At the time of its release, Mobb Deep’s marquee album — The Infamous — wasn’t your ideal project destined to be heralded during its silver anniversary.
However, as the group’s surviving member Havoc tells GroovyTracks, “I don’t know if it sounds cliché as to whatever it is, but if it wasn’t for that album, I wouldn’t be talking 25 years later about it. So I would have to say that that is definitely my favorite album for more reasons than one.”
Released on April 25, 1995, a then 20-year-old Havoc and his lifelong friend-turned-bandmate, the late Prodigy, managed to incorporate the gritty and unforgiving nature of maneuvering through their Queensbridge streets into a 16-track opus that marvelously illustrated pain, intemperance, dominance and often, remorse.
Of course, no track is more celebrated than the album’s lead single, “Shook Ones (Part II).” From its opening clicking effect that personified boiling crack currency to haunting riffs that permeated some of the most vivid lyrics every recorded, its legacy stands just as large as the album that spawned it.
For the 25th anniversary of the monumental project, GroovyTracks chopped it up Havoc, the brainchild behind the bulk of the production of The Infamous, Havoc himself and inquired about some “Shook Ones” censorship, Q-Tip’s off-topic contribution and who was playing in his headphones when he created the classic.
GroovyTracks: Did you and Prodigy used to have actual competitions on who could have the best verse on songs?
Havoc: Oh, at some point I didn’t even try to challenge him on the lyrics because I always knew he was going to have an ill verse, so I didn’t even bother trying to even keep up with him. I just spoke what I wrote and he spoke what he wrote.
GroovyTracks: Right. Yeah, Prodigy was a masterful MC, but you did get him in a couple songs.
Havoc: Thank you. Thank you. He definitely sharpened me to sharp, you know what I’m saying, so to speak? We kept each other sharp, you know what I mean?
GroovyTracks: Right. Well, I’ve got one for you. Do you think that Infamous is the best sophomore Hip Hop album of all time?
Havoc: I will have to say yes. I would have to say yes. I definitely would have to say yes because you noticed that sophomore gene always going around. Actually, if you asked me to name a sophomore album, I couldn’t name them, but if you named them to me, I’ll be like, “Yep, better than that, better than that.”
GroovyTracks: Well, I’ll bump you up to the lead up to the front of the line. I think the only competition is Life After Death.
Havoc: OK, Yeah. Hands down, I have to give it to him. Hands down. I much love the Biggie, saying all out things. When it comes to that dude, I definitely humble myself like, yeah. You know what I mean? I could only hope to even get close to something like that, that Prodigy would be in the same conversation.
GroovyTracks: Right. Right. Even though it seemed like back in the day, all of you all borrowed from each other. You know?
GroovyTracks: You can hear some of Biggie’s little punchlines, you could hear them in The Infamous and that type of thing with Raekwon and Ghost. It was kind of like you all were in silent competition.
Havoc: That was the environment, man that we was in. Having those guys, I never minded having those dudes as competition, and a friendly competition at that because at that time, it was really hard to try to stand out. So if you’re even part of the conversation, it meant that you were definitely doing something right.
GroovyTracks: Right. And looking back 25 years later you look into The Infamous, it doesn’t sound like an old school album. You know? It doesn’t sound like “yes, yes, y’all.”
Havoc: Right. [Laughs!]
GroovyTracks: You guys are hitting lyrical pockets. It’s got creative concepts on a couple of the songs. How does that feel to 25 years later to see rap crews emulate everything you guys used to do? You guys used to travel to the clubs 100 deep and rappers are doing that now. You guys was involved in rap beets or there’s rap showing off. How does that feel to see some of the foundation you guys laid down still being carried on today?
Havoc: First and foremost, it feels good that even people would even pay attention to that to try to emulate it. It definitely feels good and yeah, it’s dope. You know what I’m saying? Dope.
GroovyTracks: Absolutely. Absolutely. Looking back on the creation of The Infamous, can you remember all the equipment that you used?
Havoc: Definitely. When I was working on it for this album, the SP-1200, ASR keyboard, my MPC60, and that was really it, the MPC60 and ASR. That was it. The MPC60 had maybe eight seconds of sample time at that time.
Havoc: Not even a lot. So we had to be really creative, speeding the record up when you sampled it and then slowing it back down to the original tempo or even slower than that. So yeah, but I think only being limited to that equipment made the album what it was because it made you have to be more creative.
GroovyTracks: And it’s very interesting too because all the equipment that you named was pretty standard for aspiring Hip Hop producer or actual Hip Hop producer. All you guys had the same shit. It wasn’t like it was a million computer programs.
