Mobb Deep: Americaz Nightmare

Lee Henderson

Mobb Deep

Americaz Nightmare

Label: Jive
US Release Date: 2004-08-10
UK Release Date: 2004-08-09

I prefer to blame the record industry for Mobb Deep's malformed career. Judging from the living proof of the duo's ability to whip out masterpiece albums, it is completely within the range of possibility for them to do it again. But they aren't doing it, and not for lack of trying. Maybe their sound is just too grim for OutKast status, but their new album Americaz Nighmare maintains their respectability, even if it isn't going to make them more popular. I think I may know what's holding them back from making another perfect album (here's a hint: Lil' Jon fans should not let their eyes touch the last paragraph of this review).

But first, let's talk about the positives. This is the closest the Mobb has come to diamond-perfection since their underprivileged masterpiece, Hell on Earth, in 1996. This is a good time to go deep again with the Mobb. It lacks that old album's consistency, but this is more successful at facing the same challenge they've faced since Havoc opened the studio to other producers with Murda Muzik, in order to increase the range of the Mobb Deep creative operations.

Mobb Deep fans have one requirement: Mobb Deep must scare the shit out of us. We bob our heads to the beat like victims of whiplash from kicks in the back. It's a kind of masochism that a lot of people get off on. "That's that ha-ard shit," rasps Havoc on "Dump" (more on "Dump" later), and that's how we like it.

Amerikaz Nighmare is all about "Flood the Block," probably one of the most purely evil Scarface-type nasty tracks that Mobb Deep has ever laid to wax. With its gritty guitar sample and busy-electronic helicopter blade-sounds, Havoc and Prodigy are at the mic with black adder cocaine venom. It's pure Mobb Deep, as intense as their hit with Big Noyd, "I Can't Get Enough Of It". As ever, the boys predict a grim future, and the sound of "Flood the Block" is where Mobb Deep predict best. The hail of the crowd or the hail of the bullets, the crimelife only ends in early death. The money is the prize and the killer, as Havoc says it:

"You know my story, you can feel me, you know how I get done, /
I'm bout the money, I been at it for a little while, / Never put the metal down, Hunger never satisfy, billion dollar Snicker bar, And once I settle down, pre-nup to the lucky broad."

Such a romantic young man is the ghetto cash fiend. It's Havoc's album in a lot of ways: lyrically he will not be bested here. Prodigy gets the solo record (he released H.N.I.C. to a peep of interest), but Havoc's the decks and brains of the ensemble when it comes to Amerikaz Nightmare. Compare a few lines from verses writ by Havoc to Prodigy in the G-Funk spook-out track featuring Nate Dogg, "Dump" (as in "dump" bullets on snitch-asses). Havoc goes:

"That's that hard shit, /
That hit a nigga up in his car shit, this war bitch, Somehow I feel we need more of the thing, Instinct to get that paper, know it's all in my vein, You rookies need to be toilet trained, You faggots shittin' everywhere that you eatin' / That's why the coroner came / You never know, when the tec'll blow, / Wet you and catch you off guard, / Niggaz know that I crept slow."

The last two lines are particularly great for their evocative language, but the play on the meanings of the song's title, and the whole verse is fairly impressive for what little it actually articulates. And then after Nate Dogg''s pretty awesome chorus (it's worth mentioning that the song kicks some pretty serious snitch-ass, and has a much better "crunk" vibe than the poo-based track produced by Lil' Jon later on in the album [more about that later]), Prodigy goes:

"Nigga I'll smack that smirk right off your face, /
You listen to jerk music, this is Mobb Deep, /
You ain't never seen or heard no shit like this, /
Until you purchase our CD, it's very worth it, / Don't confuse our album with that 'Mix Tape' shit, /
Those are scratch, basically our throwaway shit, / And nobody wrap the street like the Infamous clique, /
Slash Jive, now we got millions to work with, / And we Violators too, so you know we overdoin' it."

