1999)]

[Mobb Deep Explains "Quiet Storm"] So tell me about “Quiet Storm”. Tell me about your verse on, “Quiet Storm” the original “Quiet Storm.”

Prodigy: Umm, the original verse? That was just like I was just like in that zone, know what I’m sayin? I was just stuck in that zone man. What was going through my head is, “Man, that n***a’s corny.” Because that was on Murda Muzik and Hell on Earth didn’t do what you wanted it to do right?

Havoc: I mean, it still sold 500,000 copies, but it was a darker album. In terms of the beat, what did you want people to get outta that?

Havoc: I mean, you know I was just like in the crib just makin’ some s**t. I made it. It wasn’t really that special to me.

Prodigy: That’s how much hits he got ‘cause when he made the beat, he was like, “Aight, I’m outta here.” He left the studio. I was like, “N***a, is that the beat? I’m getting on that.”

Havoc: So I left it to him and that’s what really made the song. When you write your rhymes where would an idea come from? Like yo, are you really just that gifted that that s**t is so prolific? This was The Source quotable that month…

Prodigy: I mean I had a lot of pressure, you know what I’m sayin’? Not like pressure, but I had like, come on man… Pressure to produce?

Prodigy: Nah, pressure to write some s**t. I had to come with it! For the people just to respect you as an MC?

Prodigy: Yeah, ‘cause I wasn’t playin no games. I don’t know what’s going on in these other n***a’s minds, but I wasn’t playin no games. It’s the beat that makes you write like that too, know what I’m sayin’? If [Havoc had given me] another beat, I wouldn’t have wrote a rhyme like that. It was that beat that made me like, “Oh s**t. I gotta write some s### to this beat. It’s ill.”

Havoc: It’s the combination.

[“Shook Ones Part II”- The Infamous (1995)] I think this is your most famous record. What would y’all say?

Havoc: Yeah.

Prodigy: Definitely. Why do think people loved this record so much?

Havoc: ‘Cause there’s nothin’ else that sounds like it ever, nahmean?

Prodigy: It was new. When it came out, nobody else was rhyming like that with beats like that.

Havoc: And the way the intro was just crazy, you nahmean. Nobody had ever made an intro like that where it just kinda dropped out, bringin’ it back in, droppin it out, and they talkin’ and then this f**kin’ ill piano. It was grimy. And, it was simple. It was raw. It was a loop, nahmean? So it just had that Hip-Hop feelin’ to it. It just felt good. It was just real dark. Did you know it was gonna be a classic when you did this record?

Havoc: Nah

Prodigy: We knew we had something. We didn’t know it was gonna affect people like that? How did you want it to get to people? You just wanted people to know ya’ll n****s is nice?

Prodigy: Exactly. We got some hot s### yo.

[“Have a Party”-Blood Money (2006)] So tell me about this new record? Tell me about what ya’ll want people to get from this new record? What are ya’ll talking about on this new record?

Prodigy: We at the point now where it’s like aight…you know what I mean, we been slept on. We got a lot of fans. Our fans always support us, our loyal fans know what I’m sayin’. But it’s like, the labels that we been on, they never gave us the marketing dollars and the power to really move these units and really be all across the world, nahmean?. They kept us like, right here, know what I’m sayin’? Instead, the Mobb need to be everywhere. So it’s like right now, we know that when we making this album and we know this s**t is gonna go further than any other of our albums, know what I’m sayin’? What did 50 say to get that battery in your back to make y’all just be able to sit down and get focused like that?

Prodigy: All he had to say was, “Yo, I bought you’ll two Porsches.”

Havoc: Yeah, word.

Prodigy: He was like, “Yo, I grew up off of Mobb Deep.” He got the tattoo on his hand. I’m like he’s going all out, know what I’m sayin?


[Mobb Deep Talks On Lyrics today] So tell me this, on a scale from one to 10 where do you think lyrics are in the game?

Havoc: Lyrics in the game right now? It’s like that s**t is at two or some s**t like that, fa real.

Prodigy: The music scene is the simplest s### right now. Why is that?

Havoc: Because that’s what the business made it to be. Like, I’m talkin about the powers that control this s**t. They made it to where lyrics don’t matter. everybody started runnin with it. Like, “Oh you really don’t even have to be an ill lyricist.” You think it’s the South that did that?

Prodigy: Nah, nah.

Prodigy: You know what’s ill about nowadays? What’s up?

Prodigy: Ain’t no rules. N****s is just bitin’. Before, it was like, “Aight, you can’t be bitin other n****’s lyrics. You can’t do this, you can’t-ain’t no rules no more.” So, in one word, what makes an MC?

Havoc: Somebody with ill lyrics. Lyrical content, somebody that umm… [Jokingly] In one word what makes an MC?

Havoc: One word? Okay, alright, I’m sorry. [laughs] I’m not good at questions like that.

Prodigy: Personality. [To Havoc] I know you’re not good, but that doesn’t let you off the hook.

Havoc: I would have to say the same word. Bitin’! You see no, rules no rules. You’re a creative n***a come up with a word!

Havoc: Sometimes I’m not. I’m putting you on the spot. I want a word, Hav.

Havoc: A one word that makes an emcee? Truth. Look at that. That was great. So are ya’ll still the live ni**as that rap?

Prodigy: The livest n***as that rap.

Havoc: Live n***a rap.

Mobb Deep’s new album, Blood Money, hits stores on March 28.