Havoc Interview: Celebrating 25 Years of Mobb Deep’s ‘The Infamous’

For the 25th birthday of Mobb Deep’s ‘The Infamous,’ we speak with Havoc about the record and growing up in Queensbridge.
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“Havoc’s love for his hometown hits you in the head like a Mike Tyson comeback punch. While he vehemently vows, ‘No matter how much loot I get/ I’m staying in the projects forever,’ he demonstrates the duo’s palpable fuck-where-you-at-it’s-where-you-from mentality—and it’s because of this intensity that Mobb Deep rise, with The Infamous, from deep obscurity.”—Elliott Wilson (1995)

The Infamous, the sophomore album by Queensbridge rap duo Mobb Deep, turns 25 on Saturday, April 25, a milestone moment for Havoc, 45, and his late partner Prodigy. To commemorate the anniversary, Sony Music Entertainment’s Certified Classics, a Legacy Recordings’ division strictly for the celebration of Sony Music’s hip-hop and R&B catalog, is releasing a digital-only expanded edition of The Infamous to reintroduce the classic album once more.

Earlier this month, I spoke with Havoc over the phone from his home in New York. We began the conversation talking about the pandemic and how COVID-19 is like something out of a movie before spending the next 25 minutes discussing the album and the music that changed Havoc’s life. During the duration of our call, the rapper and producer born Kejuan Muchita is full of honest reflection and candid insight about the making of The Infamous.

What I took away from our conversation is how creative energy is born everywhere. No matter the environment, the artist will find a canvas and give life to his surroundings. The Infamous isn’t just an album—it’s a drawing of Queensbridge, New York in the 1990s, raw and rugged, uncut, and uncensored. Life as Havoc and Prodigy knew it. A life we’re able to relive through their timeless beats and rhymes.

Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

DJBooth: You’re a few weeks away from the 25th anniversary of Mobb Deep’s debut album, The Infamous. How does it feel?

Havoc: To be honest with you, it doesn’t feel real. It’s like, where did the years go? On the positive side, I feel blessed to be here and be celebrated. There’s a lot of albums that are forgotten, and out of all those good albums, this is the one being remembered.

Did you feel, during the making of The Infamous, that this album is special?

Nah, I didn’t think it was special. I just thought it was something that we was doing and being creative. I didn’t think we were the best [or that] we were making something classic. It was just us, trying to be our best and make an album. I was just hoping people would like it.

Tell me about Louie. He’s the first person mentioned on “The Start of Your Ending (41st Side),” the album’s intro.

Louie was Ty Nitty’s older brother. Ty Nitty is from The Infamous Mob, and on the block we grew up on, Louie’s life was cut short by getting shot while protecting somebody else. He stood in the way saying, “No, I’m not going to let y’all do this,” and they shot him saving a life. He was a good dude, man. I remember, as a kid, one of his favorite groups was EPMD. That’s how I started to like them at an early age, like 11 or 12.

Is that when you started to get into hip-hop? Around that age?

Yes. I can consciously remember listening to music around 6 or 7, but it wasn’t until [age] 10, 11 that I [began to] pay attention to it.

You saw Naughty by Nature at the Apollo Theater, right? When did you see them perform?

I can’t remember the exact year, but it had to be around ’91, ’92. It was the first concert Prodigy, and I went to together, and my first time in the Apollo. I always saw the Apollo on TV, so when I went, as a spectator, I was wishing to be on stage. Seeing Treach perform, just how animated he was, it boasted what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be at the time. It was just one of those, aha moments—the lightbulb went off.

Even though Mobb Deep’s sound and style are darker and aggressive, you knew you wanted to be on the stage?

Absolutely. Well, I didn’t know what sound I was going to cultivate at that time. I could’ve easily gone in a commercial direction, but my environment wouldn’t let anything commercial come out of me. I didn’t give it any real thought; our sound was a reflection of my environment.

Tell me about growing up on the 41st side.

The 41st side of 12th Street and Queensbridge was one of those blocks, like every other hood in the projects. You had your drug dealing and your drug selling. You had your friends and your enemies. You had your shootouts. You had to be careful who you stood next to; you had to know who had beef and who didn’t. It was also a family vibe, as well. Everybody knew everybody [whether] directly or indirectly. It was one of those places that built character. It either made you weak, or it made you strong.

Were you able to channel your vision of Queensbridge on the album?

