Saturday, May 06, 2006

Mobb Deep - Blood Money

If Jay-Z has anyone in particular to thank for his meteoric rise to the top of rap music, other than all of the people he's bit lyrics from (JUST KIDDING!), it'd have to be Prodigy from Mobb Deep. Ever since the infamous "Summer Jam Screen" incident in '01, the two rappers' careers have taken turns in completely opposite directions, with Jay earning a reputation as a career-ender, and P being his most impressive victory.

Looking back, it's difficult to believe such a drastic turn could take place for Prodigy and his partner-in-rhyme, Havoc. The Queens-bred duo are responsible for two of the best rap albums to come out of New York in the '90s, with '95's classic The Infamous and '96's underrated Hell On Earth. Prodigy's performance on "Quiet Storm" from '99's Murda Muzik earned the group numerous nominations at the following year's Source Awards and tons of radio and TV airplay, despite the song's dark mood and lyrics. At this time, one could make the argument that P was on pace to leave a greater legacy in hip hop than Jay. Then, in an interview in '00, prior to the release of his solo debut H.N.I.C., Prodigy didn't necessarily "call out" Jay, but said that he had been "quiet like a bitch" during the mid-'90's East coast/West coast rap feud, which is fairly true. [Mobb Deep, on the other hand, released "L.A., L.A." with Capone-N-Noreaga in response to the Dogg Pound's "New York, New York", and took shots at 2Pac on "Drop A Gem On 'Em" off of Hell On Earth.] Jay shot back at Summer Jam '01 by debuting "Takeover", his diss record to Prodigy as well as Nas, and that coupled with the images of a 6 year-old Prodigy posing for the camera in tassles were a major blow to P's credibility.

But worst of all, Prodigy let his insecurities following the Summer Jam incident show in his music, and as a result, the quality of Mobb Deep's future releases was nowhere near that of their prior work. On '01's Infamy, P sounded like a beaten man, his voice a few octaves lower and his lyrics lackluster, with far too many obvious subliminals thrown at Jay, each one more uninspired than the last. It appeared as if either Jay wasn't lying in calling out Prodigy's "realness", or P wasted all of his good rhymes on his solo album. While he seemed to have regained some energy on '04's Amerikaz Nightmare, the album failed to generate many sales. So, as Jay becomes President of Def Jam and goes on vacations with Beyonce, Mobb Deep bounces from one record label to the next trying to get their careers back in order. It got to the point that 50 Cent, on his attempt-to-generate-controversy "Piggy Bank", told rival Jadakiss that he'd do him in "like Jay did Mobb Deep".

So, is it any surprise that Mobb Deep's latest effort is coming out on 50's G-Unit Records? Not really, considering that the aforementioned "Piggy Bank" lyric was the only thing they could hold against 50, who stood out as the only reputable artist willing to bring them in to his camp. Furthermore, with a feature film to his name and millions upon millions of records sold, an invitation into 50's G-Unit clique would be hard for a struggling hip hop outfit to turn down. Shit, I wouldn't mind being publicly called out by my future boss if a Ferrari came with it. Mobb Deep took the path of least resistance, and this month, their G-Unit debut, Blood Money, was released. With the most marketable face in hip hop behind them, it seemed to be an easy win for Havoc and Prodigy, but judging by the efforts they put forth on this album, they might have thought it to be a little too easy.

The album opens strongly with "Smoke It" and the lead single "Put 'Em In Their Place", two tracks with pounding production and strong choruses that find Hav and P on top of their game. But it's in the closing ad-libs of the latter track that the listener hears what's to follow -- Prodigy refers to his partner as "Hollywood Hav", himself as "V.I.P." and 50 Cent as "Curtis 'million-dollar budget' Jackson... the one that made us rich... filthy-rotten rich". Well, there goes the hope of money not changing an artist. It's clearly changed Prodigy... again. After having sounded more like his old self on their last album, he's back to his mush-mouthed lesser-talented alter ego on Blood Money, sounding lazy and hardly rhyming his verses. As Phonte of North Carolina-based hip hop group Little Brother points out here in his critique of the album, one of P's strengths back in his heyday was his ability to start his verses so powerfully. On "Creep" f/ 50 Cent, if you can get past the horrible beat, here are the opening lines you'll hear from "V.I.P.":

"You ask me, all these rappers is bums/
Hav showed me the flow and I ran with it, dun/
I mean really, y'all gotta be the most worst/
Rap shit I ever heard compared to P's verse/
We emerge on the scene, everything seen/
Stop... watch, it's very bling bling/
N---a wanna swing swing, very much so/
But once we get in the air? That's a rap, bro"

"Most worst"? "Very bling bling"? "Bro"? P's outdated slang and nonsensical babble put a lot of pressure on Havoc's shoulders to carry this album, and while he has the ability to come off strong at times, it proves to be too big of a task. And there's nothing that either of them can do to save "Backstage Pass", the typical groupie song, and tracks plagued with boring production like "Stole Something" f/ Lloyd Banks, "Daydreamin'", and "The Infamous" f/ 50 Cent (on which P claims that he "ran trains on the girls at his family's dance school" -- damn, still not over the Summer Jam pictures, I guess).

One of the album's better songs is "Pearly Gates" f/ 50 Cent, a creative track on which the 3 discuss how they'd have to talk their way into heaven -- 50 steals the show, but P's verse is bound to get attention for his comments about having beef with God and wanting to beat Jesus, which are edited out of the album's retail version (I guess the phrase "religious bullshit" would offend some people). Also worth noting is "Give It To Me" f/ Young Buck, a nice party track, "Click Click", which features a surprisingly impressive guest verse from Tony Yayo, and "In Love With The Moula", which is as poignant as a song about money can get.

The inclusion of 50's "Outta Control (Remix)", the Mobb's 1st official G-Unit song, and "Have A Party" f/ 50 & Nate Dogg as bonus tracks should spell out their quest for record sales, as both were previously included on platinum-selling albums. It's also quite deceiving, considering that the album boasts production from Dr. Dre, and the only Dre-produced track is the aforementioned "Outta Control (Remix)". I'll admit that I'm being a bit hard on this album, as it'd be considered a good album for an unknown, up-and-coming hip hop group. But considering the trials and tribulations that Mobb Deep have encountered in their 10+ years in the industry, one would hope that being handed an opportunity to work with 50 Cent and re-establish themselves as the powerhouse they once were would motivate them to really focus on making the best album they could; but, if Blood Money is truly the best that Mobb Deep can do, then 50 might want to investigate what that million-dollar budget is being used for.