What? That sucks, man. That doesn't even start to rhyme until he rhymes "worth it" with "'Mix Tape' shit" and then with "throwaway shit," which really hardly counts as any kind of rhyming at all. Grant the man Prodigy some leeway since he is one of the most highly respected rappers who ever came up, but still: it's Havoc's album.

Mobb Deep's career is one of rap's greatest stories. When a critic dreams of his personal label that would reissue only the greatest records, he thinks about the stunning career of the Infamous Mobb. Their first album Juvenile Hell came out in 1993 and was largely ignored. People didn't sleep on this record: this record was stillborn. Eleven years later, it's as pickled as ever. For most people, Havoc and Prodigy's second album, The Infamous from 1995, was their first impression of the Mobb Deep steez. And what a grim fucking world it was. What kind of suicide-hole was this Queensbridge project that the boys wrote about with such conviction? And the production -- Havoc's production was chilly like the morgue, with shout-outs to Kiko and other mysterious underworld hoods. It was the dark, stark, harrowing stories narrowing in on the scaredest heartbeats of the inner-city streets. Mobb Deep was the dangerously low growl of two alley-dogs caught in a dead-end, facing imminent death.

It was the dead-eyed stare of innocence having seen too much, too fast. In a conservative music industry that thrives on filler, The Infamous and its masterpiece follow-up, Hell on Earth had none. Under the influence of DJ Premier and Kool G Rap, the early-nineties debuts of Notorious B.IG., the Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Jay-Z, AZ, and the Mobb Deep duo, New York was at the absolute peak of its creative power, writing the rough trade from the absolute bottom of society. And looking back on the New York discography ten years after the story began, Mobb Deep's albums add up to an incredible story.

So what's the problem with Mobb Deep in 2004? The answer can be found on the Kanye West track. The answer is every song not produced by Havoc. It's not even that West's production on "Throw Your Hands (In the Air)" is bad, it's that Mobb Deep produces Mobb Deep better than anyone. West's attempt to mate his sound with Havoc's is as subtle as The Alchemist's, but the result is still a weak version of what we really want: that 2AM Havoc drum crack, and more importantly, Havoc's ear.

The worst example of a guest producer on Amerikaz Nightmare is Lil' Jon's "Real Gangstaz". Lil' Jon is a commercial radio clown. Mobb Deep might as well have Howard Stern produce their music. Lil' Jon's idea of "crunk" is to turn on a slow beat and press his hands against a synthesizer. If hip-hop is about creativity flourishing under difficult circumstances, then Lil' Jon represents none of that. He represents mediocrity flourishing in Mobb money. Lil' Jon's crunk is nothing but the carburetor junk from the ass-end of OutKast's "Aquemini," and that "dump"'s got no business smelling up Mobb Deep's house. There hasn't been a toy producer this over-rated since MC Hammer. Remember the genie pants and the crabwalk and the "Super Freak" sample and what you can't touch? Wasn't it Lil' Jon, with his aluminum teeth and rubber-bands-for brains and fake 'dreads, didn't he produce that? I have a lot of respect for Mobb Deep repping the nonpartisan hood and letting an idiot like Lil' Jon ruin their album, for the sake of unity in hip-hop. But Lil' Jon is the worst thing to ever happen in hip-hop. I call for all-out sanction against Lil' Jon and his crunk machine. Let's put our usergroups together and put an end to Lil' Jon, for crimes against creativity.






Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone can undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".


Roots Rocker Webb Wilder Shares a "Night Without Love" (premiere + interview)

Veteran roots rocker Webb Wilder turns back the hands of time on an old favorite of his with "Night Without Love".


The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.


July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.


With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.


Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.


MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.


Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.


Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.


John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."


'Run-Out Groove' Shows the Dark Side of Capitol Records

Music promoter Dave Morrell's memoir, Run Out Groove, recalls the underbelly of the mainstream music industry.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.