When asked earlier this year about the concept of his upcoming album, Queensbridge MC Havoc simply replied, “This is about being me.” At the time, the response was taken as a declaration of severance from his longtime partner in music, Prodigy, who Havoc got in an ugly public spat with in 2012.  Supposedly, the two have now made up, but P’s absence on 13, Havoc’s third solo album and first without a Mobb Deep song, is hard to overlook. Regardless, the album sticks to the type of dark and aggressive rap the duo mastered as teenagers in the ‘90s.

This is most evident in the album’s production, which has always been Havoc’s strong suit. For years, Hav used menacing piano samples, distorted synthesizers and hard-hitting snares to add layers of tension and anxiety to New York’s classic boom-bap sound. The beats on 13 may not carry the same weight as those on The Infamous or Hell on Earth, but they show that Hav still knows how to craft music that’s captivating and makes you feel on edge. The heavy guitar strums and blaring horns used on “Favorite Rap Stars,” for example, create an ominous backdrop for Havoc and guests Raekwon and Styles P to spit hood tales over. And on “Get Busy,” Hav uses lurking piano chords to make a gritty soundtrack for a nighttime drive over the Queensboro Bridge. Importantly, despite using a familiar formula, Havoc’s beats never sound too dated here; new techniques in his repertoire, such as using more melodic synths and complicated drum arrangements, keep things sounding fresh.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for his lyrics. During Mobb Deep’s run of success, Prodigy was known as the foul-mouthed, more talented MC, while Hav was more known for his beats than his lyrics. He doesn’t do much here to dispel that notion. While they’re never that bad, large portions of Havoc’s verses fail to make a dent and are built on the same bland tough talk that he’s been spitting for years. To be fair, he has been rapping for over two decades, so the verses sound decent enough – his breath control is impeccable and his flow is always on point – but they usually act merely as another layer in the instrumental, failing to really add anything to the experience. Hav sounds best when he drops the toughness and gets more personal, like on “Gettin’ Mines,” when he raps about his ambitions as a veteran MC, and “This World,” when he talks about his choices as a youth.

Despite this, the project is another solid effort to add to the impressive Mobb Deep catalogue, even though it’s the first that doesn’t feature contributions from both MCs. Originally, Hav planned to include the diss song he made toward Prodigy on the album, but he cut it last minute. Perhaps he should have replaced it with a record acknowledging his relationship with P and how their issues were "resolved." Unfortunately, Hav never really digs that deep here, and the elephant in the room prevents him from taking that next step forward.—Reed Jackson