The Red Bull Music Academy kicked off its “Five Out Of Five” concert series — highlighting what it considers New York City’s “five most iconic hip-hop albums” — with a discussion with Prodigy and Havoc from Mobb Deep about the making of their 1995 album “The Infamous” at Webster Hall on Sunday (Sept. 25).
During an almost two hour-long interview conducted by “Ego Trip” co-founder and former “Vibe” Music Editor Sacha Jenkins, the duo discussed growing up in Queens, the origins of the “Dunn Language” that they helped popularize, and the ways in which the city around them influenced their lyrics. Jenkins then went through eight tracks from “The Infamous” one by one, asking Prodigy and Havoc to comment on specific points from each, including the samples and recording process.
“[The album] represents the struggle, the hunger, the will… to make it out of [the Queensbridge projects, where the two grew up, and which also spawned Nas and Marley Marl] is nothing short of a miracle,” said Havoc at one point during the interview. “Any situation could put you in the grave, and the album describes just that.”
Over 70 people attended the interview portion, while the intimate show that took place later in the night featured a performance from Mobb Deep’s former label-mate at G-Unit and fellow Queens rapper Lloyd Banks before Marley Marl came out on stage to introduce the headliners. Prodigy and Havoc, together with The Alchemist DJing the set, played most of the tracks from “The Infamous” interspersed with songs from the rest of their catalog, ending with the album’s lead single “Shook Ones Pt. II.”
But the most memorable parts of the evening came during the duo’s interview with Jenkins, when they attempted to explain some of the darker elements that made “The Infamous” seem like such a stark, honest album upon its release and helped make it the classic it is regarded as today. “Music should be fun, but this is street music,” said Havoc. “If you’re going to say something, someone will test you on it.”
Some of those elements included the culture of violence and the status of going to prison that pervaded the Queensbridge projects. Prodigy, who just released an autobiography titled “My Infamous Life” in April, talked about his recent three year stint in prison as helping him get his “mind and body back together.” Havoc, referencing his brother’s troubles with the law which were ongoing during the making of “The Infamous” and were documented in the track “Temperature’s Rising,” lamented the influence of prison in their neighborhood. “A lot of kids see older guys going to jail, and they want to emulate that,” he said. “But you don’t have to do it like that… I wasn’t trying to fall victim to the streets.”
The Red Bull Music Academy will visit groups representing each of the other four boroughs between Tuesday and Friday, with a conversation with Slick Rick about his 1988 album “The Great Adventures of Slick Rick” on Tuesday at the Paradise Theater in the Bronx. Other albums in the series are Black Moon‘s “Enta Da Stage,” Wu-Tang Clan‘s “36 Chambers” and Dipset‘s “Diplomatic Immunity.”