photos by Mel D. Cole.
Even for New York–a city with no shortage of great artists and shows–this past Sunday was special. Red Bull Music Academy World Tour organized a series called Five Out of Five, covering five boroughs and five of the most influential rap albums ever recorded. First among five was Mobb Deep’s The Infamous, recognized with a sit down conversation between Havoc and Prodigy on one side and Sacha Jenkins of Egotrip fame on the other. The convo took place at Webster Hall Studio and was followed up by a rousing performance from Mobb and Lloyd Banks.
The Infamous was indeed a game changer in hip-hop history. It was a new sound that inspired innumerable other artists such as Capone-N-Noreaga, The Lox, 50 Cent, and Clipse. Though it is firmly located in time and space—Queensbridge projects, circa 1994—Jenkins’ intimate interview added depth and detail to what is already known about the record’s artistic roots. Prodigy’s grandfather was a jazz musician and a music teacher at Nassau Community College and his grandmother was one of the first Cotton Club dancers. Both his parents were part of doo-wop groups (his mother was member of the well-known group The Crystals). Havoc started drawing at a very young age and was always into art and music. His father was a DJ, had records lying around, and constantly played different styles of music. The two met in art school. They spent a lot of time on the train, traveling to record music at a studio in Coney Island–the only one they could afford.
Even more fascinating was discovering the humble origins of some of the album’s many memorable moments of distinctive slang, which have been absorbed directly into the language of New York and hip-hop overall. The infamous “dun language” which has become a sort of dialect of its own in Queensbridge (the biggest projects in America) was inspired by one of their friends’ speech impediment. The title and catchphrase The Infamous itself came from another friend from Brownsville, Brooklyn that had a tattoo on his arm that said “the most infamous.” The term “Jake”—as in , “You watch me while jakes tryin to knock me and lock me” on “Eye for an Eye (Your Beef Is Mines)” featuring Raekwon and Nas–came from the cop show Jake And The Fatman, and soon became general shorthand for any police officer.
Havoc and Prodigy are no less eloquent today. Describing the struggle they went through personally to make the record–and its incorporation of similar stories from family and friends–Havoc said, “It represents the hunger and the will.” Or to put it another way–as the duo did, speaking almost in unison during the interview–all they had back then was “40-ounces, butter crunch cookies, and a dream.”
photos by Mel D. Cole.