That's how long it had been since the infamous Mobb Deep had performed in Toronto. Prodigy and Havoc were teenagers the last time they rolled through North America's fourth-largest market. Fresh off recording a certified hip-hop classic, The Infamous, legend has it that show two decades ago was average at best (and they may have been tipsy off the Henny, if not their own success).
Despite their incredible well of Timbs-and-hoodie anthems, the Queensbridge duo has never been much for touring anyway — a bummer only acerbated by frequent solo ventures, Prodigy's three-year jail bid and an eight-year drought between group albums that finally ended last spring when they dropped the underrated and confusingly titled The Infamous Mobb Deep. So it was with cautious excitement that packs of stuck-in-the-'90s heads paid $50 to fill the Guvernment Thursday night and relive those days when New York and scowls and rock-hard snares reigned supreme.
Through an appropriately deep mob — at least 30 hangers-on suffocated the stage — Mobb Deep emerged to the familiar haunt of "Survival of the Fittest," decked out in matching black hoodies with blood-red letters bearing the group's name. With Havoc in a titled Yankees cap, Prodigy in a trademark bandana, most were instantly whisked back to a time when rap spoke to them. (As one 20-something using the urinal advised his buddy: "Careful. There's too many OG's in the building.")
A string of classic album cuts followed as Hav and P strolled the stage calmly and "MOBB DEEP" flashed on a backing screen. So what if the songs are 20 years old? "Right Back at You," "The Start of Your Ending," "Give Up the Goods" and "Eye for an Eye" all hold up. (We would've traded "Temperature's Rising" for "Drink Away the Pain," but we're picky.) The Mobb's foray into 2004's "Got It Twisted" and their G-Unit single, "Outta Control," reminded us of a time they lost their way a bit, but things got back on track with "Hell on Earth (Front Lines)" and "It's Mine."
Though Prodigy has been long regarded as the better MC — and he tore up the bulletproof "Keep It Thoro" — the Mobb has never had a Treach-and-Vinnie arrangement. At age 40, Havoc sounds crisper on the mic and was the show's anchor, holding down the hooks and delivering more energy.
As showmen, the two throw very little in the way of curveballs. Besides DJ Ski Beatz(!) cutting the instrumental for the occasional a cappella verse, the 60-minute set was purely a string of reliable head-nod joints. No theatrics were expected or delivered. (Rap nerd sidebar: How awesome would it've been if Big Noyd was part of the tour package?) But when you've never had the chance to wild out to "Burn," "Quiet Storm," and "Shook Ones Pt. II" with the guys who created those gems, that's enough.