“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.