Monday, June 29, 2015

2 in 1: A Look Back at Mobb Deep's "Hell On Earth" and "Murda Muzik"

(Note: Before I get into this revisit, for those who anticipated the previously planned "Infamous Mobb Deep" project, I want to apologize for the somewhat abrupt ending of it. Blame the timing, not the passion.)

After releasing their classic sophomore album in '95, "The Infamous," Havoc and Prodigy returned the next year with album number three, "Hell On Earth," and I for one REALLY anticipated this release from the moment it was announced. And as you might have correctly guessed, I do have a few stories to tell.

I remember an episode of Rap City in '96 when Havoc, Prodigy and Big Lez were on location somewhere (can't recall the place), and when Lez asked about what's next for the Mobb, Havoc said they did have a new album in the works. "No titles right now, just in the studio," he said. When "Hell On Earth" eventually dropped, I bought it a week after it dropped ($10, no sales tax, from Crockett's Records, Tapes & CDs), which also marked the last time I ever bought a cassette (I copped the CD a few months later). I was also in the 7th grade at this point and I have to share this particular story again. A few weeks prior to the release of "Hell On Earth," Ghostface Killah's "Ironman" came out, which I hadn't added to my collection yet. I remember trying to cut a deal with my friend Andre to trade the Mobb album for Ghostface's, smh+lol. He politely declined, but it was all good, and the way he talked about how dope "Ironman" was made me really want that album too, obviously. So yes, the nostalgia for this album, as usual with the 90s (and 80s) is definitely strong. And with that being said, we can FINALLY get to the first half of this post, "Hell On Earth," which was released on November 19, 1996.

All songs produced by Mobb Deep

1. "Animal Instinct"
Featuring Ty Nitty and Twin Gambino

"You know how we did on The Infamous album right? Ight, so we gon do it again son!" -Havoc

Man, when I first heard those words from Havoc, I was SO hyped for the rest of the album! Granted, this is not the opener that "The Start Of Your Ending (41st Side)" was, but it still serves as a very good way to start this album, also featuring the debuts of Ty Nitty and Twin Gambino, who would later become part of Infamous Mobb.
*4 out of 5*

2. "Drop A Gem On Em"


Now THIS requires a backstory. In early '96, Havoc and Prodigy, along with Capone, Noreaga and Tragedy Khadafi responded to Tha Dogg Pound's "New York, New York" with "L.A, L.A." At the time, a lot of people, especially on the East Coast, took Dogg Pound's song as a diss, and whether that was the case or not (I believe Kurupt recently did an interview stating that this was a form of giving props to the East, not a diss), some took exception. Looking back, Capone, Noreaga, Havoc, Prodigy and Tragedy were essentially the only artists to take a (true) stand on record while mostly everyone else commented in interviews or just decided to not say anything at all when it came to the "East Coast-West Coast" war. Furthermore, 2Pac seemingly took exception to this, and since Mobb Deep were hot in '96, they, along with everyone else who was under verbal attack, felt Pac's lyrical wrath on the still scathing to this day diss song "Hit Em Up." Mobb Deep shot back with this in response. With hindsight being 20/20, it may not have been the best move to include this song on the album, considering that Pac's life was unfortunately taken two months prior to its release, so either that was a case where the album was already mastered and shipped, making it late to remove the song or it was going to be included no matter what. As a song, let me tell you something, Havoc and Prodigy especially go in on Pac, with the latter even mentioning the shooting at Quad Recordings Studio in '94 along with some other ruthless lines. One has to wonder why Prodigy didn't come at Jay-Z like this in 2001, but that's another story that I've covered on the blog many times. Timing issues aside, this song is still dope (my friend Marcellous really liked this beat too).
*5 out of 5*

3. "Bloodsport"

 "Yo, this ain't rap, this bloodsport." -Prodigy

True words from Prodigy right there and it accurately paints the Mobb picture for this banger. My initial rating for this would've been a "4 out of 5," but the nostalgic factor has me going the full monty.
*5 out of 5*

4. "Extortion"
Featuring Method Man

In what was the first of two Mobb/Wu-Tang collaborations on this album, it's so dope it comes off as an understatement. Havoc comes through with two brief but good verses, Prodigy drops a dope verse, but hot damn, Meth just kills this one with his show stealing, closing verse. 
*5 out of 5*

