Few have shaped modern-day rap aesthetics like Mobb Deep. Havoc and Prodigy tell the tale of their journey through hip hop’s mean streets in this edited and condensed version of their RBMA Radio Fireside Chat with Chairman Mao.
Obviously you’ve been in this game for a number of years. What are your earliest memories of how you got into hip hop?
Havoc: Definitely what sparked my interest in hip hop was just growing up around it. That’s all they played around my way, Queensbridge Projects. We had Marley Marl living out there, Roxanne Shante, and seeing all those big superstars in one place with their fancy cars and all of that… That definitely sparked my interest, being from a place where hip hop was really prevalent.
You come from families of entertainers, performers, and musicians. How did growing up in that family inspire you to be creative as a musician?
Prodigy: My grandmother had a big dance school called Bernice Johnson Dance School. My grandfather was a jazz musician, Budd Johnson, so I grew up going to my grandfather’s shows. My mom used to tell me stories about the group that she was in. That was an amazing influence on my life when it came to doing music. I wanted to be like Michael Jackson. I used to look up to Michael Jackson when I was a kid, and then I got into the rap thing and it was over.
You guys met at [High School of] Art and Design. What did you guys think of one another when you guys met?
Havoc: We was like a year in grade apart from each other. I would see Prodigy around, but I didn’t know him and he used to wear all this big jewelry like nothing short of a little Slick Rick, I kid you not. You could hear him coming down the hallway. I always used to be like, “Who the hell is that?” Word, it was crazy, just crazy. We had mutual friends, and we all became friends and then it just so happened he had the same interest that I had. It was rapping.
How do you remember meeting? What was your first impression?
“When I first met Havoc he was in a fight outside of school.” - Prodigy
Prodigy: My first impression of Hav was, “Oh, son is wild.” When I first met him he was in a fight outside of school. I was coming out of school, my man Black was supposed to introduce me to him. We were in photography class together. He was like “Yo, there’s another kid you’ve got to meet. He dope, he rap too. You should start a group, yo.” We went outside to meet and it was like a big fight outside the school so I go to look and Black like, “Oh, that’s Hav right there fighting!” Crazy situation, crazy situation.
So who won the fight?
Havoc: Who won the fight? I won the fight! It was one punch. First I missed and then I caught him again, boom. He was way bigger than me, but he was probably intimidated by all the people I was with. I’m pretty sure one-on-one he probably would’ve kicked my ass, but I won.
At first you were known as Poetical Profits. How did that become Mobb Deep?
Havoc: This guy Goody wanted to sign us. He was like, “Yo, but ya’ll got to change your name or whatever.” Me and P was brainstorming and we just came up with the name of a term that we used to use around the way. If we used to be rolling somewhere, to the movies or to a party, there’d be a bunch of us and when we would talk about it later we would be like, “Yo, we was mob deep.”
When did the group start to change to the Mobb Deep that we all know now as far as Havoc being the producer and with Prodigy more focused on the lyrics?
Prodigy: A lot of the fans say that Havoc is the producer and Prodigy is the leader. It’s not even like that. To us, we just together. We Mobb Deep, Hav and P. I can understand maybe people got they opinions but we don’t look at it like that. That’s kind of weird to me because Hav’s nice with it. I gotta keep up with him and I’m sure he feel like he got to keep up with me. That’s how we feel about each other. People, they got their opinions.
That’s one of the cool things, is that you wrote verses for P on tracks.
“Being around Nas, Cormega. I had to step my game up. I didn’t want them to be like, ‘P’s corny.’” - Prodigy
Havoc: As far as writing is concerned, early on, we kind of used to write for each other. We were just starting out doing whatever, but when we did The Infamous – if I didn’t know any better – I would of thought somebody else was writing the rhymes because it was like a total 360. When I think back on it, I’m like, “Damn, how did he step his game up like that?” Incredible.
Prodigy: Thank you, brother.
Havoc: I’m serious, though.
It’s incredible on both of your parts. From Juvenile Hell to The Infamous. Talk a little bit more about that transition. Between Juvenile Hell, you guys lost the deal with Island, but you landed at Loud. How did that happen and how did you guys grow so much creatively between the first and second album?
