“Mobb Deep at Jazz Café” is an appar­ent oxy­mor­on, the word ‘mob’ with its con­nota­tions of a gang and viol­ence is paired the slang term ‘deep’ con­not­ing heav­i­ness and then the ven­ue name ‘Jazz Café’ sound­ing like a con­cert hall for bou­gie music afi­cion­ados.  Of course, this is ridicu­lous as Jazz Café have been pro­mot­ing Hip Hop since its incep­tion, a place where you can see Hip Hop luminar­ies that skirt the line between under­ground rev­er­ence and cur­rent com­mer­cial viab­il­ity. The phrase itself though still sym­bol­ised the emer­gence of Hip Hop into the main­stream, a tale of street cul­ture tak­ing over the estab­lish­ment with artists like Mobb Deep tak­ing centre stage of that jour­ney.

I walked into a ven­ue that was sur­pris­ingly busy for a work night. It was the Bank Hol­i­day Monday night of the coron­a­tion week­end and Queens­bridge roy­alty was in attend­ance. I spot­ted a Big Noyd t‑shirt at the merch stall and bought it, his name writ­ten in the infam­ous, excuse the pun, font of the Mobb Deep logo.

Queens­bridge rap­per Big Noyd, named after the Domino’s pizza mas­cot of the 80s has been with Mobb Deep from the begin­ning and has fea­tured on almost all their albums. His own solo album Epis­ode of a Hust­ler from 1996 is a must listen.

DJ Drez from Hip Hop back in the day was warm­ing up the crowd nicely with his great mixes of clas­sic bangers and exclus­ive edits. He shouted out DJ Tony Rosie of Itch FM who was also in attend­ance.

L.E.S who pro­duced Nas’ Life’s a b*tch then took the stage. He would be the band DJ for the night. After play­ing the Nas track to great ova­tion, he intro­duced the sup­port artist DNH Muz­ic, Havoc’s new artist who delivered a blis­ter­ing mix of Neo Soul and Hip Hop.

Big Noyd then appeared and intro­duced Hav­oc who entered the stage to thun­der­ous erup­tion.

They went into Sur­viv­al of the fit­test from argu­ably their greatest album The Infam­ous from 1995. The album which cemen­ted their place in the world of Hip Hop and kicked off one of the biggest feuds in Hip Hop his­tory.

Mobb Deep was foun­ded in New York City in 1991 by rap­pers Hav­oc and Prodigy who had met at high school. Start­ing out as The Poet­ic­al Proph­ets, they pro­duced a demo tape which included the track Fla­vour for the Non Believ­ers in 1991. Their debut single Peer pres­sure pro­duced by DJ Premi­er was released in 1992 with Juven­ille Hell their debut album being released in 1993. A clas­sic that sounds some­where in between upbeat con­scious Hip Hop and gang­ster rap.

Eye for an Eye and Give up the Goods, again both tracks from The Infam­ous, was played next, Give up the Goods was pro­duced by Q‑tip who was appar­ently the only artist who stopped to listen to their demo tape out­side the record label office and was instru­ment­al in their career.

This was fol­lowed by Hell on Earth, the eponym­ous track from the third album of 1996 and then the tracks Allus­tri­ous and The Realest from 1999’s Murder Muzik. I am reminded that Mobb Deep were around for the whole 90s, 00s and early 2010s. The gig itself there­fore covered the whole spec­trum of Hip Hop, a mix of con­scious, gang­ster and 2000s club banger.

Maybe it goes without say­ing but the lived real­ness of Mobb Deep’s lyr­ics about the every­day of gang life in New York really shined through espe­cially on the deliv­ery by both Hav­oc and Big Noyd. Prodigy who passed away fol­low­ing com­plic­a­tions from his con­di­tion of sickle cell anemia in 2017 was notice­ably absent.

Hav­oc intro­duced the next track with a call of “RIP Prodigy”.  It was Say Some­thing, Hav­oc took the mic to men­tion how it was from the 2014 The Infam­ous Mobb Deep album, the final album that he worked on with Prodigy.  A magic­al moment then took place where Prodigy’s verse came through L.E.S’ sys­tem, a voice speak­ing from bey­ond the grave. This would hap­pen through­out the show and was a great trib­ute to one of Hip Hop’s greatest artists and also a throw­back to a bygone era. Most of the crowd who were in their 30s to 50s would have lit­er­ally grown up with Mobb Deep and seen Hip Hop’s emer­gence from street cul­ture to its main­stream break and massive influ­ence on pop and dance music it has now.