5. "More Trife Life"

For the first time, Havoc goes solo, building off of the strength of "Trife Life" from the "Infamous" album. The moral of Havoc's story is being aware of your surroundings in terms of visiting a woman, who in this case has him set up from the beginning, somewhat unbeknownst to Havoc. The story ends with Havoc emerging from it all unscathed as some of his homies proceed to take care of the situation ("don't worry son, we got this"). This may be the finest bit of storytelling we've ever received from Havoc ("don't never go see a bitch, word," he warns at the end).
*5 out of 5*

6. "Man Down"
Featuring Big Noyd

In 2015, it's cool to call something like this "vintage Mobb Deep" (or that "vintage Mobb sound") and that's what we get on this Big Noyd assisted song.
*4 out of 5*

7. "Can't Get Enough Of It"
Featuring General G

  There was a short lived time when I skipped this song, but after a while it grew on me. When it comes to "the life," you know these cats can't get enough of it, hence the apply titled nature here. I'm not sure if General G changed his name later, but this may have been his first and last appearance.
*4 out of 5*

8. "Nighttime Vultures"
Featuring Raekwon

The second of the Mobb/Wu collaborations here, and it's just as dope (and classic) as "Extortion" is, if not better. Speaking of dope, Prodigy's opening verse is just that and it's one of his best, plus it was picked as a "hip hop quotable" in one of the late '96 issues of The Source (probably between September and November). TIGHT stuff here.
*5 out of 5*

9. "G.O.D. Pt. III"
Additional Vocals by Godfather Pt. III effectively sums up this classic in a nutshell and I have the exact same views:

"This is the Mobb on top form. Havoc drops the Little Feat drums (the same ones that The Fugees jacked from Tribe for "Killin Me Softly") over "Scarface" (the movie) synths. Prodigy delivers one of his signature opening verses, equal parts emotionless and menacing."

Well, I wouldn't say that Fugees "jacked" A Tribe Called Quest (sampling was still in full effect at this point). Havoc's verse was very good as well.

*5 out of 5*

10. "Get Dealt With"

Another apply titled banger with Havoc and Prodigy at their most gritty and gangsta. No shortage of aggression to be found here, plus Havoc really goes in here, almost stealing the show from Prodigy in a rare occurrence.
*4.5 out of 5*

11. "Hell On Earth (Front Lines)"

To some, this may come off as just another song talking about life in the projects and what comes with it, but the Mobb bring their very own perspective without it sounding like "something we've heard before and done better," complete with a memorable beat that fits the tone. Another classic.
*5 out of 5*

12. "Give It Up Fast"
Featuring Nas and Big Noyd

I gotta credit again here. Almost 20 YEARS after it's release (the timing is crazy), I'm just realizing that Havoc utilized the theme from the movie "King Of New York" for this beat. It's amazing that I'm just realizing that now; better late than never I guess. Either way, a pretty good song featuring equally good verses from all four MCs.
*4 out of 5*

13. Still Shinin'

"Up the ladder of success wit tecs we build and destroy/Still shinin, still climbin" -Prodigy

Well said Prodigy. This has always been one of my favorite Mobb Deep songs, with three dope verses over a slammin' track, complete with a WELL worked sample courtesy of Willie Hutch's "Hospital Prelude of Love Theme." ANOTHER classic.
*5 out of 5*

14. "The Apostle's Warning"

Oh man, a HELL of a closer right here (I've always liked this thumping beat). Prodigy's verse just confirms again how GOOD he was on the mic at this point and it's certainly another one of his best.
*5 out of 5*

*15. "In The Long Run"
Featuring Ty Nitty

I'm going to take a lot of people back with this one. Remember "Enhanced CDs"? I sure do, and if my memory serves me correctly, this album was the first hip hop one to have the feature. It was simple, you'd have to put the CD into a computer to unlock some bonus/hidden features, and this song was the "hidden track." It's pretty good, moreso known for Prodigy's (dope) verse going at Keith Murray due to a beef they had back in the day (they have since squashed it).
*4 out of 5*

