Issue 56 (2003)
Prodigy and Havoc have been around for years paying dues and often shining in the spotlight with their violent depictions of life in the Queensbridge housing projects. After releasing their last four albums off of Loud Records and their debut on 4th and Broadway, Mobb Deep has found a new home inking a 50-50 deal with Jive records. The agreement not only sets the stage for the sixth installment of the Mobb’s unique brand of “Murda Muzik,” entitled “Amerikaz Nightmare,” it marks the beginning of their label Infamous Records.
It’s been a long journey to this point and along the way there has been plenty of success, losses of friends, drama and rap beefs, but at the end of the day it all comes back to their love for music and determination to be successful. Although I caught up with Prodigy and Havoc separately, their chemistry was still evident as they ended up echoing each other’s sentiments. That closeness is the main reason breaking up is not even a consideration. With six albums in the can and about five hundred songs in Pro Tools they have an endless supply of work to share with the world and will continue to do so until they are forced to stop. That dedication and drive is important to their consistency, but it’s their friendship that bonds them.
“We mad close it’s like we’re brothers,” begins Havoc. “From the first day we met we clicked. We have our little ups and downs, but the way it’s taught in my home if you have a problem with your brother or sister you don’t fight in public. We might have our own things going on here and there, but we’ll never do it in public and we will remain a group because we tight like that.”
“Before we were even thinking about rap music we was just going out having fun and on the block drinking,” Prodigy remembers. “We were friends even back then, so we’re not gonna let nothing fuck up our friendship. It’s deeper than music. We go back a long ways and not only is our friendship at stake, but also what we created. We created Mobb Deep so we feel we have a job to do. Even if we were to argue we always gonna be like yo son I’ll meet you at the studio tomorrow because the music we doing is bigger than everything besides our friendship. We just love what we do so much and we’re gonna do this as long as possible.”
The two first met back at Art and Design High School in Manhattan and have been rolling together ever since. The story goes that Havoc and his crew were actually planning to rob Prodigy when they first seen him. He had just moved from Hempstead, L.I. to Queensbridge and was the new jack in school.
“I used to wear a lot of jewelry, I thought I was Slick Rick back in the days,” jokes P. “That’s when niggas was wearing rings on every finger and the five finger rings with the thumb part that moves and shit. I was all into that rap shit so I used to come to school with mad jewels because I used to be doing little crooked shit back in the days. Motherfuckers could hear me coming down the hallway sounding like jingle bells. Everybody in the whole school was scheming on me because I was the new kid. I was mad little, we was all mad little, but they was like that little nigga not supposed to be wearing all them jewels. They was like if we don’t rob him somebody is gonna rob his ass. I was thugging it out back then too. I had my little hammer on me and all that because Decepticons (a gang in NYC) and all that shit was out back then. We would ride the train and you would bump into thirty or forty Decepticon niggas. So when I went to Design I realized you had a lot of Decepticons coming up here everyday so I bought me a hammer after that and I was bringing my hammer to school everyday I didn’t give a fuck. Me and Hav started getting cool. We had met in the lunchroom because niggas used to battle in the lunchroom beating on tables and everybody would start kicking they rhymes. We just clicked and they ended up telling me they was gonna rob me at first but you mad cool so it’s all love.”
From there they began work on their overlooked debut, “Juvenile Hell.” At only fifteen Havoc and P started hunting for their first deal cutting school everyday after homeroom to take the D train from Manhattan all the way to Coney Island to make songs for their demo. “My man out there was making our beats at the time,” explains P. “We made like fifty songs for our demo and started shopping it around and finally we got people interested.”
After signing a deal with 4th and Broadway Hav and P already thought they were official. They were more excited to have a record deal than at the opportunity to make a great album. They still turned in a solid effort as far as the rhymes but were unable to afford the top beat makers at the time like Pete Rock, so they were forced to settle for less than stellar production. Fed up with corny beats they decided to use the money from their advance to buy their own equipment and started making tracks, two of which surfaced on the final version of the LP. The songs turned out all right garnering them a decent response on the street level with “Peer Pressure” and “Hit it From the Back” getting a little buzz. The album on the other hand was a commercial disaster barely selling 20,000 copies. On top of that three months later a kid from their own hood hit the scene, effectively putting an end to whatever attention the Mobb had generated up to that point.
