When it comes to legendary hip-hop duos, Southerners salute UGK and OutKast, whereas nostalgic heads anoint EPMD, and eclectic contrarians endorse Organized Konfusion. But for the sort of Gen X, East Coast rap fiends who would assault you with a napkin dispenser for cutting them in line at McDonald's, it's no contest: Mobb Deep are the greatest tag team ever to hold it
FREEDOM FIGHTER “When you’re a creator,” says Havoc, “you never want to sit still.”
down. (Havoc and unofficial third member Big Noyd are performing classic tracks at the Middle East this Saturday, so be careful if grubbing Big Macs across the street.)
Of course, I'm partial — like the Mobb, I'm from Queens, and their music inspired the majority of my juvenile misdemeanors. But whether you consider Prodigy and Havoc immortal street legends or overgrown thugs, their credentials are impressive, if not unparalleled. Since showing up as troublesome but talented teens in 1993, they've gone platinum, and to prison (Prodigy, currently in jail on gun charges, will be released early next year) — all the while being one of an elite few hardcore acts to grow and function on a big label. And if that's not enough clout, they even beefed with Tupac.
"Based on who we were, nobody ever approached us to change our format," says Havoc, whose past label associations include Loud, Island, and 50 Cent's G-Unit. "We had the freedom, and they trusted our judgment, so we just always kept it thorough like only we knew how. When you're a creator, you never want to sit still. We always had that freedom with whatever label we were with."
For all their traditionalist gusto, Mobb Deep's legacy is also tied to their captain's role in propelling rapid-fire mixtape culture forward. By leaking a torrent of posse cuts and singles through publicity predators like DJ Clue, they helped catalyze a major shift in the rap marketplace. By the late '90s, it was no longer enough to be the first cat queued to cop the latest 12-inch. Instead, we pilgrimaged to spots like Harlem Music Hut to hear joints before they even surfaced on college airwaves. Sorry if you thought that Lil Wayne pioneered contemporary buzz with his download-a-day diarrhea — the Mobb were dropping bombs by the bundle while Birdman was still changing that dude's diapers.
"I always understood that this is a grassroots movement, and that you have to build a foundation, then feed that foundation," says Havoc. "The downside is that sometimes people might make a project out of those songs and sell it. If they sell it and break niggas off, then that's cool. But bootlegging takes food out of artists' mouths. We make art that people get emotional and dramatic to — whatever you want to call it. So while it's a beautiful thing that the world is evolving, we should be compensated."
That's not the gripe of a hater. As Havoc will gladly tell you, Mobb Deep don't need to tour — or even release more music — to stack paper. Havoc has a beat on the new Eminem album, and new fans in France are just now discovering diamond relics like Hell on Earth and eagerly awaiting the Mobb's next epic œuvre. Most record execs don't understand this, but truth to original form is the master key to survival in this bloodsport. No one knows that better than the duo who once infamously declared, "Fuck where you at, kid — it's where you from."
HAVOC & BIG NOYD + TERMANOLOGY | Middle East downstairs, 480 Mass Ave, Cambridge | June 26 | 18+ | $20 | 617.864.EAST or mideastclub.com