Havoc 13

As rap artists age, too often they reach outside their comfort zone, or the zone their fans feel comfortable within, in order to bend new ears. For recent examples, look no further than the Rasta-fied Snoop Lion, 50 Cent's Adam Levine helicopter debacle or anything LL Cool J has done that hasn't involved beating down a home intruder. Fellow Queens, NY representative Havoc won't fall into that trap. From its gloomy, snare-popping beats and icily paranoid verses right down to the song titles ("Hear Dat," "Getting Mines") and guest drops (Raekwon, Royce da 5'9"), 13's aesthetic is vintage bubble-coat-and-unlaced-Timberlands music, as well as the Mobb Deep soldier's best solo album yet. Although Havoc's 13-track "real rap" salvo arrives as the weather warms, his third solo LP is built for winter. Heartless and untrusting, 13 begins with a death threat ("Gone") and ends with the peril of a prison bid ("Can't Sleep"). In between, "Favorite Rap Stars" shows off the 38-year old's underrated vocal chops, alongside Styles P, and "Eyes Open" grabs Twista and some Castlevania synths for a rare up-tempo romp. 13 isn't all lucky though. The Roots flipped the "Get Busy" sample Hav uses here with thrice the menace in 2008, and the album hits cruise control towards its sleepy finish. Even if you appreciate Havoc's reliability, you'll miss Prodigy's unpredictable diction. But as Hav and P (who also has a new disc on deck) squash their beef and celebrate the 20th anniversary of their '93 debut, Juvenile Hell, it's comforting to know a Mobb member can still churn out solid, steely-eyed murda music. (Nature Sounds)