Prodigy Details Mobb Deep’s Journey From “Embarrassed” Juveniles To Infamous Stars (Video)
Mobb Deep experienced one of Hip-Hop’s largest growths between their first and second albums. 1993’s Juvenile Hell debut boasted production from DJ Premier, Large Professor, and a fledgling Havoc. However, the 4th & B’Way Records release did not chart, and was not the album response the teenage duo from Queens, New York had hoped for. Soon after, Havoc and Prodigy were dropped by their label, and reportedly living in Nas’ shadow in their own native Queensbridge.
Prodigy is the latest guest on the Rap Radar Podcast. The self-proclaimed H.N.I.C. told Elliott Wilson and Brian “B.Dot” Miller about the transition following April, 1993’s Juvenile Hell to the album released 105 weeks later in The Infamous that would largely define the next 20 years of Mobb Deep’s illustrious career.
The conversation heats up around the 18:00 mark, where B.Dot asks Prodigy about a cameo in M-O-B-B’s “Survival Of The Fittest” video. P explains, “When we was first trying to get signed, after the Juvenile Hell deal [with 4th & B’Way Records], we regrouped. We revamped ourselves; we went in and redid our sound and style. We was like, ‘Let’s go get signed again,’ and we searched for a deal. [Puff Daddy] was like our homeboy. We had mutual friends. Puff used to [promote parties across Manhattan and invite us]; he worked at Uptown/MCA [Records] also. Puff was feelin’ us.” Around 1993, Puffy was fired from Uptown Records and building his own imprint. “He was like, ‘Yo, I’m startin’ this company called Bad Boy. I want y’all to be the first artists. I want to sign Mobb Deep. I want y’all to be the first artist on Bad Boy.’ We were negotiating with him. And at the same time, we had an offer from Steve Rifkind [and Loud/RCA Records]. So we had two contracts on the table; we just decided to run with the Loud deal. It was a little bit more money, and they offered us a little bit more control over our music and career, so we just went with the Loud deal.” Mobb Deep would release four albums with Loud between 1995 and 2001, as well as Prodigy’s solo debut.
The MC believes Puff Daddy was courting Mobb Deep prior to his introduction to The Notorious B.I.G. “It’s funny, ’cause right after that Matty C. [and] Mister Cee brought Biggie over to Puff. He signed Biggie right there. So we would’ve been the first artists on Bad Boy.” As to the music video two years later, Prodigy believes Puff Daddy was only proving his belief in the act. “He came to show love. He pulled up in the limousine, and came out dancin’ with the Kangol.” In 1994, Mobb Deep also opened for Biggie Smalls and Craig Mack on the Big Mack Tour. “We used to open up for them.”
At 23:45, Prodigy expounds on the massive musical transition Mobb Deep made between early 1993 and early 1995. Comparing the two albums in question, the MC/producer/author says, “It’s two different things, completely—two different animals. [Juvenile Hell and The Infamous] are the same, a little bit, if you listen to the lyrics, you see [who we became] in [the debut]. But we wasn’t fully developed yet. What inspired that change is failure, being dropped from the label when [Juvenile Hell] didn’t do good. At the same time, when that album came out, maybe [shortly after], Nas dropped Illmatic, and that was like, ‘whoa.’ We was like, ‘Whoa. Hold up, that shit just embarrassed our album.'” P has vivid memories of realizing the group was bested by their future collaborator and QB neighbor. “I remember we used to do in-stores [where they would] play Illmatic while we were in the store for Juvenile Hell. Me and Hav’ used to look at each other like, ‘You hear this shit?’ That shit was embarrassing us! ‘Cause we gotta go back to the neighborhood [where all anybody is talking about is Nas, and making fun of us].”
It is that tone that fueled The Infamous. “We were angry. We were embarrassed. And we felt like we had to show who we are and what we can bring to the table. Because when we got dropped it felt like we lost our opportunity to be in the Rap community, the Hip-Hop community, and that’s all we wanted to do with our life. We dedicated our to life that. That really made us dedicate our life to that—when we got dropped, and saw that people were not really fuckin’ with us. We was like, ‘Nah, we got a story to tell. We got a serious story to tell!'”
While Prodigy believes the lyrics have some overlap, he attributes the growth to beats. “The #1 thing was the production. When we was making Juvenile Hell, I had bought some equipment. I was learning how to make beats. I taught Hav’ how to use it and how to make beats. But we were still [rookies]. We didn’t get nice with it. That was the Juvenile Hell album; we only made [six] beats on that album.” On the debut, Prodigy would also create tracks, as did Havoc. “All the producers we wanted were too expensive; they were charging $20,000, $10,000 [for beats]. We didn’t have that type of bread; we young, 16 year old [guys]. That made us create our own beats and do our production.” In the 23 years since, Havoc has gone on to make songs for Biggie, Nas, Method Man, Eminem, LL Cool J, and Kanye West.
Following being dropped, the group huddled in their home studio. “We didn’t even come up for air! We’d just be in the studio working, working, working, eating $2 rice and gravy from the Chinese restaurant and [drinking] 40 ounces. That was it; that was our diet.” Asked about breakthrough hit “Shook Ones Part 2,” Prodigy says the song’s title comes from several recycled lyrics from its 1994 promotional predecessor. The song’s celebrated beat nearly went to the wayside. “Hav’ was actually making that beat in the crib; he was by himself [at home] in Queensbridge. There was a time when we had all the equipment at my grandmother’s crib in Hempstead, in Long Island], in [her] basement. That’s where we learned how to use the equipment; that’s where we honed our sound.” The group decided to move its creation station closer to home. “We were like, ‘Know what? Let’s change the scenery. Take the equipment and move it to Queensbridge.'” There, Mobb Deep recorded at Havoc’s mother’s house. One day, while Prodigy and others were hanging outside, Havoc was sampling Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, and other sources. As the MC entered the studio, he heard the track. “[Havoc was] like, ‘[This is] just some bullshit; I’m about to erase it and start a new one.’ We was like, ‘No, no, no. Don’t do that. That beat is fire!'”
Moments later, P reveals how Q-Tip played such an integral role on the debut. According to the MC, the front man for A Tribe Called Quest was one of the only established artists who took an interest in Mobb Deep in their pre-deal days. One day, while waiting outside of Def Jam, The Abstract took a listen to a demo on a Walkman by the two QB kids. “[Q-Tip] was the only one who stopped and listened to our songs. He was like, ‘Yo, I like y’all.'” Tip would introduce Hav’ and P to Russell Simmons, Chris Lighty, and Lyor Cohen—who ultimately passed on signing the teens to Def Jam.
Years later, with a production budget, they called Q-Tip—who picked up the duo in his BMW 5-series sedan, and laced the album with beats and overall tweaks in forming a certified Rap classic.
Elsewhere in the interview, Prodigy discusses the inspiration to his just-published Commissary Kitchen book at length. He reveals he removed his verse from Capone-N-Noreaga’s “L.A., L.A.” to give to Nas, his immediately response to Tupac and Tha Outlawz’ “Hit ‘Em Up,” and making careers for Big Noyd and The Infamous Mobb.