The Infamous (stylized as The Infamous…) is the second studio album by the American hip hop duo Mobb Deep. It was released on April 25, 1995, by Loud Records. The album features guest appearances by Nas, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, and Q-Tip. It was largely produced by group member Havoc, with Q-Tip also contributing production while serving as the mixing engineer. Most of the leftover songs from the album became bonus tracks for Mobb Deep’s The Infamous Mobb Deep album (2014).

Upon its release, The Infamous achieved notable commercial success, debuting at number 15 on the US Billboard 200 and number 3 on the Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums charts. On February 21, 2020, the album was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).[2] The album produced four singles; “Shook Ones (Part II)”, “Survival of the Fittest”, “Temperature’s Rising”, “Give Up the Goods (Just Step)”; the first three singles achieved varying degrees of chart success, with “Shook Ones (Part II)” being the most successful.

The album’s dark style, defined by its evocative melodies, rugged beats, and introspective lyrics concerning crime in New York’s inner city neighborhoods, received special recognition and critical praise. Along with albums such as Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Illmatic and Ready to Die, The Infamous is widely credited as a major contributor to the East Coast Renaissance. Furthermore, the album is credited with helping to redefine the sound of hardcore hip hop, using its production style, which incorporated eerie piano loops, distorted synthesizers, eighth-note hi-hats, and sparse filtered basslines. In 2020, the album was ranked 369th on Rolling Stone’s updated list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

During the spring of 1993, while the group was still in their late teens, Mobb Deep released their first album Juvenile Hell under the 4th & B’way Records label. The album included production from several revered New York-based producers, including Large Professor, DJ Premier, and Public Enemy affiliate Kerwin Young, and included the underground hit single “Hit It from the Back”. Due to Juvenile Hell’s failure to achieve significant commercial and critical success, the duo was dropped from their label several months after the album’s release. Havoc and Prodigy later described Juvenile Hell as a “learning experience”.

During the summer of 1993, Loud Records was looking for another group to sign, owing to the success of Wu-Tang Clan’s first single, “Protect Ya Neck”, and by fall 1993, the label had signed Mobb Deep. In 1994, the group released the promotional single “Shook Ones”, which served as a preview of their new sound.Unlike the duo’s first album, The Infamous was mostly self-produced by Havoc and Prodigy, with outside help from Loud A&R representatives Matt Life and Schott Free, as well as A Tribe Called Quest producer Q-Tip, who discovered Mobb Deep in the early 1990s. Matt Life later recalled Q-Tip’s involvements, stating, “Tip was very involved in The Infamous from early on. Probably more than people know. Tip was just a fan of theirs and I knew him from way back, so he was really helpful, giving them advice.” Q-Tip’s contributions to the album were credited under his alias “The Abstract”.

On the group’s decision to handle most of the production, Havoc later commented, “We started producing because other producers was giving us shit that we didn’t like, or they was just charging too much. I didn’t know nothing about producing music at the time, but I learned by watching others.”

Recording sessions for The Infamous began in 1994 and took place at Battery Studios, Platinum Island Studios, Firehouse Studios and Unique Recording in New York City. Havoc produced most of the beats in his Queensbridge apartment, with Prodigy often assisting him; earlier in their career, Prodigy taught him how to sample.[5] Describing their minimal production setup, Prodigy said, “Our first sampler we had was an EPS 16 plus … We had that for a little while, and when the MPC came out we bought that, and that was it. A little record player, a little mixer, and that’s all we needed.”

Mobb Deep initially recorded 20 songs for The Infamous, but executive producers Matt Life and Schott Free worked with them to improve the music. Matt Life recalled, “Schott worked closely with them on how the rhymes were coming and I worked closely with them on how production was coming. The first thing that I remember is them creating a semblance of the core of the first album and me creating a rough in-house version of what the album could be and throwing a sticker on the cassette.” The early rough version of the album contained five or six songs, including the original versions of the album’s four singles. The original “Temperature’s Rising” was remade because of sample clearance issues.

Later on, Q-Tip became the album’s mixing engineer; Matt Life explained, “he came in later in the sessions and said he’d help mix a couple records. And then he ended up picking a couple of records they did to re-do. Except for ‘Drink Away the Pain’, the songs that Tip produced were already a full song before he got to them. He liked the lyrics on those original songs, but he re-did the beats. It was the same song title, same hook, same rhymes, just new beats.”Q-Tip also improved the drum programming on “Survival of the Fittest”, “Up North Trip” and “Trife Life”. Describing his contributions as “a totally different sound than the Tribe stuff”, Q-Tip encouraged Mobb Deep to make their dark sound stand out, by telling them to add major chords to their minor key samples. Havoc later stated, “Q-Tip definitely bent his style a little bit to get with what we was doing. Like with ‘Drink Away the Pain’ you see him trying to get gangsta with it.” Schott Free summed up Q-Tip’s influence:

The album was pretty tight, but once Tip comes around he hears different things. He changes kicks, snares, whatever. Also, you get to watch Havoc implement what he had already known with a cat like Tip and Tip showing him everything he knew. Showing him a format, a formula, and even how to double on the kicks. It’s just kinda ill how he just came in and just cleaned it up. His influence is mostly sonically. Playing any of those records in the club, the drums and everything is big. Tip was always a master of making a record sound huge.