Havoc: It all came from our backs being against the wall. We had a deal at a young age. We had all this hope of coming out, blowing up. We young, we made it, we got a little bit of money and then next thing you know, womp, womp womp. Everything happens for a reason. Then we got the opportunity to do The Infamous and our back was against the wall. It’s like do or die.
Prodigy: The way I stepped up my lyrics from I attribute to just probably being around my friends. Being around Hav, being around Nas, Cormega. I had to step my game up. These are my people, I didn’t want them to be like, “P’s corny, all right, let’s get out of here.”
Obviously “Shook Ones Pt. II” is one of the greatest, everybody’s favorite. What was the process in making that song work?
Havoc: It all stemmed from the first album Juvenile Hell not doing well, us getting the next deal, and Loud Records giving us our own creative control. Basically, we moved all the equipment from Long Island to Queensbridge and just camped out. A whole bunch of 40’s in the room, friends coming up listening to our music. Most of the time everybody was going out, and I was staying in just making beats and I made the “Shook Ones” beat. I really didn’t think too much of it. I actually probably would have turned the machine off because nobody was there to criticize it or say it’s dope. P heard it and thought I was crazy. He was like, “Everybody was like, ‘This beat is crazy.’” I didn’t think it would ever turn into what it did. It’s kind of a miracle. I still love the song to this day. I know some people try to be humble, but I love that song.
P, do you remember what was going through your mind when you were writing to this beat?
Prodigy: I was probably just trying to prove a point basically. Trying to show people that we deserved this. We deserve this, we work hard for this. It’s lucky we got a second chance to even get another deal. We were like, “No, we not going to lose this, we going to take advantage of this opportunity. We going to seize this moment and we going to have a career for ourselves.”
What was the difference in working on Hell on Earth versus The Infamous? You had this chip on your shoulder with The Infamous. What did you want to do with Hell on Earth?
Prodigy: I believe that by time we got to Hell on Earth, we were at the point where we were comfortable. Like not comfortable, but we got our footing and we were good. Now we can relax and be ourselves and just really put our pain and our struggle and everything into the music. That’s the kind of album it is. It’s a dark album. We was going through a lot around that time. That right there was just us really being like, “Yeah, we here now. Now, let’s get started.” That’s what that album was to me.
You guys got pulled into this East Coast / West Coast thing for a little bit. What are your reflections now all these years later? What do you think about that time and being pulled into that?
Havoc: It was all kind of nonsense, but you just had to go with the flow. You had to represent your hood, your town, your state. Everybody was so passionate. I don’t even know what we had to do with it, but I guess we was like the top dogs, so they had to come for somebody and we held it down. But it wasn’t really about nothing. To me, it wasn’t... I ain’t want to go down that road or that path, I wanted to have the long career. I don’t want to be shook for going to another state. It was retarded to me. I didn’t like it. I’m just glad that it’s passed now.
You guys took some time off between Hell on Earth and Murda Muzik and a lot of stuff leaked out. Talk a little bit about the process of recording, and what kind of setbacks you had to deal with when that material got out there.
Prodigy: The process of recording that album, it was a long special process. We spent a lot of money on that album. We had fun. We made a lot of it in Miami and in Manhattan. They opened up the bank for us after we was successful with the first two. We really started getting some bread and we started spitting that flow, getting cocky with it. We stunned ourselves right there, word.
How did “White Lines” become “Quiet Storm”? “White Lines” was a solo record for you, and then became a Mobb Deep record and, obviously, a classic record.
“I definitely think we’ve been blessed, our career is blessed.” - Prodigy
Prodigy: When we were working on Murda Muzik, I was working on my solo project at the same time, and I had put one of my songs out on a mixtape and it started circulating. It started getting a lot of play in the clubs and after like a year it got even bigger. It was a slow process, it’s crazy. We were working on Murda Muzik and trying to figure out a single. Our manager at the time, Chris Lighty, he was like, “That song is dope,” and Hav was like, ”Yo, come on, we got to put that on the album, son.” That was a good vibe. That’s definitely God at work. I definitely think we’ve been blessed, our career is blessed. When we get that inspiration, it’s not only ourselves, it’s also God at work.