“When Nas dropped Illmatic he just killed us with that!” P shouts. “We was like oh shit this nigga is ill! We was praising that nigga. We was with this nigga everyday, we couldn’t believe he did that shit. He made our shit look stupid. Nas wasn’t letting us hear nothing when he made that album. We would be on the block and battle each other but that was it. We didn’t know what he had in store. We was the shit in our minds, but when Nas dropped Illmatic he made us look weak and we got dropped after that. Now we was like we got something for all that. We had our little equipment and we really started getting into the beats. Me and Hav locked ourselves in the crib and punished ourselves because we played ourselves. We realized you only get one chance to make a first impression and our first impression wasn’t that grand, it was weak. So we was like its not over yet, we gonna go into the crib and show niggas what we can do.”
The results of that time in the lab were classics like “Shook Ones” and “Survival of the Fittest.” Those songs were the product of the anger in them coming out after facing failure. They wanted to send the message to all the fans and labels that they deserved to be seen as one of the best groups out there and that you were gonna like them or else. They started mapping out a plan of what they wanted to do with the album, which essentially was a demo. After being dropped from 4th and Broadway and outshined by Nas the Mobb had renewed energy and were on a mission to prove all the doubters wrong.
“When you get dropped and your album only sells 20,000 copies that’s a humiliating feeling,” Prodigy admits switching to a more serious tone. “That’s some real fucked up shit because this is your plan in life and look at what your first attempt at rap music did that shit failed. We took that seriously. We went into the studio and just snapped into a zone. From that day on it was just a whole other level. This is do or die I don’t play with this music. We make good music and that’s all I want to do and I’m going to show you. Our whole thing is you gotta like this shit right here. There is no room for failure because we been through that already the first go around and I’m not going back there. I don’t like that feeling and I don’t ever want to feel that feeling ever again in my life and it will never happen again. That’s my whole mental attitude I feel the same way when we were making that Infamous album I’m stuck in that zone.”
With “The Infamous” the Mobb reinvigorated the world of hardcore anthems and continued to preach about the street life and its harsh consequences on every effort thereafter. They were celebrated for bringing the problems to the rap game, which by nature brought a few problems into their immediate circle. When you’re talking the talk it’s only natural that some people are gonna want to test you. But that was their way of life and to a certain extent it still is to this day, only the stakes are much higher. Both men admit that they have to walk a thin line and do their best to avoid the drama they speak as much as possible because their careers and families are too important to jeopardize. Even lyrically they are more conscious of what they put on wax and have a better understanding of the implications of their words.
“I’m a strong believer in words,” says Havoc. “Words are a powerful thing and I always say you have to be careful about what you say. Even though it might not seem like it I’m always kinda careful with how I word my lyrics just on the strength of that. I’m speaking from the heart, but I’m also being conscious that words are very powerful. I don’t try to bring nothing onto myself. If I’m rhyming about something I’m gonna put something in there like all of this could happen but I’m going to be careful to avoid that. So throughout my life I’ve been avoiding a lot of situations that I could have fell victim to.”
“I started getting into a zone writing mad shit and it started scaring me because little things we saying be happening, it makes you think words are powerful,” Prodigy tacks on practically repeating Havoc’s statement. “It definitely made me stop and think, but at the same time I don’t believe in none of that bullshit. I say what the fuck I want to say. I write all of that shit. I’m gonna write about anything I want to, but I acknowledge that shit though.”
With that raw honesty and uncompromising nature it’s no surprise that Prodigy, the more outspoken member of the crew, is often the one caught up in the middle of some of the Mobb’s more well known altercations. Dating back to “The Infamous Prelude” P’s words, whether direct, indirect, or misconstrued, have a tendency of rubbing someone the wrong way. On the prelude his shit talking wasn’t aimed at anyone in particular, but several artists took offense including Keith Murray and Bone Thugs in Harmony. And as time went on more emcees started lashing out at P from 2 Pac to more recent barbs from Jay-Z and even Nas.
“When I was in jail, when they came out with that song, when they was like, “Thug Life, we still livin’ it”…you know in that song that they have. Well I took it as a dis’. So from jail, I’m calling my lil’ homies in Atlanta and was like, “yo, they got a show out there, get with them bustaz”. So my homeboys roll up and was like, “what’s up?”, them niggaz was cowards. In the car looking forward like they didn’t see my homeboys going, “Thug Life muthafucka, what’s poppin?”…You know what I mean?…so I hate niggaz like that.”
