Music can be terrifying. Eminem has proved this over the years with his specifically branded shock rap style. Admittedly, the terror emitted through his projects stands somewhat aloof from that of other artists that have their lyrical roots planted strictly in realism. In 1995, only a year after Nas’ realistic hip-hop masterstroke, we got an album that perhaps trumped Illmatic in its depictions of street life in American ghettoes. I can think of very few albums more deserving of the title, The Infamous, than Mobb Deep’s terrifyingly realistic second album.
The album had as much or more gangster bravado than any album had before or has had since. It was as if Prodigy and Havoc were on trial before a jury and asked to fully describe what it was like to grow up in their neighborhood without any reservations. The era was rife with gangs, which meant beef between crews and the constant dread of looking over your shoulder for those involved. This dread is foreboding throughout this project. On the track, ‘Q.U. – Hectic’, Havoc lays down a beat that opens like a gun barrel being pushed in your face. It is unexpected, full of questions and unrelenting.
From there, the lyrics take form as something of a Queensbridge gangster’s manifesto. Drugs, violence and fear run rampant over the track, leaving a lingering filth in the air. The entire album contains a certain grit that haven’t yet been attached to a hip hop album. “Life isn’t the game that it seems to be.” This lyric perfectly sums up what the duo was trying to convey with this album; that life isn’t some fairy tale where you play by the rules and survive. In their world, fighting directly correlates with surviving and its perspective is primitive and extremely frightening.
The beats lend themselves perfectly and come across as the ambient noise of the time-period and literal geographic location. Extremely distorted synths, lazily slow bass-hits and hi-hats all combine to sound like something that crawled up from beneath the Queens city streets. The album is alive with the sounds of death, both lyrically and instrumentally. Cinematic is the perfect way to describe Prodigy’s rhyme style. You can picture him jetting down back alleys, trying to get home and warn his homies about their impending doom. It paints a picture for sure, just not a very pretty one.
Even ‘Drink Away The Pain’, a song that starts out sounding something like a hood love story ends up as a pessimistic worldview allegory. The duo tells their story in the only way it should be told. No cover-up, concealer or masks. By the end of each song, you suddenly are capable of looking at the world differently and that is a powerful thing for music to do. It is a hood-horror story to any and all outsiders but even scarier when you stop to think that this is just another day in the life for them. To try and imagine a person other than a cop, feeling like they have to wear a bulletproof vest on the day-to-day challenges your perspective.
That is perhaps this album’s biggest strength, not any of its individual parts, but the fact that altogether it is a very challenging listen when you actually try to hear and feel it. It is a book in rhythmic audible form and is both un-relatable at times and profoundly relatable at others. You certainly think twice before putting yourself in their shoes for each song, as it is sure to be a dark journey. Regardless of how depressing the final product may be, there is no denying that it is fantastic music all around. From production to writing, everything is top-grade material. If you like your music descriptive, bound in realism and with a dark storm cloud ever-looming above it, then this is one of the greats. If not, still it remains, one of the all-time greats.