Oh man, I was RIGHT back in 96-97 for this one and trust me when I say this album STILL holds up today, and that strong nostalgia for it isn't going anywhere. This is one incredible album and to refer back to Havoc's opening line from "Animal Instinct," they repeated what they did on the "Infamous" album again...... however, even though "Hell On Earth" does give "Infamous" a run for its money, in my view "The Infamous" is still the better album. Complete with slammin' production and tight lyrics to match (Prodigy was still in top form at this point), this was one of the best albums in the STACKED year that was 1996; it became certified Gold on April 9, 199). Previously I did give this album a 5 star rating and it would get that on nostalgia alone, but to be fair, it clocks in at a respectable 4.5 star rating. 

After "Hell On Earth," in between guest appearances and production spots (on Havoc's end), the Mobb returned with their highly anticipated 4th album, "Murda Muzik" (released on August 17, 1999). In an unfortunate turn of events, much like Nas' third album released that same year, "I Am," the album was heavily bootlegged prior it being released, and reportedly Havoc was not too happy about it, understandably so. This led to himself and Prodigy scrapping some of the original material and recording new songs (I believe the release date was changed too). Havoc did say years later that people aren't going to bootleg something they don't want, so if there was one positive in this situation, that was it. (Note: If you think that leaking and/or bootlegging an artist's album is doing them a favor, you're wrong. It does more harm than good.) Did the new material help or hurt the final product? Let's go back to '99!

All songs produced by Havoc, except where noted

1. "Intro"
This 45 second intro perfectly leads into the opening song, even if said words were delivered by late, former President Ronald Reagan.

2. "Streets Raised Me"
Featuring Big Noyd and Chinky

"This is somethin' you feel nigga, like the theme song from Hill Street Blues/This is real, this is ill street news." -Big Noyd

True words spoken by Noyd and it's an accurate description of this very good opening song. Yes, songs like this were essentially commonplace at this point in hip hop, but when done right, it results in a winner.
*4 out of 5*

3. "What's Ya Poison"
Featuring Cormega

I remember seeing this song named as "Deer Park" and "How You Want It" a few times back in the day. Nevertheless, this is a dope song, featuring a show stealing verse by one Cormega, as well as all three MCs riding the beat so well. I may be overrating it a bit, but Mega's verse bumps up the rating.
*5 out of 5*

4. "Spread Love"

At the end of the day, war and any type of negativity associated with it is not going to bring about anything good, obviously, and considering what's going on in our country (and the world) as we speak, spreading love is the only thing that'll bring peace and harmony. Now, this song may be the standard Mobb Deep fare, if you will, but the message is clear.
*4 out of 5*

5. "Let A Ho Be A Ho"

This certainly was not a continuation of "More Trife Life" from the "Hell On Earth" album, as even Havoc, probably by his own admission, disregarded his "never go see a bitch" line from the same song. I've always liked this beat, but lyrically it's nothing special and even the small story told towards the end holds no candle to the aforementioned "More Trife Life." Let's move on.
*3 out of 5*

6. "I'm Going Out"
Featuring Lil Cease

A pretty good, apply titled song right here. The aggressive nature of the song (and being alongside Havoc and Prodigy) really rubbed off on Lil Cease, because this may have been the hardest verse of his career after "Player's Anthem."
*4 out of 5*

7. "Allustrious"

The main theme here is: you don't wanna mess with Mobb Deep, nothing we haven't heard before though.
*4 out of 5*

8. "Adrenaline"

 Another apply titled banger. I've always liked this one a lot and of course the system in my ride and the Beats By Dre headphones loves the pounding beat too. Dope stuff here, that "war shit" indeed.
*5 out of 5*

9. "Where Ya From"
Featuring 8-Ball
Produced By Mo-Suave Productions

Queens and Memphis connects for this laid back joint. Guest 8-Ball had some nice chemistry with the Mobb (and a few other East Coast artists). For some reason I skipped this song often back in the day, but after a while it grew on me.
*4 out of 5*

10. "Quiet Storm"

Whether they were gunning for it or not (no pun intended), it was this single that propelled the Mobb into the mainstream, probably their biggest single to date, the first one released from this album. The video was in complete heavy rotation in the summer of '99, mostly on BET. In addition to a good video, Havoc produced one of his most well known beats, featuring a sample of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five's "White Lines," and Prodigy completely owned this one with his mic presence and three straight dope verses. Classic.
*5 out of 5*

11. "Where Ya Heart At" came through with a fitting description of this song, and it echoes my feelings on it as well:

"This song describes basically where one’s heart is and you don’t have love lost until you actually lost one."

