Review Summary: Your worst nightmare?
My initial exposure to Mobb Deep was entirely thanks to my co-worker from five years ago, fellow sushi cook Chris “When I kiss girls, I just start running bases til I hear stop” Harris. For a long time we were the only two black people at that restaurant. He had trouble with reading the room and lived out of his car by choice after he and his girlfriend had broken up. His lack of a father figure in his formative years saw him seeking the ever elusive approval of our emotionally abusive, Tokyo-born head chef. On the weekends, for what felt like months straight, we would each take multiple throat burning pulls of the cheapest bottle of Heaven Hill before we went bar hopping after work. He pressured me into smoking my first blunt during one such drunk outing. He was a different kind of guy, seemed like someone with a lot of baggage to work through. I could relate to that about him, though. He eventually skipped court after some petty arrest, and decided to flee back to his home state of Michigan. I still thought he had a certain charm and I will always be rooting for his growth and success. While doing morning food prep we tended to blast all sorts of music from the Beats Pill that one of our coworkers left for convenience’s sake.
One day I was greeted by the grim, haunting guitar melody that adorned MC Havoc’s nuclear warhead of a boom bap beat in “Shook Ones Pt. II”. The cold swagger with which he and his partner in crime, Prodigy, postured over the track immediately pulled me in. That s**t was hard
and I needed more. Needless to say, upon finishing the rap masterstroke that is The Infamous
, my concept of hip hop was significantly broadened, enriched if you will. I’d undergone an experience that was irreversible.The subsequent release, Hell on Earth
stood to provide more of the same feeling.
Jump cut to 2004 and Amerikaz Nightmare
sees the duo attempting to appeal to hip hop audiences of the early aughts in an effort to prove themselves marketable to labels, an effort that would ultimately fail. While they would not completely abandon the nineties boom bap that made them famous, it’s easy to see the gold plated, twenty four inch rimmed characteristics of the bling era creeping themselves into their sonic palette. However, what could anyone reasonably expect with features from 2000’s icons like Nate Dogg, Lil Jon, Jadakiss, and even the one and only Twista? There’s even a Kanye beat on this thing. All of this was cutting edge back then. What could possibly go wrong? Well, a lot of things to be honest. Here they produce an effort that dates itself more evidently than previous material and comes across as much less timeless. The album is endemic of MCs eight to ten years past their prime trying to conform to trends in a way that isn’t true to their ethos.
While some of the old magic is definitely present in standout tracks such as “When U Hear” and “We Up,” a song like “Dump”, which features a cheesy and extremely dated Nate Dogg hook, doesn’t do them any favors. The two aesthetics don’t gel particularly well; the word mismatch would be an understatement. If you take into account the middling bars and cheesy bling era horns, this track is a bonafide stinker. “Dump” is right. When they sing the hook, do you think they actually mean bullets or big steaming loaves instead?
The subsequent track, “Got it Twisted”, fares a bit better. The groovy 808s, combined with some upbeat claps, a danceable synth melody, and a serviceable hook, amount to a solid attempt at a club banger. The album highlight is without a doubt the aforementioned “When U Hear”. The beat is cold and nocturnal, aggressive and ominous. In a smorgasbord of thug bars that come and go without much impact throughout the album, Havoc and Prodigy take on some of their old swagger on this track. For a moment, the listener receives a fleeting shimmer of the classic Mobb Deep, but the track ends far too soon at just two minutes and fifty two seconds, the shortest song in the entire tracklist. With its gleaming melody and noirish strings, “We Up” is the last reminder of the reason you listened to this album in the first place and it doesn’t come until much later in the album. There is a lot of mediocrity to sift through for six minutes of really good music.
What is with these songs with “real” in the title, anyway? Both “Real N*ggaz” and “Real Gangstaz” feature tuneless sing-song hooks where the duo evidently phone in their best 50 Cent impressions to underwhelming effect. I’ll tell you what. It was a “real” bad idea for the likes of Mobb Deep to collaborate with Lil Jon in the latter track. In the context of a Mobb Deep record, he can only come across as needlessly abrasive. When he yells at the listener to put their middle finger up, I find myself wishing that the song could be anthropomorphized so that I could flip it off to its face. The whistling in this beat is pretty silly as well. The Southern hip hop sound isn’t really complementary to what Havoc and Prodigy have cultivated in their careers up to this point.
Jadakiss’s coughing a** makes an appearance, bringing a pretty cool beat to accompany him, but the song doesn’t really ever evolve into anything to justify its length. The same could be said for the extremely ill fitted album closer featuring Twista. “We don’t follow trends; we set those,” Prodigy claims. Yeah, yeah. The lie detector test determined that was a lie. More than fourteen times.
With only two songs truly worth repeat listens on this entire LP, Mobb Deep fully disappoint here. While it is mildly more entertaining to poke fun at than it is to listen to, Amerikaz Nightmare
is ultimately a somewhat somber experience. Brushing past the thin veneer of novelty, the listener is met with a release that denotes hip hop royalty on the decline, flailing haphazardly in an effort to maintain relevance. The duo’s second and third albums stand head and shoulders above the rest of their output and nothing can diminish the impact those albums had. With Prodigy’s tragic passing in 2017, their best work will always be behind them, but there is no reason they shouldn’t be celebrated. Are you obsessed with bad 2000s music or just really eager to listen to every album ever made? If not, save yourself an hour and just listen to “We Up” and “When U Hear”. Otherwise, invest in yourself and go listen to The Infamous
as many times as you want.