photo & text by nacrowe
i sadly have to admit that i became aware of MOBB DEEP and their landmark release THE INFAMOUS (LOUD, 1995) embarrassingly late, which is odd because I was more or less familiar with the discographies of their EAST COAST contemporaries in the WU-TANG CLAN, THE NOTORIOUS B.IG. and NAS since high school in the late 1990s. its a shame because THE INFAMOUS is a STANDOUT statement even amongst its NYC peer cohort and is produced mostly by HAVOC and Q-TIP (A TRIBE CALLED QUEST) with contributions by the likes of LARGE PROFESSOR (MAIN SOURCE), KERWIN YOUNG (PUBLIC ENEMY) and DJ PREMIER (GANG STARR).
my cousin is a recording engineer and i learned of MOBB DEEP through him well after college since he would utilize "SHOOK ONES (PART II)" as a comparison sample to A/B against when mixing HIP HOP records at his old recording studio in GREENPOINT. and i dont believe he was the only one that did that, much like many modern rock producers look to analyzing BRENDAN O'BRIEN's mix on SOUNDGARDEN's SUPERUNKNOWN (review linked HERE) as the unofficial industry standard. there is just something about how hard that opening sample hits on "SHOOK ONES (PART II)" that makes it the epitome of 1990s BOOM BAP production and an enduring sonic presence unabated well into the modern era.
HAVOC created a beat that seamlessly evokes the HORROR, TRAGEDY and pedestrian nature of the MENTALITY of a seasoned criminal.
as such, lyrically "SHOOK ONES (PART II)" gets into the internal motivations and WARPED PSYCHOLOGY OF A CRIMINAL. its an interesting tact because MOBB DEEP is generally uninterested in meaningless showboating or crowd-pleasing proud boasting about MYTHOLOGICAL past criminal endeavors. their lyrics not only on "SHOOK ONES (PART II)" but also on other standout tracks like "SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST," "GIVE UP THE GOODS (JUST STEP)" and "TEMPERATURE'S RISING" are concerned with the STREET-LEVEL experience and the risks and self-inflicted mental carnage therein. when i first dove into their discography, including the likewise SUPERB follow-up record HELL ON EARTH (LOUD, 1996), it became apparent that their peer's were operating on the level of OCEAN'S ELEVEN (WARNER BROS, 1960) and they were very much more akin to THE GODFATHER (PARAMOUNT, 1972).
easily the most quotable lyric on this LEGENDARY album is the concept that there "ain't no such things as halfway crooks" as espoused on "SHOOK ONES (PART II)." its an ALL-IN OR ALL-OUT, entirely binary proposition according to PRODIGY and HAVOC. in that CRIMINAL MINDSET there is an inherent code of ethics that everything essentially boils down to HONOR, LOYALTY and TRUST. its less an occupation and more an IDENTITY, and one that results from a lack of occupational and educational opportunities and SYSTEMATIC RACISM with regards to everything from access to basic essentials like housing, quality healthcare and nutritional food. given whats happened to urban black neighborhoods over the past thirty years since the release of THE INFAMOUS with all the GENTRIFICATION and DISPLACEMENT of long-term tenants who are out-priced from their own homes, it makes you wonder who the REAL GANGSTERS and CRIMINAL MASTERMINDS actually are. in my mind they are developers, commissioners, landlords, real estate lawyers and accounting firms, but thats just my opinion. when i listen to THE INFAMOUS, i am just reminded of the lengths people with limited opportunities have to go through just to survive.
in many ways we are all CULPABLE for perpetuating the system ad infinitum me included.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
because the experiential nature of music is such an ephemeral and almost primitive phenomena, there is a tendency for listeners to pretty much take it for granted. as if music was always there. unlike filmmaking, the process of MUSIC PRODCTION is a bit of a mystery to the layperson, an almost alchemical process.
when i began consciously listening to PODCASTS almost ten years ago on a regular basis, the ones i was drawn to had a sense of playfulness with the platform itself. the sound design on something like NPR's RADIOLAB is so palpable and convincing that it is easy to be swept away into an alternate reality where you are swimming with red blood cells or strata of light waves.
likewise the ongoing PODCAST SONG EXPLODER is another podcast with incredible sound design. it is a meta in that it is a podcast about sound, specifically how songs are constructed. podcaster HRISHIKESH HIRWAY basically deconstructs songs with the help of the artist down to their base elements and explains how the piece fit together. you get a real, visceral sense of the artistry and technical wizardry involved with modern music production and how such has enabled songwriters. its incredibly informative and because of its well-sequenced and thoughtful presentation, SONG EXPLODER makes you appreciate the process on a deep intuitive level.
its is quite the experience and i recommend listening to the podcast for anyone interested in music production or with an interest in art. recently SONG EXPLODER expanded into a NETFLIX show but my preference is still the podcast.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
for me one of the great aspects of HIP HOP PRODUCTION is the cutup tecnhique whereby a song is made of an assemblage of parts derived from one's vinyl collection. the more eclectic arguably the bette. in my mind it gets into concepts of postmodernism and poststructuralism, which is why i've used songs like "BEWARE" by PANJABI MC feat. JAY-Z when explaining such ideas to high school students. that song incorporates a traditional BHANGRA drumming pattern, JAY-Z and the NIGHT RIDER THEME SONG. shouldn't work well but it does.
anyway, the discontinued YOUTUBE series RYTHM ROULETTE produced by MASS APPEAL featured numerous top-flight HIP HOP producers walking into a local record store to buy three records while blind-folded. they then went to their respective studio setups and went about creating a beat based solely on those records. what i love is the randomness and chaos of it and the fact that when it works, it really works as some of these concoctions are downright seriously slammin'. you really get the sense that music hast the capacity to transcend all and seemingly disparate musical styles really do have the potential to speak on the same level.
if you have any inclination to appreciate HIP HOP production, or perhaps even appreciate writers like WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS and his cut-up technique, this series is definitely for you. entertaining as all hell.
SPECIAL THANKS TO 9TH WONDER FOR RESHARING OUR IG STORY!
art by nacrowe
tonight's episode of DEER GOD RADIO at 8PM on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC is all about NYC HIP HOP. gonna be a fun show.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.