Mobb Deep’s The Infamous vs. Big Pun’s Capital Punishment. Which Is Better?
One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?
“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.
Mobb Deep and Big Pun were late ’90s Loud Records label-mates. Both acts balanced horror-core thoughts and influences with the kind of Hip-Hop that could easily slide into radio and video. Without question, The Infamous and Capital Punishment are each of the artists at their respective bests. Prodigy and Havoc gave their New York City existence a sound, while 20 miles away, Big Pun did the same—calling upon P and others to fill in the blanks. Three years apart, these two efforts helped define the ’90s in Rap. In this competition, only one can be greater (Click on one then click “vote”).
The Infamous by Mobb Deep
Mobb Deep found their creative pocket on 1995 sophomore album, The Infamous. Prodigy and Havoc were always belligerent, paranoid, and gritty. However, the two MCs matured into auteurs in their early twenties. The second LP presented New York City’s underbelly on songs like “Q.U. – Hectic” and “Give Up The Goods.” With the Chrysler Building in sight, Hav’ and P chronicled tucking weapons, heavily self-medicating, and riding prison buses with grilling stares. The reality was grim, but presented honestly, from two MCs who seemingly never laughed, smiled, or relaxed without stress. On their sophomore LP, Mobb Deep viewed life as little more than fleeting moments between strife. In turn, The Infamous drew to so many, basking in its own jagged hopelessness. Songs like “Survival Of The Fittest” and “Shook Ones, Pt. II” were anthems of war, at home and abroad—and against oneself. Both MCs, but especially the surging Prodigy found a knack in stuffing battle-tested street wisdom into 16 bar verses. The raspy delivery and smoke-filled lungs of P brought power to words, and made listeners feel invincible in the crew comradery.
While the self-proclaimed H.N.I.C. had stepped into a new class lyrically, Havoc found his finest hour behind the boards on The Infamous. With Q-Tip (as “The Abstract”) sitting in the swivel chair beside him, Kejuan Muchita became a 20-21 year-old that rivaled the masters. The elements that made up The Infamous were such deep excavations, that diggers questioned where Hav (who says he forgot most) mined the sample sources. Hard drums accented eerie elements beautifully, not only on the two aforementioned hits, but on album cuts like “Give Up The Goods,” and “Party Over.” The drum arrangements were kept simple, but it was those specific sounds that made Mobb Deep’s march feel like proudly walking the yard, or fearlessly past the dealers, pimps, and stick-up kids on the ave’. Additionally, The Infamous quite literally bridged the mid-1990s New York City Hip-Hop community, as an album that galvanized the movement with Nas, Wu-Tang, and A Tribe Called Quest personnel all in one place. As labels and crews were fiercely territorial, the M-O-B-B, for all of their abrasiveness, first saw the possibility of the power-album. While greater sales achievements would follow, The Infamous is the album against which Mobb Deep is forever judged.
Album Number: 2
Released: April 25, 1995
Label: Loud/RCA Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #15 (certified gold, June 1995)
Song Guests: Nas, Raekwon, Q-Tip, Ghostface Killah, Big Noyd, Crystal Johnson
Song Producers: (self), Q-Tip, Schott Free, Matt Life, Fal Prod
Capital Punishment by Big Pun
As commercial Rap music approached its 20th birthday, the Nuyorican narrative was still making its way to the stage. As Fat Joe, an MC of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent, had made hits, he had also emerged with a distinct crew of hardcore Hip-Hop Heads in D.I.T.C. to whom he significantly attached his sound. Joe, however, would discover and produce another artist, who had his massive stature on the pulse of a cultural identity. Christopher Rios, or Big Punisher as he was first known, was a highly-respected Bronx neighborhood MC who had made just a handful of guest appearances leading into his debut. However, Capital Punishment electrocuted Hip-Hop with its charm, dynamics, and unrestrained lyrical displays. By 1998, successful Rap was often times very simple. Thus, when a wide-body, bejeweled MC rapidly spit, “Dead in the middle of Little Italy, little did we know / That we riddled some middleman who didn’t do diddily,” it captured attention. Twista, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and a few other acts were Rap’s token choppers—and not since Kool G Rap, Jaz-O, and early Jay Z had this fast-yet-sensical style been popular in New York.
Style, as it were, was key to Capital Punishment. The same MC who led his would-be platinum LP with the Black Thought-assisted “Super Lyrical,” could flip a switch and get into mainstream mode. Companion tracks “I’m Not A Player” and “Still Not A Player” placed Pun with evocative, sample-driven vibes not unlike those of Ma$e, Cam’ron, or Jay. However, the crude lyrics and blue collar demeanor of Punisher made him stand out from the impenetrable sex symbol MC. Obese, with a mouth full of gold teeth, Big Pun stood out not as a trailblazer for his heritage in Hip-Hop, but his borough. The Bronx had changed a great deal since the Boogie Down days, and Pun’s imagery, attitudes, and subject matters resonated with people of all classes. Like Life After Death would do for Biggie on his sophomore LP, Big Pun masterfully stepped into his past, and his future at once—the hood and the beach. Few other albums set a tone that allows “You Came Up” to be followed immediately by “Tres Leches,” or the dark title track sharing space with “Caribbean Connection.” Capital Punishment was incredibly raw Hip-Hop, with many esteemed hardcore producers’ most mainstream-tinged tracks. However, what makes this effort so incredible is that in a post-shiny suit world, Pun and Loud Records knew how to package that lethal injection of lyricism into a capsule that radio, MTV, and the B-X bypass could swallow. Big Pun never made Capital Punishment intending to be the first Latino solo MC to go platinum. He never made the album with any foresight that two years later, he’d be gone. Instead, Christopher Rios made an LP that he thought he could hear in The Tunnel, an album that would feed his family, and the kind of record on which the teenage version of himself could hang his velour bucket cap. Eighteen years later, Capital Punishment needs no pardon.
Album Number: 1
Released: April 28, 1998
Label: Terror Squad/Loud/RCA Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #5 (certified gold, June 1998; certified platinum, July 1998)
Song Guests: Fat Joe, Black Thought, Busta Rhymes, N.O.R.E., Prodigy, Inspectah Deck, dead prez (M1 & stic.man), Wyclef Jean, Terror Squad (Cuban Linx, Armageddon, Triple Seis & Fat Joe), Prospect, Funkmaster Flex, Joe, Miss Jones
Song Producers: RZA, Juju, Showbiz, dead prez, Rockwilder, Domingo, L.E.S., Younglord, Minnesota, Knobody, The Infinite Archatekz, V.I.C., Danny O, EQ, Mike Zulu, Franky “Nitty” Pimentel, Dahoud & Nomad
So what’s the better album? Make sure you vote above.