Havoc from Mobb Deep shoots and scores for more respect.
What makes the Mobb Deep guys so paranoid? Perhaps it’s the The Kush. Prodigy delivered the extremely underrated and hazed hysteria of Return of the Mac earlier in 2007, and partner Havoc delivers a similar slice of life with his solo disc. With a matter of fact flow, he follows in the fatal lyrical tradition of Scarface, 2pac, and Mobb Deep’s self-proclaimed “murda muzik”. Though not as adept as those two legends, the feel of non-stop pistol-packing nonetheless permeates the album. On the boards, Havoc continues inhabiting the moody, blood-filled chambers first opened by Muggs, RZA, and himself. That’s all to say this joint is dark and gritty, with plenty of head nods and about zero food for thought.
Havoc and Prodigy were two of the great ‘90s screenwriters, along with Raekwon and Biggie. Well into the next millennium, Havoc’s production both stays within and updates his soundtrack vibe. As an East Coast vet, he knows solid drum sounds -- see “Class by Myself” and “Set Me Free” -- and he fuses this with loud and hypnotic synthesizer sounds, the pseudo-baroque repetition turning gat boasts into something epic and even horrific. The track “One Less Nigga” could have easily been scored by Italian prog rockers Goblin, the masterminds behind horror soundtracks for Dario Argento and George Romero. The raps would sound appropriate over a dusty James Brown loop, much like Prodigy’s album, but the scary THX-ness gives chilling reciprocity to the eerie words of the emcees; “One Less Nigga” is indeed colder than your freezer, dismissing a murder’s downside as merely causing one less nigga to exist in the world. The music matches the lyric’s tone.
It’s worth stopping here to ask, who would listen to such violent depictions? Who has time for these sentiments? But in the same way that mafia movies and explicit horror provide a glimpse into darkness and for whatever reason entertain us, macabre hip-hop is really the same. The difference, though, is that it somewhere crosses over into reality, given that murder in American cities isn’t uncommon, thus twisting up real life with rap’s fantasy and confusing its reception and commentary. The overlap merits discussion, but in the dialogue the hip-hop artist’s craft is often overlooked. Havoc knows what he’s doing, in terms of both entertaining his audience and expressing a particular negative emotion. He takes an impulse -- a king of the jungle mentality, or as he once put it himself, “Survival of the Fittest” -- and blows it up to big screen size. Is he the best at what he does? No, given the superior intricacies of street narrators like Raekwon and Biggie, or the hard and mystic production of a Dr. Dre (see “Deep Cover”). But these are icons, so that’s an unfair comparison. Havoc knows his lane and is a player, and from fans of the genre, he gets appropriate respect.
Fans of the genre can dig another installment of the East Coast gangsta saga as The Kush plays in a smoke filled room. But this also underscores Mobb Deep’s misguided move to G-Unit. A core fan base wants the raw and blunted stress and violence that Havoc and Prodigy know how to deliver, rather than any forced attempts at commercialism. Any other moves risk alienating their cult audience. Fans of Slayer or Rob Zombie expect a similar consistency. On both The Kush and Return of the Mac, the Mobb return to the form that made them, and their own pleasure at doing so shows in the results.
Casual listeners are advised to steer clear of The Kush, particularly if they’ve never been exposed to the Queensbridge duo’s ‘90s classics, when much of this style was new, riding the heels of Rakim, Kool G. Rap, and a young Nas, and perhaps contained a bit more social commentary. But for those who don’t mind watching Scarface or King of New York for the umpteempth time, that still crave that East Coast bop, and either figuratively or literally don’t object to ridin’ dirty down the Long Island Expressway, this episode from Havoc won’t disappoint.