Words: Spiro Agnew | Photos: Chris Jensen
Originally published in ego trip #4 , 1995
Ghetto fantasy. Ghetto reality – ghetto realness. Ghetto survival. Ghetto logic. Ghetto mathematics. Ghetto salvation. Ghetto discharge. “As long as I’m alive I’m-a live illegal – and when I get on I’m-a put on all my peoples,” blasts a lah-charged Havoc on 1995’s by hook or by crook theme song, “Shook Ones Pt. 2” – Mobb Deep’s first at bat in their second inning of corporate league rap stardom. The grim and ominous electro piano riff-age that lines “Shook Ones” chimes in sync alongside the glock showers, tear pools, and monkey bar joy screams of young noir-tinted babies that inhabit the Queensbridge Housing Projects – New York’s dopest answer to sector-segregated nepotism. Marley Marl, Shan, Roxanne Shanté, Cragi G, Tragedy (the Intelligent Hoodlum), Poet & Hot Day, Nas – all skilled hip-hop architects, all fed and bred inside the reservation known as Queensbridge.
Prodigy and Havoc are Mobb Deep. They’re representin’ QB to the fullest, and although Prodigy is actually from Hempstead, Long Island, this shorty doo-wop duo’s word is bond. It’s a fusion that’s centered around “family” – they peoples – first and foremost. Street life ain’t easy, and if you can’t count on your fam, then what or who else can ya look to?
“We went to high school [Manhattan’s School of Art and Design] together,” recalls a grimace-free Prodigy. “We started out battlin’ in the lunchroom… Soon, niggas was like, ‘Yo, y’all should get together and form a group.” Several talent shows, and a few demos later, Mobb Deep earned themselves a short-lived recording contract with Island Records – a label that was ill equipped and unconcerned with the group’s marketing push. “I don’t like to talk about that too tuff,” says a Quarter Pounder with Cheese-nourished Prodigy. “It wasn’t workin’ out, so we up off outta there.”
“They was cheap,” adds an amped Havoc. “They just wanna put a record out there and see what it do.”
The Island experience stranded Mobb Deep, luckily, with a few dollars, which in turn went toward the production of still another demo. “We put our little cash together and made a demo,” continues the rejuvenated Havoc. “Niggas like us is lucky cuz niggas don’t get dropped and picked up like that again – thank god niggas got back on in a second.” Today, Havoc and Prodigy borrow sugar, and co-exist quite nicely with their golden-glazed neighbors – labelmates the Wu-Tang Clan – spinnin’ high and newborn through the vinyl-grown branches of the Loud/RCA cipher. “I like the new label, but you’ve got to stay on top of your game,” stresses Havoc. “It’s like, yo, Wu-Tang – I feel them niggas blew theyself up. We just stay on top of our game – we just make sure the record company’s doin’ what they gotta do.”
On their second full-length excursion, QB’s Mobb Deep hold firm the reins of production – developing and completing ninety percent of The Infamous internally. “We hit the lab,” adds Prodigy, “We was like, ‘Gotta do this, gotta make these songs – gotta blow, kid.’ We started buyin’ mad records, makin’ our own beats.”
“Motherfuckers was frontin’ on beats,” barks Havoc. “They probably felt like, ‘Yo, Mobb Deep – they kinda weak.’ We was like, fuck it man. I ain’t gonna stop, on the strength, over somebody ain’t give us no beats. Ain’t nobody stoppin’ my show.” Lil’ Havoc – who does damage with the aid of an MPC 60 (sampler), the EPS 16 (still another sampler), an Ensoniq keyboard, and a sixteen-track mixing board – picked up know-how on the technical tip by monitoring the magical musings of Extra P. “Large Professor – he really got me open,” admits Havoc. “I used to go to his crib and watch him make beats and ask him a lot of questions.”
Beyond being exposed to Large Professor’s creative and technical genius, Havoc insists that Mobb Deep’s actual musical development was spawned by the group’s relentless determination and do-for-self drive. “Nobody taught me,” declares Havoc, “I just be watchin’. I learned to work the MP in like two days. I got it, read the instructions – boom, boom, boom. That’s how dedicated I was to makin’ my own beats.”
“What was it like,” I ask, “growing up in Queensbridge and dealing with hip-hop? What are your earliest memories?”
“Doin’ graffiti,” Havoc explains. “Mad niggas sellin’ drugs. I was little, doin’ the Fila [dance] – all that crazy shit in the park.”
“What’s a typical day like for a brother in QB?” I ask. “Just a regular brother who hangs in the Bridge, who knows the game, who’s part of the game – what’s the average day like for him?”
“Goin’ outside,” answers a street-smart Havoc, “slangin’, duckin from the cops, gettin’ lah-ed up, gettin’ bent, drinkin’ mad beers. Go get a little shortie or somethin’. Chill. Get money. And chill.”
Queensbridge is an occupied territory – a place where bumbling and insensitive undercover detectives do donut brunch with baby blue water-colored robo-rent-a-cops. It’s a place where, in the eyes of New York’s thespian-like “justice” system, African-Americans and Latinos are born guilty, and are proven innocent only after death. “There’s cops out 24-7,” splashes Havoc. “But that don’t stop niggas from gettin’ they money.”
“Is there brutality out there with the cops?” I ask.
“Yeah, kid, most definitely,” blasts Havoc. “Cops don’t know how to act out there – cops don’t know how to act nowhere… It’s all across America with Black people.”
But at the end of the night long after the gats are tucked away into sock-filled dresser drawers, after the last L is sparked, and all the baby’s mothers have lay their soft-skinned offspring to rest, there’s adoration glistening bright in the eyes of Queensbridge’s rising poetic son, Havoc. “Queensbridge, Queensbridge – the place where stars are born,” he reflects. “Projects where stars is born. A lot of niggas out there bustin’ they gats, mad drama. It’s cool, though. I love it. I just love the atmosphere.”