2 Pac excerpt from an interview with ‘Vibe Magazine’
“Right after “Survival of the Fittest” came out and all that thug life shit we was in Atlanta and I seen them niggas across the street throwing they signs in the air screaming thug life and that was about it,” Prodigy deadpans. “I remember that day. When he said it he over exaggerated saying they did something to us because that ain’t happen, but I remember them being across the street screaming thug life. They didn’t come step to us. They must have heard about our function and came through, but we never really liked 2 Pac’s music so we don’t know who these niggas are. 2 Pac became familiar to me when he came with “Brenda’s got a Baby” and all that and I wasn’t really into that. I didn’t start liking him until he started flipping. I felt him because that’s how we felt. He just started flipping like niggas tried to kill me, I’m fucking with Suge this nigga is blessing me with mad dough so I’m gonna make this shit pop and go crazy everybody is gonna remember me and he did it. So nothing that he said ever affected me because I was always like Pac is crazy. Everybody got their crazy in them but some people got it more than others. He got that crazy shit he was ill.”
“I don’t care if you Mobb Deep, I hold triggers to crews
You little FUCK, I’ve got money stacks bigger than you
When I was pushin weight, back in eighty-eight
you was a ballerina I got your pictures I seen ya
Then you dropped “Shook Ones,” switch your demeanor
Well – we don’t believe you, you need more people.”
Jay- Z “The Takeover”
“We seen each other one day at the club Justin’s,” answers P when I inquire if he’s run into Jay-Z. “I was in there with a bunch of my niggas and we were chilling all night and then all of a sudden on the mic we hear shout out to Jermaine Dupri and Jay-Z they up in the party. So we look at each other like aiight because this was the first time since I said he was a bitch but he ain’t do that picture shit yet. So we like aiight we about to see these niggas so we getting ready for whatever. I’m about to grab a flower pot and crack security over the head, whatever I’m pulling my buckle tighter getting my shit together and all my niggas getting they shit together. So we see he’s here he comes walking down, he stopped looked at me and he put his hand out so I gave him a five. I was aiight what’s up and he said you could have at least said it to my face instead of putting it in the magazine, so I’m like the nigga asked me a question and I answered it. He was like well it ain’t no beef, it ain’t no beef. I’m like aiight whatever and he walked off and that was that. Then months later he did that picture shit, he must have been holding that inside real tight like I’m gonna get this nigga back it ain’t no beef I got a picture of you when you was a shorty nigga looking like Michael Jackson. I ain’t seen him since then. We been in the same vicinity but we ain’t been that close. They protect that boy, he making that money you not supposed to see him.”
“Before I woulda told you Prodigy’s my dog
Through the ups and downs, robberies and all
Though I always knew he wanted my downfall
He would say his little slick shit and act real funny
For what nigga you’re butt and it got back to me
Asking a Braveheart to get back your jewelry
You ain’t from my hood, don’t even rep Q.B.”
Nas “Destroy and Rebuild”
“Nas must think I really don’t like him because he said some shit about me back in the days, but I loved him more because of what he said,” confessed the HNIC. “I give mad props to Nas because he made us step our game up. Back when I first came around, like ‘89-’91, niggas was like let’s see if he can stand up to the ill niggas in the hood. They took me over to Cormega to battle him. I’m battling but I was shook like who is this nigga? I heard he’s ill and everybody talk about him, but I’m like fuck it come on. I gotta prove myself to these niggas or they ain’t gonna fuck with me. I said my thing and he said his thing I don’t even remember. I remember they was just taking me over to battle everyone and Nas was the last person. They was like if you could fuck with Nas you could fuck with us. So we went over to Nas’ block. Nas was kicking his shit and I was kicking my shit just saying mad rhymes. The day after that my man Twin sent me the word back about what everybody is talking about. He was like Nas said you weak son and that Hav should say fuck P, kick P out the group and go solo. I’m like what!! That shit made me tight. When I heard that that’s what made P. Word is born that’s what made the real P come out because I’m like now I know what I gotta do. I gotta show these people that I could compete with the best that’s what they were showing me walking around the hood battling everybody. That was my mind state from then on. He gave me the push like if this is what you gonna do, do it right because this is a competition. He did me a favor because I needed that. From there Nas must have had a sour feeling in his throat for saying that and figured I didn’t like him but I never felt like that. I never hated Nas. Years later my nigga Twin would be like you remember what we used to say when Nas said all that? He was like you better than Nas now you don’t think so? I was like I ain’t better than that nigga son, ain’t nobody better than nobody I’m just me. That was my response every time and it’s still my response to this day. I ain’t better than him he’s ill too. As long as you got ill music you can belong to the clique. He said I know you never liked me on “Destroy and Rebuild” but there was never an incident where I showed him anything like that. It was always love we did mad songs, so I don’t know why he would say some shit like that. He just felt like that from the door. I did the song with Cormega and I didn’t say nothing about Nas and it’s not my intention to say anything about Nas in any of my rhymes. I’m just competing, that’s why everybody is always saying who are you talking about. I did the song with Cormega because that’s my nigga and on Mega’s verse he was talking about Nas. That ain’t my fault because I didn’t even know he did that. I did my verse and split, I wasn’t there when he finished the song or completed the album. At the end of the day he got shitting on Nas in his verse, so it was that too that made him think I didn’t like him because I’m on the song. He must have thought I heard the lyrics and I was like I’m gonna cosign that and jump on it. That’s not even how it went down. Anyway we was all at the QB video shoot and that song been out with Mega shitting on him and he didn’t have nothing to say then. Why you gonna make a song after that? Mega’s right here, I’m right here and you ain’t saying none of that shit. You gonna make a song saying some dumb shit come on man. We can be friends, we can box, we can do whatever I don’t give a fuck.”