Lyrically, Mobb Deep added to the album’s dark aesthetic. Speaking on his verse on “Survival of the Fittest”, Havoc explained, “We were just straight hood. It wasn’t no pretty boy shit. It was like, ‘Yo, let’s throw on our Timbs.’ It didn’t get more harder than that.”On each track, they rapped about the realities of prison, murder, robbery, selling drugs and alcoholism, among other topics. Big Noyd had a significant presence on the album, with four guest appearances; discussing the “Just Step Prelude”, Prodigy recalled, “That shit right there, that was a rhyme that Noyd used to kick in the projects everyday to niggas … He’d spit that shit that had the whole block going crazy.” Big Noyd initially preferred to sell drugs and had no desire to be a rapper, until the group convinced him otherwise.The remaining guest appearances happened in various ways; Nas was a childhood friend of Havoc, Raekwon and Ghostface Killah of Wu-Tang Clan were Mobb Deep’s labelmates and Crystal Johnson was an associate of Q-Tip.

The cover art for The Infamous was created in Queensbridge Houses, New York by photographer Delphine A. Fawundu, who later commented about the photography session in Vikki Tobak’s 2018 analog hip hop photography collective Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop (published by Clarkson Potter), “I was inspired by how all these elements came together, making New York hip-hop such a force at that time. It just felt so powerful and it was all happening right before my eyes, and my camera”. In 2019, images from Fawundu’s photoshoot with Mobb Deep and the previously unseen contact prints were featured in a full-size museum exhibit at The Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles.

The album spent 18 weeks on the US Billboard 200, peaking at number 15, and it also spent 34 weeks on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts, peaking at number 3. The Infamous was certified gold, with shipments of 500,000 copies in the United States by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on June 26, 1995. The singles “Shook Ones (Part II)” and “Survival of the Fittest” reached number 59 and 69 on the Billboard Hot 100, respectively, and also reached the Top 10 on the Hot Rap Singles chart.

Upon its release, The Infamous received widespread critical acclaim. Los Angeles Times critic Heidi Siegmund wrote that Mobb Deep “may be the toughest young force in hip-hop”, noting their “slow, stealthy beats” and “dark poetic talents”. NME remarked that the duo “bring the clipped, rolling style of Rakim or EPMD, adding a chill menace to neighborhood boasts like ‘Right Back at You’ and ‘Eye for a Eye’.”Entertainment Weekly’s Tiarra Mukherjee likewise noted their “mostly self-produced, bare-bones beats” and lyrics, which “paint a chilling picture of life on their mean streets, New York City’s Queensbridge Housing Projects”, concluding, “Underground rap-heads — and those who can break away from Jeep beats — will rejoice.” Spin journalist Chris Norris highlighted the bleak lyrical content of the album, which he described as “state-of-the-art East Coast reportage: drug-selling, police-fleeing, and homie-dying vignettes, all told with vivid detail and a deadpan thousand-yard flow”. Norris also found that the album’s production transcended the conventions associated with East Coast hip hop beats, instead “mixing warm, old Quest-style Blue Note whispers, gritty snares, and stark keyboard chimes like Satie or Bill Evans with an MPC-60.”

Elliott Wilson from Vibe was highly positive in his appraisal of the album: “Each song is a different chapter in the hard street life Havoc and Prodigy have experienced in their Queensbridge neighborhood … While describing their lives with brutal realism and raw imagery, Havoc’s love for his hometown hits you in the head like a Mike Tyson comeback punch.” The Source’s Dimitry Leger stated, “Mobb Deep earn credibility, winning the crucial battle between style and substance, who’s real and who’s a move-faker. Havoc and Prodigy simply report what they know.” Writing for Rolling Stone, Cheo H. Coker called it “a darkly nihilistic masterpiece”

With The Infamous, Mobb Deep invented a feeling, one that was more important than any individual word, chorus, or rhyme. All of New York was embracing degraded production at the time, but Havoc pushed beyond the low-resolution samples of RZA’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) into near-total abstraction, producing a masterpiece of low, muffled, and malevolent sounds… Appropriately, The Infamous also marked the moment that the language in gangsta rap shifted from corner scrambles and specific vendettas to all-out war, endless and impersonal… This was the logical conclusion to the lyrical (and literal) arms race in mid-90s gangsta rap; Mobb Deep got all the way to the end first, and said everything best.

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