Hello, friends, and welcome to “The Annotated Road Taken,” Episode 4. Follow along below for context about and insight into our conversation with Havoc, one half of the rap duo Mobb Deep.
Mobb Deep are legends. Whether you first heard them in their hometown of New York City or, like I did, in rural New Jersey, the impact of their music was both immediate and profound. Havoc’s stark beats conjured up a hard-nosed, hectic world that he and his partner Prodigy matched in lyrical ferocity. The duo released two stone-cold classic albums in the mid-’90s, The Infamous and Hell on Earth, which brought them a mainstream success that didn’t inhibit their singular outlook and style.
The conversation with Havoc is the first one Baio and I had for The Road Taken with someone whose path was significantly distant from ours as a touring rock band. As we got into it, though, we found we had plenty in common and were able to dig in to both the similarities and differences of our experiences. Exploring those universalities of being a touring musician that exist underneath surface-level disparities was the premise for this podcast, and I’m grateful for Havoc helping us really get there!
We had this conversation in early September in Koreatown, NYC, the day before Vampire Weekend played MSG for the first time. Havoc shared some helpful advice based on his experience there as part of a peak G-Unit extravaganza in the late aughts. We also discuss the dangers of insulting Rochesterians, impressions of the 1999 Family Values Tour, and one really tall, really pissed off guy in Manchester, England.
Let’s get into it!
09:25 “There was this Mary J. Blige song out at the time…”
For some early shows, Mobb Deep would sing this melody with the lyrics changed to “If you look in the crowd, you see what I see / A lot of shook motherfuckers.” Being antagonistic can be a good way to commune with an audience and create an atmosphere at a show, but apparently these particular paying customers in Rochester, New York, weren’t having it. Although, if this show had taken place just a year or two later, after The Infamous came out, I bet it would have gone off.
12:08 “It blew me and Prodigy away…”
A very formative live experience for Mobb Deep was seeing the energy and action of Naughty by Nature live at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. This might not be the exact performance, but here is an awesome show featuring “OPP” from Showtime at the Apollo in 1991 (with bonus introduction by Tempestt Bledsoe!).
13:29 “In ’95, I think all the hip-hop acts, they used to just bring their whole neighborhood onstage…”
Here is the clip of Mobb Deep and the whole neighborhood onstage at once. In some ways this performance-as-collective does bring out the exciting group dynamic of a Wu-Tang Clan show while in others it feels a bit unwieldy and hard to replicate on a tour. A fascinating subplot here is how Tyson Beckford, probably during his benevolent reign as Male Model of the Year, ended up as part of the crew that night!
22:31 “Yo, that was crazy…”
Havoc remains blown away by Mobb Deep’s experience on the Family Values Tour in 1999. While the relative cultural positions of “rap” and “rock” may have flipped in the last two decades, I still agree with Prodigy’s assertion here that “the combination of them is even more crazy.” It’s also crazy to imagine what impressions Havoc and P had watching all this, having never heard of Limp Bizkit before joining them on tour.
29:25 “You trying to re-create what you know the crowd might like...”
This is Havoc talking about how performing live and feeling the crowd’s reaction to certain songs and beats influenced his studio approach moving forward. My handy example was the drumbeat for the Vampire Weekend song “Run,” which was written with a big open-festival field in mind (much like this one at T in the Park 2010 in Scotland).
35:15 “There’s never a show where we don’t play ‘Shook Ones’...”
Mobb Deep saw a real touring renaissance in the 2010s, as they were able to finally reach audiences that didn’t get to see them at the height of their ’90s radio success. Here’s a great example of such a show from the German festival Out4Fame in 2015—a long way from that cramped NYC club with the whole neighborhood onstage (and sub in Busta Rhymes for Tyson Beckford)!
39:43 “When we were onstage, he performed like regular…”
Tragically, Havoc’s bandmate Prodigy, having long dealt with sickle-cell anemia, passed away in 2017, only a few days after their final performance as a duo.
43:26 “If I hear my song on the radio, fuck that, I turn that shit up…”
I agree completely with Havoc here that the experience of hearing your music on the radio always elicits some degree of this.
44:01 “They go fucking crazy over there…”
Here’s a clip from one of Havoc’s favorite shows ever, Mobb Deep at the Bataclan in Paris on October 14, 2015. And to show that the love is shown throughout France, here’s a clip from Lyon the previous year that gets pretty wild as well.