Nowadays The Mobb has put all the beefs aside and are focusing on creating good music. With the first single, “Gangstaz Roll,” making noise in the hoods heads are already voicing their opinions. Aside from the usual argument that the Mobb has either changed too much or not changed enough, critics have begun praising Havoc for stepping up his rap game. Prodigy has always been considered the lyricist of the group, but nowadays Hav is getting some much-deserved attention.
“I’m surprised people are surprised I stepped up lyrically because with time people grow, excel and achieve,” he rationalizes. “I’m doing what I was born to do get better with time. That’s the bottom line, but I appreciate that people recognize that. If they didn’t its all good because I know deep inside I’ve been trying to fucking write my heart out.”
“From day one Havoc was always lyrically iller than me,” claims P pointing out the skills have always been there. “He got more stamina for that shit. Hav will bust out a hundred songs in a week in the studio while I’m catching up. I can’t bust them out that fast. That’s what makes him ill people don’t know that. He taught me how to get better at my shit. I had little skills, but Hav had that shit. I guess that Queensbridge influence helped because Tragedy was fucking with son and gave him his name because that was one of Tragedy’s names. People are gonna see when he drops that solo shit.”
With Havoc’s improvement on the lyrical tip as well as his taste for hard hitting melodies there has been increasing chatter about a possible solo project similar to the Chronic in the works that will show the fruits of his undying dedication to the studio. That is “IF” he decides to release one. Although Havoc mentioned working on the album in previous interviews, he backed off from those comments and spoke of the project as only a possibility.
“If I do come out with a solo album it’s not gonna be like the Chronic,” clarifies Hav deciding to go the traditional route instead. “The Chronic is a classic nobody can touch that, its gonna be a Havoc album and that’s if I get an opportunity to do one. If I don’t do one within this year you’ll probably never see a Havoc album, but I’ll put all of that energy I would have put into a solo album into all of the Mobb Deep albums and my production for other artists. A Havoc album ain’t really that important, I could spit a couple verses and hopefully people will be satisfied with that.”
While he may not be trying to plug his own project, Havoc wastes no time in guaranteeing that the new album from the Mobb will surprise a few people. He promises “Amerikaz Nightmare,” already boasting guest spots from Lil Jon, Nelly, 50 Cent and Nate Dogg, will have fans saying that’s that shit I’m used too from the Mobb “with a little twist.”
“After being in the business for a while and getting the notoriety that we did now we have a little bit of experience,” remarks Hav justifying the direction of the record. “Now we’re thinking a little about the records that we make. That’s why you might see a little bit of a difference from us. At least on my end I started thinking about it after the last two where should we go from here. So you’re gonna see a lil bit of a change and somewhat of a growth. A lot of people like to live for the day and jump on the bandwagons but you gotta do different things even if you’re gonna get criticized for it.”
After the album drops you can also look out for the much delayed movie, “Murda Muzik,” coming in April on DVD distributed by Koch Visions along with a couple of side projects including the soundtrack to the film. While Havoc’s album may currently be in limbo, Prodigy has no doubt that he will revisit his solo roots as he is already working on the follow-up to “H.N.I.C.”
“My wife said call it HNIC part III because it sounds better,” he reveals. “I might just do that for real and fuck niggas head up like where’s part II?”
Pick up Amerikaz Nightmare in stores now.