By: Noah Callahan-Bever
Man, New York really fell off. Many denizens of hip hop’s first home—the place from where its style, slang, and sound once originated—would love to deny this with every breath. But when they’re all alone in bed at night, quietly awaiting the iron horse to ferry them to dreamland, they know it’s true.
Chasing out-of-state sales leads to chasing out-of-state subjects and sounds, and now New Yiddy hip hop sounds like a fucking mess. Which makes sonic relevance tough for Mobb Deep, arguably the most New York group of all New York groups, as they release their seventh album, Blood Money. At their best, members Prodigy and Havoc portrayed the snow-and-salt-stained curbs of Queensbridge more viscerally than any of the world-famous project’s other residents. Definitive works, such as The Infamous… and Hell on Earth, found the two marrying morose, hypnotically repetitive beats with apathetic, monotone murder raps, exhaling stills of their ’hood as crisp and cold as the winter air they inhaled during their formative block years.
Now that they have nearly 15 years in the music industry, and they’ve signed to 50 Cent’s G Unit, home of universal hip hop (read: slick beats that resonate in every corner of the country), which promises an updated sound, they hope to add another leg to their career. Imagine your favorite indie director doing a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced summer blockbuster, and you’ve got an idea of how this Queens connection sounds—the action sequences have been cranked up a notch, but gone are the grit and unity of vision. And though it may be a departure, songs like “Give It to Me,” with its obvious club appeal, prove that the change of pace isn’t necessarily a misstep, however jarring.
Although there remains a sheen throughout, the body of the set showcases the Mobb in darker, more familiar territory, as on the Sha Money XL produced “Put Em in Their Place.” Brash horns and ticking drums scream G Unit music, but Hav and P ably ride the aggressive composition. Likewise, the title track, with its pensive, plodding horn and piano accents courtesy of Havoc (who accounts for roughly half the album’s production), sounds like a comfortable fit, though P’s singsongy imitation of 50’s hook writing begs scrutiny.
50’s fingerprints on the album are somewhat excessive—he appears on three tracks and clearly aids on others—but mostly for the better. Curtis “Interscope” Jackson drops not one but two of the disc’s best verses, which is perhaps as much a testament to Prodigy’s lack of interest in rhyming when he raps as it is to 50’s slept-on pen skills. On “Creep,” he demolishes Havoc’s eerie keyboard riff with a rapid-fire rhyme, and on the sentimental “Pearly Gates,” Fif conjures up vivid adolescent details in an exquisite cadence: “Bought a fresh box of bullets from old man Sam / Wanted to shoot a nigga so bad it was itchin’ my hand / Some shot it out with me and some of ’em ran / Some of ’em gats worked, and some of ’em jammed.”
Meanwhile, the passion of the P is evidenced on “Daydreamin’” as he recalls, “At school they had shell toes, I had Olympians / That weak-ass Velcro looking ridiculous.” Even now, Mobb doesn’t want to get caught out of step with the times, as Blood Money proves.
It seems old heads will have to wait for N.Y.C. rap to fall back into fashion, while the young boys celebrate the Mobb’s contemporary vision of hell on earth.