An Infamous Genealogy, Pt. 1

Main Source “Snake Eyes”
Main Source “Just A Friendly Game Of Baseball”
A Tribe Called Quest “Midnight”
Mobb Deep “Peer Pressure” (Large Professor Remix)
Mobb Deep’s musical genealogy is a crucial guide to comprehending and appreciating their masterful sophomore LP, The Infamous. The album is one of hip hop’s bastard children: it is typically evaluated in isolation from its forbearers. Like so many so-called “gangsta” rappers, the group’s lyrics have been read as literal autobiographical exposés and unthinking advocacies of merciless criminal activity. Don’t believe the hype. In reducing Mobb’s rhymes to caricaturish doggerel, while presuming dark soundscapes  to signify anger and nothing else, critics underestimate the duo’s musical and poetic aptitude, and their willingness to incorporate influences from outside of their immediate frames of reference.
Havoc and Prodigy make extensive use of poetic stylization. Their take on reality is comprised of an unlikely yet compelling admixture of cartoonish violent escapism, detached reportage, bleak apocalyptic lamentation, and (occasionally) serene reflection. Their economical, blustery rhymes resound over menacing tracks. The notion that this style arose spontaneously from the oblivion of primitive rage is misguided. To disprove it, one must simply take note of the accelerated artistic growth that undoubtedly occurred in the years after the release of their forgettable debut, Juvenile Hell.
Mobb Deep grew into their sound, with help. The Infamous exceeds the sum of an exaggerated Queensbridge upbringing by virtue of its pedigree alone. The mentorship of Large Professor and Q-Tip (hailing from the far flung corners of the Q-borough in the respective sections of Flushing and Jamaica) gives rise to Mobb Deep’s superior sophomore reincarnation. The family tree provides ample evidence. Q-Tip and Large Pro are bonded by their work on Illmatic, the debut album of Queensbridge rap prodigy, Nas. Prior to that, Large Pro contributed counsel and work behind the boards (acknowledged in shout-outs, liner notes, and interviews) to A Tribe Called Quest’s third album, the nearly universally acclaimed Midnight Marauders. 
In fact, as a bonafide student-teacher who came up in the studio under the tutelage of the legendary Paul C. McKasty, Large Pro’s reputation as a mentor to up and coming Queens artists was already solidified by the time he added his touches to Marauders. It can be accurately stated that Large Pro mentored Q-Tip in the art of mentorship. A godfather of sorts to a second wave of Queens-based artists that were raised on Run DMC and the Juice Crew, Large Pro convened “Live At The BBQ,” the famous posse cut from Main Source’s debut Breaking Atoms that features the world premieres of Nas and Akinyele. 
Large Pro continued to nurture budding talent throughout the ’90s, and in fact his involvement with Mobb Deep actually predates his work with A Tribe Called Quest. He remixed “Peer Pressure” from their maligned debut, as well as “Funk Mode,” a 1993 song by Tragedy the Intelligent Hoodlum (now widely acknowledged to be an influence on Nas, as well as an early mentor to Capone N’ Noreaga) that features a verse from Havoc. Although never given an official name like the Native Tongues, this extended family of Queens-based hip hop artists ritually transmitted professional and musical expertise from one generation to the next. 
In addition to advice about the biz or pointers on production, the elders provided the up and comers with a sophisticated approach to penning suggestive, creative lyrics that augment the chilly moodiness that emanates from so much sample-laden hip hop music. Many of the themes covered on Infamous and later Mobb albums—including literal and figurative warfare, emotional and physical suffering, and artistic and racial double-consciousness—are also famously tackled throughout the discographies of Tribe and Main Source. 
On “Midnight,” where Q-Tip’s employment of differing perspectives within a single song and use of bassy, menacing samples anticipates Mobb Deep’s shifting commentaries on the street life and their famously dark sound. Mobb Deep’s penchant for coldly ironic allegory is reminiscent of Large Pro’s cautionary depiction of life as a sky-high stakes game of cee-lo on “Snake Eyes.” In the anti-cop “Just a Friendly Game of Baseball,” Large Pro delivers his extended metaphor with stoic clarity over a devastating break that also appears on Tribe’s “If the Papes Come” remix from the same year. These characters will reappear later on The Infamous as potentially deadly forces that must be undermined and avoided.
In future installments, I’ll examine the “demo” or “rough draft” recordings Mobb Deep made prior to the release of  Infamous,  examine Q-Tip’s involvement in recording process,  and chart their evolution  into a group whose signature sound and world view represents an innovative departure from its primary influences. — Thun

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72 Responses to “An Infamous Genealogy, Pt. 1”

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