As Mobb Deep, Prodigy (RIP) and Havoc have released some of the grittiest and most hard-hitting hip-hop ever. Their sophomore album The Infamous, is an undeniable classic, taking a raw and dark boom-bap New York sound a combining it with visceral, aggressive raps, showcasing the extent of their talents not only as rappers but also as producers. The 16 track album features legendary and timeless records such as “Survival of the Fittest” and “Shook Ones, Pt. II” while also containing deeper cuts that sound ahead of their time. It’s an album that sounds like a gangster novel, told brilliantly through the lens of street life in their Queensbridge neighbourhood. It was a defining album that captured the tormented reality of New York street life with such energy and creativity that very few albums since have been able to top it since.
“The Start of Your Ending (41st Side)” is the perfect opener for this album. Cinematic and intricate, with stellar storytelling from both Havoc and Prodigy, who set the tone to the project, with brutally honest verses about growing up in their neighbourhoods and staying true to their lifestyles. What makes this album timeless to me is not only the pulsating boom-bap production that moulds the soundscape of this album, but the memorable lines scattered throughout the album. On “Survival of the Fittest,” Prodigy sets the tone – “There’s a war goin’ on outside no man is safe from / You could run, but you can’t hide forever / From these streets that we done took / You walkin’ with your head down, scared to look /You shook, ‘cause ain’t no such things as halfway crooks.” On “Right Back at You” featuring Ghostface Killah, Raekwon and Big Noyd, Havoc spits with menace “6 blocks and you might not make it through / What you gonna do when my whole crew is blazing at you.” It’s Havoc’s dominant and aggressive delivery that makes him such a captivating storyteller, and Prodigy’s incredible lyricism and flow make him one of the greatest to have ever graced a mic. There’s a Wu-Tang type of energy in the animated and humorous interludes too, and the addition of Ghostface and Raekwon is perfect. The heavy drums and bassline on “Cradle to the Grave” has been a personal favourite of mine. The story on that track is incredible too, as it tells the haunting tale of a snitch in the neighbourhood who is metaphorically asking to be killed for the things he is doing, personified as a dead man walking to Prodigy. The way him and Havoc go back and forth is incredible and makes for one of the most vivid, poignant and most intricate track on the entire album. The Q-Tip featured “Drink Away the Pain (Situations)” is another incredible track, with a smooth, jazzy instrumental and fantastic verses about liquor and fashion. “Shook Ones, Pt. II” is an undeniable classic and it contains one of my favourite beats of all time, while eerie and unsettling tone of “Party Over” featuring Big Noyd is hard-hitting and visceral. The murky, and thumping tone of that final track makes for a heavy, memorable closer.
It’s weird how I’ve rarely seen this album mentioned among the greatest albums of all time. It’s constantly overlooked despite how legendary it actually is, and it established both Prodigy and Havoc one of the greatest to ever do it. The Infamous is a full cinematic audio experience, a heavy, harsh and menacing East Coast album, perfectly capturing the unsettling, pulsating energy of New York City with personality and style. Listening to it 25 years later, it hasn’t lost its charm and effect on me. It’s still as poignant as it was when I still listened to it. It’s one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. Go listen to the masterpiece below.