This may be another one of the few Mobb Deep songs where you have to take your time with it as you listen to it, but make no mistake about it, the song itself is pretty damn good. (I also have to mention that Havoc was killing it with these samples, as Sade's "Fear" was well worked for this one.)

*5 out of 5*

12. "Noyd Interlude"

13. "Can't Fuck Wit"
Featuring Raekwon

When I think back to the classic "Nighttime Vultures" and how DOPE that was, this one pales in comparison. Don't get me wrong, it's not wack by any means, but it could've been better, and that's mostly because of the beat.
*3 out of 5*

14. "Thug Muzik"
Featuring Infamous Mobb and Chinky
Produced By The Alchemist

This was more or less a showcase for the Infamous Mobb, consisting of G.O.D. Father Pt. III, Ty Nitty and Twin Gambino, and to a lesser extent Chinky. All things considered, this was decent.
*4 out of 5*

15. "Murda Muzik"

This dope title track speaks volumes about the album in general and the song itself specifically. You can tell they were really feeling this beat.
*4 out of 5*

16. "The Realest"
Featuring Kool G Rap
Produced By The Alchemist

Oh man, definitely the best song on this album. Over one of Alchemist's finest beats (he was sick with the samples too, thanks to The Ectasy Passion's "Born To Lose" for this one), G Rap OWNED this one with his opening verse, truly deserving of the "hip hop quotable" status it received in The Source Magazine in '99. Classic.
*5 out of 5*

17. "U.S.A. (Aiight Then)"
Produced By Epitome, Shamello, Buddah

The three names on the production end were the same men behind Busta Rhymes' classic "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See". Havoc and Prodigy show love to the hoods, ghettos and the like across the U.S., but I can't help but think that there may have been one or two songs that were cut that could've took the place of this song, another one that I skipped back in the day. I mean it's ok, nothing more or less.
*3 out of 5*

18. "It's Mine"
Featuring Nas

Going back to the sampling, Havoc did it again with this beat and his incredible use of the opening theme from the classic movie "Scarface" (credited as "Scarface Cues" in the album insert), simply awesome. Now, I've always thought this song was dope, including another show stealing verse (this time in the form of Nas), however, I have a couple of issues looking at this today, and they're due to Nas believe it or not. Now I gotta turn my "Nas bias" off for a bit:

1) Not only did Nas quickly sample R. Kelly's "When A Woman's Fed Up" for "K-I-SS-I-N-G" on his "I Am" album, but man, mimicking Brandy and Monica's "The Boy Is Mine" of all songs for this?? Well, I don't want to call it suspect, but they really could've went a different route with that as far as the hook goes.

2) My friend Tariq at the time took issue with Nas saying "thug life, it's mine" in the hook, stating that if 2Pac (who is/was his favorite rapper of all time) was alive, that hook wouldn't exist, and looking back, he probably was right. Honestly, coincidental or not, you didn't hear many artists use the term "thug life" in any form until after Pac's death.

With all this being said, while still an overall dope song today, my rating is a reflection of the two points above.
*4.5 out of 5*

19. "Quiet Storm (Remix)"
Featuring Lil Kim

This classic remix is just as dope as, IF not better, than its original predecessor. Lil Kim comes through in what I still call her best verse ever, hands down. Great way to close this album.
*5 out of 5*

Havoc and Prodigy's hard work, dating back to their "Juvenile Hell" debut, had certainly paid off with this album, their most successful to date, debuting at #3 on the Billboard 200 chart and becoming certified Double Platinum as of October 2013, while initially hitting the Platinum mark not too long after its release.  Some may argue that overall, Mobb Deep peaked here and when you consider all the albums that followed this, that may be understatement, but at this point in '99, they were on a roll and enjoying the most success in their careers. While not on the level of "The Infamous" and "Hell On Earth," it's still a tight, 4.5 star album that holds up today.

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