the records that changed mobb deep’s life
The Infamous Havoc shares the tracks of his years.
20 years ago, Mobb Deep released The Infamous, an album of murky street sagas and baroque melodies that made a mythology of the cold hearted hustlers of Queens, New York. An instant classic, The Infamous remains a corner stone of rap to this day, a pure shot of adrenalin and menace that launched the duo onto a long career at the forefront of hip hop. Now, Havoc and Prodigy are over in the UK celebrating The Infamous' 20th anniversary with a couple of sold out retrospective shows, and a performance for PUMA Presets Alife in east London. In the morning before their first show, Havoc is sitting in a west London hotel, chill, friendly, seemingly at odds with a rapper who spat "long as I'm alive I'ma live illegal," and with a whole to say about a life spent in music…
What's the first song you remember hearing?
I was born in 1974, so as I started getting older and started being able to pay attention to music, it was the end of the disco era. My father was a DJ, and the first song I can remember hearing was him playing [Anita Ward's] Ring My Bell. My dad DJ'd in the house, he had his little equipment and his friends used to come over he used to just DJ for fun, he wasn't an in-the-club DJ.
What was the first hip-hop jam you remember?
Songs like [Grandmaster Melle Mell's] The Message - I can remember hearing that. Also Basketball, I think Kurtis Blow made that song. I was just a young kid, I was trapped inside my house, like 6, 7-years old, I couldn't go nowhere, but I'd hear those songs and think 'Damn, what's that'? They were interesting.
What jams actually got you into rapping?
Songs like The Bridge by MC Shan and Marley Marl, then Eric B and Rakim, Check Out My Melody. Back in the days, before I was even a teenager there was a DJ round my way called DJ Hot Day; he used to DJ outside in the parks for everybody in the projects. He'd play music and everybody would be outside jamming, barbequing or whatever, and that's were I heard The Bridge and Check Out My Melody. And those were the songs that really made me want to get into music, they made me curious - oh and Run DMC Sucker MC's - [raps] "Three years ago/ A friend of mine/ Axed me to say some MC rhymes/ So let me say this rhyme I'm about to say/ the rhyme was def and it went this way..."
Those made me really start loving hip hop. Then right when I went to junior high school, that was when I was getting really heavy into rap, one of my friends was heavy into it, and he put me onto this group called the Jungle Brothers, and was like 'Ey yo you gotta check this shit out.' He gave me the tape and so I became a Jungle Brothers fanatic, I used to be listening to it and listening to it, and I was like, 'Damn this shit is dope, the beats is all grimey and shit' That's when I started wanting to write.
Were you just sharing tapes or were you going to record stores?
It was just sharing tapes. Cos back then you'd record off the radio, I didn't have no money to go to the record stores, so we'd just exchange tapes. It was no professional shit, just press play/record. You'd wait getting your tapes ready for the shit to come on!
When you met Prodigy in the High School of Art & Design what were you listening to?
That was in 1989 - I'd started in 1988, and he came a year later. Then, the music that was out was LL Cool J, Run DMC, Tribe Called Quest, Marley & The Juice Crew, Big Daddy Kane.
All your early productions were sample based - when did you start crate digging?
I started back in 89, when I really started getting heavily into rap. My father didn't live at home no more, but his records were still there, so I'd just take his records. Then I had the mindset that all the good hip hop samples were coming from older records, I'd be like, 'Shit I've got a ton of them'. So I used to listen to my father's old records. And when I started hanging out with Prodigy, his grandfather was a jazz musician - he was already passed away by then, but in his basement he had tons of jazz records. So I didn't have to go to a store, or go too far to crate dig - the records were right there.
What was the first song you sampled?
It's really hard for me to remember, but I remember one time being at my grandmother's house, and she had a lot of records. She had this one record - I can't remember the name of the record.. it was.. damn… I remember the tune, but I can't remember the artist. The label was like 'Chocolate Factory' or something like that it was this dope R&B group from back in the 70s and it had this bass line on it. I put it on a demo, it never came out, but I remember hearing it on someone like Masta Ace, some one who was known, I heard him use the same sample, and I was like 'Oh shit! I didn't have the equipment to do it; I was just pressing play, record, play, record! - But it let me know I was on the right track.
You were involved in the notorious East Coast/ West Coast beef of the mid 90s - now you're older and wiser, were there any West Coast records that you actually liked but would never have admitted at the time?
Even at the time I would have admitted it, even though we had that controversy going on, I was always a west coast fan. I loved all the NWA records, I was a super fan of Ice Cube, I always liked their material. Man, I was a fan of west coast even at the time of the dumb drama that was going on. Now it's like the beef never happened - you see them and you're not even thinking of it, it's like 'Oh, wassup Snoop, what's going on?' We start smoking weed and jus' kicking it. Literally it's not even a thought in the back of the mind.
I hear you're doing something with Earl Sweatshirt
I hope so. He's been chilling with Alchemist, and Earl Sweatshirt is one of the guys I gravitated to. He's a real dope artist. I hope something happens - it's a real strong possibility. His production talent is incredible, his foresight for hip hop is incredible - he's crazy young, but still, he has the mind of an old soul. He's all about the gritty, grimey authentic, real feel. And I can appreciate that. I'm tired of hearing the same fucking beat, it makes me feel like I'm in a video game, in a bad dream.
Is there any music you listen to that would surprise people?
Shit I listen to everything. I'm not sure what would surprise people; I even listen to country music.
Did you hear LL Cool J's country song?
(Laughs) I don't think I'm fucking with that! That was kinda on the edge man... that was something else... but you know, what's the country guy, they made the movie about him.
Yeah I love him. That guy made that tune Ring of Fire? I love that shit! That's my song.
Text Ian McQuaid