Havoc: Infamy is definitely one of my favorite albums. The sad part about it was that Loud folded afterward, so it kind of made it bittersweet. We worked really hard on that album. We had Ron Isley on the album, we had...
Havoc: Yeah, Lil’ Mo on the album.
Havoc: While we was making the album, we felt re-energized. How do you make an album after Murda Muzik? It’s hard to do. If you listen to it, you can tell we was trying to stick with tradition and make a dope album and not overthink it. That’s what we set out to do.
What was it like when Loud Records folded? That was your home base for many years, and where you enjoyed all of your success.
Prodigy: When Loud got bought by Sony, it was a crazy situation. Loud was definitely like a family, man. The office, we’d go up there and chill. Dudes used to play basketball together, smoking and throwing it down in the office. Everybody was friends, going to parties together and stuff like that, traveling. When they was sold, it was definitely a little bittersweet. Word, I can’t front. We didn’t really know what our next move was going to be. We were trying to plot our next move at that time. We definitely wanted a fresh start. We hired a good lawyer, and then we became free agents.
Obviously, you guys were able to regroup and move on. You then did Amerikaz Nightmare. You enjoyed a hit with Alchemy’s track, “Got It Twisted.” What was the transition like from Amerikaz Nightmare to linking up with 50 Cent?
Havoc: That just came out of nowhere. Totally unexpected, because Jive didn’t work out too well for us [with Amerikaz Nightmare]. We did well as far as moving units was concerned, selling records. We did our numbers like how we usually do, but I guess it wasn’t good for them and, again, we was without a deal. So the transition was real swift. 50 calls, OK, boom, now we’re chilling with 50, now we on tour for like four or five months out of nowhere, now we shooting like ten videos. There wasn’t even time to think. It happened fast. The ink wasn’t even dry, and we was doing a song. I liked it because I was like, “Oh, OK, this is how you do stadium, huh?” I liked it.
Prodigy: My favorite part about that transition over to the G-Unit deal was not only just building a relationship with 50 and them, but also the fact that we were able to experience all that on the next level. It was a crazy experience. So many different things man, so many different things. It was crazy.
What’s something about 50 that people don’t know that you found to be interesting or surprising?
Prodigy: One thing about 50 that’s cool is he’s down to earth. A cool dude you can talk to. He just real down-to-earth, cool people.
Going away for the years that you did, and coming back out now and being able to make music again, how does that experience inform your music now?
“God tested us along the way for a long time, and we still here still doing music and, to be honest with you, I didn’t expect nothing less.” - Havoc
Prodigy: I think me going away to prison and doing three years and then coming home, I feel blessed that I’m able to jump back into the career that I had before I went to jail. A lot of people come home from jail and they can’t get a job. A lot of them homeless, they families turned on them because they was locked up. They were convicted for a crime they didn’t commit and exonerated later on and they families turned on them thinking they guilty and they raped somebody or killed somebody. People come home twisted from prison. I feel blessed to have a job to come back to and I can just hop right back in. But we worked hard for that too. We worked hard for that. We met God halfway and we always do. Word.
2013 is 20 years of you guys together. You’ve been through so much struggle and success. Why do you think you’ve managed to be able to stick together?
Prodigy: I think me and Havoc were able to stick together so long because we just had a great time growing up. When we was coming up, that’s a memorable time. The things we used to do, our life was too ill, man. I think we both recognize that.
Havoc: We had our ups and downs and things like that, but like P was saying, we had so much fun times, good times. Not so much to make it sound like a storybook or something like that. We had a lot of bad times. Our people was gone or lost or locked up. We just been through a lot together, so we know each other, we familiar, we built a career together, and we love the music that we do. We love music, period. God tested us along the way for a long time, and we still here still doing music and, to be honest with you, I didn’t expect nothing less. I kind of knew that we would be together for a long time. That’s just the bottom line.