GroovyTracks: But the crazy thing that I want to try to figure out is how did this Havoc sound get created? Because Mobb Deep beats, especially The Infamous, you just managed to capture that essence with the limited amount of equipment that you had.
Havoc: Yeah. Thank you. It had a lot to do with all the vital records being on the floor and stepped on. It was clear with that crack. And then being a fan of production early on, listening to the Jungle Brothers or Big Daddy Kane and stuff like that, I just wanted to make my music a reflection of where I was living at. So it was dark thoughts, dark times, and the music just came out. That’s how I was expressing how I was feeling. So that’s how that sound came about.
GroovyTracks: I know there was money in Hip Hop, but it’s obviously not like it is now. How did you guys manage to stay focused out of the streets enough to actually release this album? You guys could have hit a lick and said, “This is making more money than Hip Hop easy.” You know?
Havoc: Yeah, absolutely. The passion for the music, the passion to become successful and knowing that if you did opposite of that, it would take away that opportunity. You understand what I’m saying? So we had to sacrifice and say, “Hey man, fuck it. We don’t got a lot of money now. But if we go off and do some crazy illegal stuff, hit a lick, that opportunity’s going to be gone. You can’t make a record from jail.” So we just had to play the musician role, the rapper role, producer role, whatever have you and thug it out. And that’s what we did. There was many times that things was temping, but we saw a bigger picture.
GroovyTracks: And I’m guessing life experience played a role in that too? Growing up listening to The Infamous, that was one of the first albums that really introduced me to the casualties of war. We know Twin and Killa B’s name and all the fallen soldiers because you guys shouted them out so much on the album from The Infamous going down. Would you say that played a big part of it too?
Havoc: It definitely played a big part. The friends, our immediate friends that was around us, kids, our people getting locked up, people dying and getting killed. It’s like, you we didn’t want to have to put that in our albums. Trust me when I tell you. But we felt like we had to tell that story, and without those elements, we would probably have a totally different album.
So that was a major contributor.
GroovyTracks: Which is I guess the gift and the curse, right?
GroovyTracks: Do you guys still consider your debut album? I know you guys really didn’t perform too many songs off of it.
Havoc: Yeah [Laughs]. Because we had a bad experience with that, so we kind of like try … At least me. I know I try to keep it under the rug and I always consider The Infamous my first album.
You know when somebody’s in college and then they go to the pros? The album was our college. And then we stepped into the pro with The Infamous album. So we can’t count it out because it’s part of our history, but it was our first album. But I usually throughout history with me, I always considered The Infamous album my first album.
GroovyTracks: That’s a great analogy, it really breaks it down because you can hear it too in the music, the elevation.
Havoc: Yeah, man. And I don’t know, I can’t call it luck because a lot of people don’t believe in luck and I don’t think it’s luck. I just think it was the letdown that elevated us to want to make a better album. And without it, maybe we couldn’t even have made that. So we have to give props to that, to be like, “Damn, that was one of our biggest letdowns, but it trained up, it prepared us for what really needed to do.”
GroovyTracks: How did you all feel when you all got that four and a half mics from The Source?
Havoc: Yo man, I was happy when we got the four and a half mics, to be honest with you. I wasn’t even like, “Damn, they could have gave us five.” [Laughs] I was like, “Damn, they gave us four and a half.” I was cool with it, but then as time went on, I kind of said to myself, “You know what? They could have gave us five mics on that, but I guess whoever was the one giving out the mics didn’t want to give us too much process.” But that half a mic would have made a difference. You know what I’m saying? But looking back on it now, I do think the person that did give us those four and a half mics realized that they did make a mistake, but it wasn’t a big deal.
GroovyTracks: Yeah, you guys were one of the ones they went back and gave five to, so The Infamous got five.
Havoc: What do they call that again, when you get a…
GroovyTracks: A retroactive rating.
Havoc: Right. When they give somebody a degree that never went to that school. They be like, “Here, an honorary [degree].” They gave us the honorary five mics 30 years later.
GroovyTracks: [Laughs] That’s true. I actually would’ve did that to Murda Muzik as well. I think Murda Muzik is a five. That’s one of my favorite Hip Hop albums of all time.
Havoc: Thank you.
GroovyTracks: Yeah, very impressive. What also is impressive too is some of these songs that didn’t make the cut on The Infamous. I was listening to “Temperature’s Rising” remix, you all went off on that one. How did some of these songs not make the cut?