Absolutely, man. As I said, the environment was that of a lot of drama, passion, weed smoke, alcohol, and parents that were addicted to crack. There was no money. You hustling a little crack here and there or making fake crack and selling that to crackheads. And through it all, kind of embark on a music career. Take all those things I just mentioned and go to a beat machine; you could almost predict what would come out.

It’s taking your life and hitting the beat machine.

Right. You can’t plan it. If I lived somewhere in the suburbs, maybe the sound would’ve been different, but it would’ve been my story.

That’s what I love about the album. You’re listening to these two guys who are very honest about who they are and where they’re from. That’s what resonates—the honesty.

If you think about it, what made this album stand the test of time is, you can hear that vibe and automatically assume this is not made up. That resonates with people who didn’t grow up in that situation and resonates even more with people that have. We hit both ends of the spectrum with [The Infamous], and it was revered.

How was having Q-Tip come in and bring his expertise to the album?

Early on, as far as I was concerned, A Tribe Called Quest was like, the end all be all when it came to beats. Q-Tip was like a God to me, and the opportunity was presented to have him help me work on the album because I never did a whole album by myself. To have his assistance was a blessing. How many people get a chance to work with Q-Tip on an album? It was an opportunity we weren’t going to pass up.

What did you learn from Q-Tip? Here is someone who you revere coming into your world.

What I learned from him, specifically, is to pay attention to the drums. From drum breaks to chopping up the drums. Just make sure your snares pop. Early on, I was chopping up any drum breaks I could find. Whether it sounded gritty or dirty, I wanted to isolate them and put them under a sample. That’s one of the main things I learned from him, aside from trying to be original when digging for samples that no one has heard before.

How was digging for samples back then?

You have to keep in mind; I’m a new producer; if you could call me that at that time. I had no idea people were digging for records. What I was digging through were records that Prodigy had, from his grandparent’s stash and records my father had. [My father] was like an at-home DJ. He was no one famous; he just loved to play records. He always had records spread across the floor, and I knew I needed records to sample. That was my world of digging at that moment. I didn’t know about going to old shops that sold vinyl records. I just grabbed what was in reach.

You used what was in your environment. You’re a natural.

It was the creative side of me. I went to an Art & Design High School for, ultimately, architecture, but I was good at the arts, drawing, stuff like that. I was a creator, [whether] writing or making beats. So if I want to make a beat, and I know how to make a beat, and I know I have to sample these records, I’d just pick one up and try to make something out of nothing.

I feel like that’s Mobb Deep, a group that came from nothing and made something.

There you go. I didn’t have the know-how to go and search for records. I didn’t have any money to go to record stores or conventions. I was always humble about my beats even when people were telling me they were crazy. I used to listen to other people’s beats and be like, “Damn, these beats are great,” and we have to perform after them? I just hope people like my beats. You would think I wouldn’t have any doubt in my music after creating [The Infamous], something people like so much, but I wasn’t too sure at the time. I’m like, damn, I just made these beats off the records on my floor while I’m hearing all these other fire beats out there. It was tough, mentally.

How did it feel all these years, watching people search for the “Shook Ones, Pt. II” sample?

It touched my heart. I didn’t realize how obscure the sample was. When I saw it, it touched me in a certain kind of way. It’s like, wow, this was bothering people for like 15 years.

Tell me about getting Nas and Raekwon for “Eye for an Eye.”

Nas is from the same projects as me, Queensbridge. Raekwon was a label mate. It was kind of a no brainer; you know what I mean? After the success of “Shook Ones, Pt. II,” that built the confidence in our peers to jump on a record. At that time, you probably would not jump on a record you weren’t feeling. Just because you’re label mates or from the same projects didn’t guarantee you a song with them. I made the beat right there on the spot in Platinum Island Studios. Raekwon is sitting there, Nas, and [Prodigy]. I’m making something simple. *Makes the sound of the beat.* Sometimes it’s beauty in simplicity.

Last question. Any favorite moments from 25 years ago when you were making the album?

One of my favorite [moments] has to be doing “Eye for an Eye.” How hard is it to get two major artists in a studio to record a song with you? We all were just kicking it, just vibing. Another favorite moment was making the last track on the album, which, ironically, is “The Start of Your Ending (41st Side).” Just knowing that’s the last song for the album to be made, and we had the whole crew in there. We celebrated and closed it out.

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