Time Span Between First Five Albums: Eight Years.
Havoc and Prodigy met at the High School of Art and Design in New York City, otherwise known as the “rapper school,” as it was the playground for some of the city’s finest MCs, including Pharoahe Monch and Fabolous. Just what did two art-school kids know about stickups, shootouts, and leaving kids “shooked,” you ask? Mobb Deep’s nearly 20-years-long catalog has proven over and over again: the trife life lived through the visions of these two Queensbridge juvenile delinquents is realer than the pissy train tracks of New York City. While their debut Juvenile Hell failed to amass critical or commercial acclaim, their sophomore effort The Infamous completely changed the game with a brand new sound of thug menace. Don't gamble with your life, thun, this that Mobb Deep muzik.
_________________________With apologies to De La Soul, five is the magic number. It’s usually the amount of albums in a standard record deal, but few MCs ever fulfill their contractual obligations with as much aplomb as they started. Whether an artist peaks early or late, staying consistent over the duration of five albums has proven challenging no matter the era in hip-hop. XXLmag.com decided to rank the best first-five album runs in hip-hop history (First 5). A new act and their ranking will be revealed each day of the week throughout the month of October and the Top 5 will be revealed on November 5th. Get in on the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #XXLFirst5.
Previous Entries: 25
1. Juvenile Hell (1992)
Release Date: April 13, 1993
For their debut, way before they acquired the sinister trademark sound that would engulf New York City’s rap sphere, Prodigy and Havoc were two teenagers that talked tough and raw, with a relentless force of oomph. It’s well displayed on their premature debut, Juvenile Hell. The album’s full of references towards the borough of Queens, all under the veil of two “confused young juvenile[s].” While revered sound architects (DJ Premier and Large Professor) supplied backdrops for the album, young P and Hav oversaw a majority of the production. This expands out in an up-tempo vibe; with head-nod-inspiring drum kicks that fittingly suit the threats thrown out on “Stomp Em Out” and “Project Hallways.” While singles “Peer Pressure” and the misogynistic “Hit it From the Back” are fairly enjoyable for its crude proclamations, overall, the album’s significance lacked the forthcoming menacing sound from two of Queensbridge’s finests.
2. The Infamous (1995)
Release Date: April 25, 1995
It’s hard to pinpoint a word to describe Mobb Deep’s sophomore effort, The Infamous. The braggadocio, threats, and ominous scenery all painted through the words and sound of Mobb Deep, created a chilling experience that’s cinematically convincing. If Only Built for Cuban Linx was a crime epic, The Infamous would stand tall as a real-life documentary. The detailed narratives portrayed by Prodigy and Havoc (then, both, only 21 years old) on the intro “The Start of Your Ending (41st Side),” to the poetic “Drink Away the Pain (Situations),” and even the intimidating stickup anthem “Give Up the Goods,” are some of the best verses to ever be spit out by the two QB MCs. With support from Q-Tip, who guided a then still-developing Havoc with production, a soundscape that’s utterly gloomy and fiercely paranoiac filled the air. Loyalty (“Eye For a Eye”), dismissing the weak (“Shook Ones Pt. II”), and dodging the jakes (“Trife Life”) were all part of Mobb Deep’s daily routine, it seems, and The Infamous captures those qualities of life in the grimiest—yet infectious—musical manner possible. It is, undoubtedly, one of the cornerstones of New York’s mid-‘90s renaissance, a masterpiece that will always be regarded as one of hip-hop’s greatest hardcore outputs.
3. Hell on Earth
Release Date: November 19, 1996
On their third outing, the QB duo brought rap audiences further along their youthfully nihilistic joyride with Hell on Earth. Except this time around, P beefs up the rhymes with added malice and wit, while Hav handles all the production duties, extracting old piano samples of all its inherent macabre. Standout tracks include the Scarface-sampled "G.O.D. Part III", the hypnotic title track, which the instrumental later became a freestyle staple, and the no-fucks-were-given 'Pac diss, "Drop a Gem On Em." Hell on Earth is the Mobb at their worst, meaning their best.
4. Murda Muzik (1999)
Release Date: April 27, 1999
For fans of Mobb Deep, Murda Muzik was a long-delayed release from the Queensbridge duo. Luckily, for their fourth effort, M-O-B-B never let up on their expertise, as they continued their menacing production, and grimy realism—full of crime schemes and violence. Some may argue, but Murda Muzik has some of Mobb Deep’s biggest career highlights. The clique expanded their musical outreach by collaborating with 8-Ball, a down South legend, on the bouncy “Where Ya From.” It also sparked one of the best musical partnerships in hip-hop, as The Alchemist landed his first Mobb Deep production credit courtesy of “The Realest.” The menacing “What’s Ya Poison,” featuring fellow QB brethren Cormega, would soon be heralded among underground enthusiasts as a freestyle go-to, while collaboration with on-and-off frienemy Nas for “It’s Mine,” brought the Queensbridge thugs to million-dollar-budget, Hype Williams stratosphere. The most recognized track from the album is certainly “Quiet Storm,” which Prodigy claimed as a solo effort that elevated Mobb Deep’s level of stardom. While it lacked the congruence of Hell on Earth or newfound formula displayed in The Infamous, Murda Muzik road the fine line of illustrating Mobb Deep’s signature aura of menace, that’s still partly accessible to the radio ears.
5. Infamy (2001)
Release Date: December 11, 2001
Was it the jab from Jay-Z, and punch from Nas that shook Prodigy and the Queensbridge veterans? Infamy released after the ongoing dispute between Prodigy and two of New York’s best, found Mobb Deep in a slightly different locale, musically. While the chilling, thug manifestos still existed; many of the album’s cuts were some of M-O-B-B’s most accessible, or possibly—gasp—commercial efforts. While singles “Get Away” and “The Learning (Burn)” penetrated both the radio and the clubs, fans witnessed something they never expected from Mobb Deep—a love song with 112 titled “Hey Luv (Anything).” The single become one of Mobb Deep’s biggest hits, and while it turned away some of the duo’s thugged-out militainment supporters, it did amass a new selection of fans. Granted, the album’s still loaded with ammos that’ll pierce through the domes of many, but are they enjoyable? Well, let’s just say “Live Foul” should never happen again. Ever.