Mobb Deep vs. Havoc and Prodeje — This Or That?
Ever notice that some rap acts have names that are way too similar? Besides all the Lil’s and Young’s, a good amount of rappers share names that are a little too close for comfort. It’s time we start embracing the differences.
Every week, we’ll look at the almost identical names of two rappers or groups and break down their differences for you, the reader. For our first selection, we travel from the Queensbridge Projects to South Central L.A., to explore two classic rap crews.
What came first, the Prodigy or the Prodeje? The latter is pronounced like the QB thun’s name, not “protégé,” so cut that out, but while M-O-B-B were sipping Asti Spumante, the S.C.C. and their leaders Havoc and Prodeje were mobbing on the West Coast. Both of their debut albums ‘Juvenile Hell’ and ‘Livin’ In A Crime Wave,’ came out in ’93 and both LPs had an element of gangbanging to them, but if you were stuck on a desert island, which group’s discography would you choose?
Back when they were the Poetical Prophets, Prodigy and Havoc were throwback rappers, hittin’ skins, blunts and 40’s. They released their first album ‘Juvenile Hell’ on 4th & B’way Records, home to albums from groups like Freestyle Fellowship and X-Clan, when they were just 19 years old. Searching for their voices, they let Havoc share production with Pete Rock, Large Professor, Kerwin ‘Sleek’ Young, and others, diluting their sound and allowing them to blend in with every other rap group of the period. The album did poorly besides yielding a small hit with ‘Hit It From the Back,’ and Prodigy later admitted that he and Havoc hadn’t been taking songwriting and producing seriously before ‘Juvenile Hell’ flopped. They were promptly dropped from their label and back to square one.
Perhaps it was necessary. Faced with the harsh reality of the music industry in the blink of puberty, Prodigy and Havoc went back into the studio in control of their aesthetic.They emerged with ‘The Infamous’ LP as jaded street savants, well versed in alcoholism and loyalty. With the help of Q-Tip, Havoc and P crafted what can only be described as Queens noir rap, drenched in violence and depression. It was the most dystopian music hip-hop had ever seen. While Havoc mastered the boards, P broke down the English language and eventually came to innovate thun slang. At his prime in the mid-to-late 1990’s, Bandana P was untouchable, making words up as he went.
Over in Southern Los Angeles, something else was brewing. The South Central Cartel had a thing for gangster music, following in the footsteps of N.W.A. and Above the Law with their funky beats and hard rock rhymes. Known for tracks like “Gang Stories’ and ‘No Peace,’ S.C.C. weren’t f—ing around, and Havoc and Prodeje were the leading instigators. This time the roles were somewhat reversed — Prodeje brought together the entire album’s production, minus a track or two, while Havoc Da Mouthpiece was clearly outspoken.
Their problem, for the most part, was what plagued Mobb Deep during ‘Juvenile Hall,’ minus more moving songs like ‘G’z On The Move’ and ‘Hood Got Me Feelin’ the Pain.’ They still had slammin’ songs and clever bars, especially on their first two albums ‘Livin In’ A Crime Wave’ and ‘Kickin’ Game,’ but there’s a reason more people know N.W.A. than S.C.C. Havoc and Prodeje provide a glimpse into what earlier west coast production sounded like before Dre swept through with ‘Tha Chronic.’ Mobb Deep, on the other hand, was futuristic.
What separated Hav and Prodigy from other hip-hop groups was their often disturbing honesty and inventiveness with words. Prodigy ignored conventional grammar and pronunciation for the most part, slurring his words with a flow so in the pocket he’s considered the G.O.A.T. by many. Instead of imitating past styles, Havoc became one of the most distinct producers in the game alongside Tip, and carved out the sonic lane that Mobb Deep would come to conquer.
Two decades after ‘The Infamous’ dropped, people still cared that the duns were signing with G-Unit, despite the fact that it was an obviously sinking ship by that time. Even this year, hardcore fans rejoiced over Prodigy’s joint project with Alchemist, ‘Albert Einstein.’ The QB duo ran with their bleak, clear-eyed vision and it made them worldwide stars. It’s not to take away from the S.C.C. boys, because they were progenitors as well, but their impact was felt less than the Mobb’s was. The Infamous has got this one. The real question is who came first?