Temperature’s Rising, came with a ded­ic­a­tion, “Going out to any­body if you got someone locked up”, This was writ­ten just as Mobb Deep got news of the arrest of Havoc’s broth­er, Killer Black for a murder charge. Killer Black took his own life in 1996 and would be men­tioned in many of Mobb Deep’s tracks, a tragedy along with the death of Prodigy that would befall the group. Temperature’s Rising  was pro­duced by Q‑Tip and evokes Q‑Tip’s oth­er clas­sic pro­duc­tion, One Love by Nas, a track which also speaks about the tra­gic nature of gang life, incar­cer­a­tion and the vic­tims both in pris­on and the fam­ily left behind.

The Infam­ous from 2006’s album Blood Money was played next and got a great response as Hav­oc delivered the final verse. Anoth­er high­light of the even­ing came from The Learn­ing (Burn) a club banger that was ines­cap­able in the 2000s.

“Lon­don I wanna see if you wanna come to Queens with me…”, Big Noyd said before going into Killa Queens of 2002 from the affil­i­ate group Infam­ous Mobb. The track fea­tur­ing Big Noyd and Prodigy. This was fol­lowed by a couple of Big Noyd solo tracks albeit ones that fea­tured Prodigy, Hav­oc and pro­duc­tion by long term col­lab­or­at­or Alchem­ist mak­ing them feel like full blown Mobb Deep tracks. Bang Bang really showed Big Noyd’s dex­ter­ity on the mic.

Drink Away the Pain (Situ­ations), a fan favour­ite from Infam­ous was played next with Hav­oc announ­cing that “It’s the 28th anniversary of the Infam­ous album!”  to great rap­ture. Prodigy’s verse was again played through the sys­tem and lost none of its force.

Some 2000s era tracks from Amerikaz Night­mare (2004) and oth­er related side pro­jects were played before brief return to 1996 with Back at You from the Sun­set Park Soundtrack. I was sur­prised at how many mem­bers of the crowd knew all the lyr­ics and were singing along through­out the even­ing, for­get­ting how big Mobb Deep were back in the day, their place in the his­tory often get­ting over­shad­owed by Tupac, Big­gie and Nas. Outta Con­trol (Remix) by 50 cent feat Mobb Deep came next. Mobb Deep sign­ing to G‑unit was big news in 2006 a sym­bol of the eld­er states­men mak­ing a mark on a more main­stream scene. This then lead in to Got it Twis­ted, a 2000s club banger that sounds disco in places.

Keep it Thor­ough from Prodigy’s debut solo album H.N.I.C. was played to a great crowd reac­tion and then It’s Mine  fea­tur­ing Nas from 1999  which con­tained a posthum­ous diss to Tupac in Nas’ refrain of “Thug life is mine” an echo of line from Sur­viv­al of the Fit­test  that star­ted the beef in 1996.

In 2017 I bought a spe­cial edi­tion of The Source magazine com­mem­or­at­ing the life of Tupac. In the sec­tion on Pac’s leg­acy they repor­ted a story where Mobb Deep were asked to com­ment on a newly sur­faced diss track that was found in Tupac’s archive. When Mobb Deep were asked to com­ment, they respon­ded along the lines of “Yeah it was a long time ago, the beef is over…but we will respond to that diss!”

 Hav­oc asked the crowd to turn their torches on and sway from side to side for the track Quiet Storm from 1999 and of course the ven­ue erup­ted at the finale of Shook Ones (Part 2) with L.E.S gab­bing the mic to say“Motherc*ckin Mobb Deep, Prodigy forever, Lon­don we love you, thank you for com­ing out tonight!”

This was one of the greatest gigs I’ve ever been to and a tour de force of Hip Hop his­tory inspir­ing me to dig deep­er into Mobb Deep’s back cata­logue and get around to read­ing Prodigy’s auto­bi­o­graphy from 2011.

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DJ Isuru is a music journ­al­ist and broad­caster on SOAS Radio. He also runs the Mishti Dance event series fea­tur­ing the best in Asi­an Under­ground.


DJ Isuru is a music journalist and broadcaster on SOAS Radio. He also runs the Mishti Dance event series featuring the best in Asian Underground.