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Mobb Deep’s The Infamous is one of the greatest hip hop records ever made. The Queens duo crafted an absolutely masterpiece as they blended self-produced, dark beats with the story of life in the Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing development in the country.
There was nothing glorious about the story they had to tell, one of drugs, violence, reckless living, and disregard for fellow man, but as Prodigy said last night, you can learn a little something from listening to Mobb Deep. The world isn’t all peaches and cream, and rap music isn’t supposed to be all Ferraris and bling either. A lot of the early works from the quintessential 90s rap players – the likes of Wu Tang, Jay Z, Nas, Biggie, etc. – painted the story of inner-city struggle before everybody got rich. The Infamous did the same thing that Reasonable Doubt or Ready to Die did, but with a carefully crafted flavor that allows the sixteen-track, sophomore LP to stand on its own two feet.
The album is so well regarded that the Prodigy and Havoc decided to play it in its entirety backed by a full band. The band wasn’t just a group of scabs from back in the day, though, but Phony PPL, a great, up-and-coming Brooklyn hip hop/soul outfit that perfectly recreated the instrumentals, with their own spin of course. The two nights of performances were recorded for a live album, just a couple weeks before the record turns twenty-one years old.
From the first notes of “The Start of Your Ending (41st Side),” it was clear that this was an anniversary-type celebration. Fans of the Mobb old and young had come to celebrate one of the most classic records in rap history in an unlikely setting. Blue Note Jazz Club, most usually noted for hosting hoity-toity jazz gigs, is an upscale joint; not the type of place that hosts artists with lyrics like, “rock you in your face, stab your brain with your nose bone.” With the help of Phony PPL, though, it actually fit pretty well. The sound was great as Havoc and Prodigy took turns rocking the mic, working down the track-listing of their best work to date.
While there were no special guests from the album’s features, the show maintained a strong level of energy as the crew worked up to the grand finale, “Shook Ones Pt. II.” “For all the killas and a hundred dolla billas,” the crowd chanted as everyone finally got out of their supper-club seats. “I got you stuck off the realness,” rings true twenty-one years later as Mobb Deep ended their second of two sold out shows at the Blue Note. It was a win for them, for hip hop, for New York City, and mostly for the Queensbridge Projects, a place that was never supposed to birth a couple of artists who can sell out a jazz club that serves up twenty-something dollar entrees.