Havoc: Oh, because we were so shook, no pun intended, of making another album that we did some of the songs over like four times each. We wasn’t even sitting in the chairs. We was like, “It’s OK, we’re going to do part one, two, three, and four.” Do that, “Temperature’s Rising”, do three of those, “Eye For An Eye”, do like five. We was not playing. And then we sat down and we took all the best of them, and I think we did a good job.
GroovyTracks: That’s really very interesting, very enlightening to hear because when you think Mobb Deep, it’s like you guys can get swept under the gangster rap rug, but everybody knows The Infamous is a classic and you just say you guys actually went back and discarded some old verses and made them better to the point to the album that we’re listening to now is classic because you guys put in that work.
Havoc: Straight up. We did “Shook Ones.” It was just “Shook Ones.” We did it and we got a little nervous, and then we said, “Nah, nah, nah.” It was too much. It was OK just the regular “Shook Ones,” but we was like, “Nah, let’s do a part two.” We started changing versus, switching up lines, did the beat over. It was like, “OK, we can work with this,” and it paid off.
GroovyTracks: No, that’s real. That’s real. I always wanted to know why is “Shook Ones” partially censored? Like when Prodigy said “yellow-backed niggas” and they blank out “niggas” for some reason.
Havoc: Oh. And that’s on the dirty version, is like that?
GroovyTracks: Yeah. I’ll put it on after the interview.
Havoc: I never noticed that, but “Shook Ones” is one of the few songs that we actually didn’t really curse that much. That was pointed out to me. So yeah, I don’t know. It probably was a label thing. It was like one of the A&R’s like was like, “Take that out” and they probably so high they forgot to take the other curse out. It was one of those things.
GroovyTracks: And lastly, I always wanted to know why Q-Tip focused on rapping on clothes on “Drink Away the Pain.”
Havoc: Oh man. I’ll give you my theory, but before I say that, I will say you definitely got to ask Q-Tip because I’m not inside of his brain. But my theory is this: Q-Tip wasn’t known as a hardcore rapper. And to his credit, I will have to say, he wasn’t going to compromise anything that he did just because he was rapping with us. And he spit with us and I think the vibe was like, “This is me.” I was like, “Dang, he rapping about clothes, but it’s Q-Tip, so I don’t give a fuck what he rap about, really, to be honest with you.”
Havoc: It was a little awkward, but Q-Tip is like a god to me in 1994. So he could have talked about flowers and the shit would have still been on the record if it was up to me. So I believed that he bought himself to the record and didn’t to conform to what we was doing.
GroovyTracks: That’s an incredible theory. I think I can co-sign with that one because it was like, yeah, he’s off-topic, but the verse is dope as hell. So what do we do?
Havoc: Right. It’s like, you know what, nobody’s trying to challenge Q-Tip. We lucky that we even got him here. So we’ll just put this shit out and explain it later.
GroovyTracks: Lastly, what’s your least favorite song on The Infamous?
Havoc: My least favorite song on The Infamous album would have to be… “Q.U. — Hectic”
GroovyTracks: I knew you was going to say that.
Havoc: [Laughs] “Q.U. — Hectic” You know what I love about guys is just all of that, but that was one of the last songs made on the album. Yeah, I don’t see that. You know what I mean? I’m playing everything else, but it’s there, so I’ll listen to it and it’ll bring me to a moment, even though it’s my least favorite.
GroovyTracks: The vibe is so ill on that song, though. It’s the best song to speed to, to have the windows down to, and the wind blowing in your face. That sound you put it in there, yeah, it sounds like it’s a highway song. So that became one of my favorites. It’s the most flipped on the song on the whole album, like no one likes it because it’s just about clashing with crews, but it’s really poetic and artistic at the same time.
Havoc: Thank you!
GroovyTracks: So I’m vouching for it. The song I listen to the least is “Temperature’s Rising.” I don’t listen to “Temperature’s Rising” that much. It’s kind of sad. It puts you in a mood and I’m like, “I don’t want to be in this mood” sometimes. It’s fire, of course.
Havoc: No, I feel you. I feel you. And that was just one of those songs that we just had to be like we got to talk about our people.
GroovyTracks: Of course.
Havoc: Again, it was another song that we didn’t want to talk about really, but it just was one of those authentic moments. And it do put you in a sad mood and all of that, but at the same time. It’s real and it’s art imitating life, and yeah. It’s just one of those records. Right?
GroovyTracks: Absolutely. Absolutely. And so signing off, The Infamous is your top Mobb Deep album?
Havoc: Yeah, I have to say that. I don’t know if that sounds cliché as to whatever it is, but if it wasn’t for that album, I wouldn’t be talking 25 years later about it. So I would have to say that that is definitely my favorite album for more reasons than one.