Published Mar 31, 2014Clarity hasn't been the first word that comes to mind considering legendary Queensbridge duo Mobb Deep recently. In 2012, Prodigy and Havoc engaged in a particularly nasty public back and forth that led them to break up — on Twitter, no less. Havoc initially denied being behind the tweets attacking his rhyme partner before he fessed up, reconciled with Prodigy and got back to working on their eighth studio album, their first full-length since 2006's G-Unit affiliated Blood Money, curiously titled The Infamous Mobb Deep.
The title is precariously close to Mobb Deep's 1995 opus The Infamous. Add on the fact that this new release includes an extra disc of unreleased songs, demo versions and remixes from The Infamous sessions, it's easy to be confused about what is old and what is new with the group, especially as the cover photo of the album seems to have been unearthed from the mid-90s. Thankfully, the fuzziness dissipates once you press play. Evidently, this intentional meshing of past and present is meant to convey to nostalgic heads the fact that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and it's not far from the truth. On their new album, Prodigy and Havoc seem reinvigorated on the cusp of the 20th anniversary of their landmark sophomore album.
Handing out malevolent verbal beatdowns for real and perceived transgressions over ominous boom bap has always been their strength, and Havoc and Prodigy do little to deviate from that formula here as the unforgiving "Murdera" demonstrates. The other underlying theme on "Check the Credits" and "Legendary," featuring Bun B and Juicy J, is the group's longevity and legacy.
The Mobb aren't exactly reinventing the wheel here, but on album highlight "Timeless," the effect is beguilingly hypnotic. It's a welcome return to form that sees the group addressing the weaknesses that had hastened whispers of their decline. Havoc shares the beat-making duties with carefully curated and Mobb-tailored contributions from Illmind and Alchemist, as well as Canadians Boi-1da and Kaytranada, and reins in any commercial overtures.
Prodigy may never regain that once-unimpeachable steely-eyed detachment he made his rep on, but his looser, raspy and still-menacing flow demonstrated on last year's Alchemist-scored Albert Einstein project navigates the beats triumphantly. Evidence of Prodigy's original mic technique is all over the bonus disc that includes an alternate version of "Eye For An Eye," complete with a previously unheard Ghostface verse. Other highlights from the 1994 Infamous Sessions bonus disc include the Gil Scott-Heron-fuelled "If It's Alright" and the anthemic "The Bridge," tracks so strong their omission from The Infamous 19 years ago further solidifies the potency of the seminal release. (Infamous/Sony)