Mobb Deep was an iconic New York Crew that emerged from Queensbridge in the late 1980s. Comprised of emcees Prodigy and Havoc, the two-piece collective was flung into stardom in the early 1990s during the height of East Coast hip-hop’s gritty era. With artists such as Nas and the Wu-Tang Clan ruling New York during this period, the duo broke through with their raw and gritty 1995 album, The Infamous. The pair met while both studying at the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan and, with their shared love of music, decided to join forces, initially performing as the Poetical Prophets.
Their original stage name derived from the pair’s love for New York conscious hip-hop. From Nas to the Wu-Tang Clan and a Tribe Called Quest, the duo started taking inspiration from these acts and, as a result, began making demo tapes, looking to work the New York City underground rap scene. However, the duo started aiming for major record labels after a long period without success.
Hanging outside Manhattan label buildings, the Queens emcees would ask passing artists to listen to their demo. Luckily for the duo, Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest gave the collective a chance and, within a month, would get Havoc and Prodigy inside the Jive Records office. However, Jive decided not to sign Poetical Prophets as a duo, only Prodigy as a solo act.
The collective, akin to The Notorious B.I.G., was featured in the ‘Unsigned Hype’ column of The Source in 1991 due to their Flavour for the Nonbelievers demo. The duo changed their name following a suggestion from Diddy in 1991, who was looking to sign them to Bad Boy Entertainment. A year later, Mobb Deep signed with 4th & B’way Records and released their debut single, ‘Peer Pressure’. The collective’s first album, Juvenile Hell, released in 1993, was received relatively well. However, it was not a breakthrough. The project featured production from DJ Premier, Large Professor, and other notable East Coast producers. However, the crew’s sophomore body of work thrust Mobb Deep into the limelight.
The Queens group’s 1995 album, The Infamous, was a smash hit on the East Coast and was released on Loud Records. In 1993, the collective signed with the label following the success of the Wu-Tang Clan and the project’s lead single ‘Shook Ones, Part II’ was its shining track. Produced by Havoc, the underground track samples the 1969 track ‘Jessica’ by Herbie Hancock as well as ‘Kitty With The Bent Frame’ by Quincy Jones. The track is a sequel to the 1994 track ‘Shook Ones.’ The song charted at number 59 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Recorded at Unique Recording Studios near Times Square between 1993 and 1994, Havoc produced the beat of ‘Shook Ones (Part II)’ in his Queensbridge bedroom. The track was mixed in the studio by Q-Tip, who was the album’s official mix engineer. Speaking on with SKILLS magazine in 1995 about why they used their own beats, the collective explained, “Motherf*ckers frontin on beats, trying to get beats. Brothers are too busy, or I guess they said….they probably felt like, ‘Yo Mobb Deep they kinda weak’ so we bought an MPC 60, and we started making our own sh*t.”
Speaking on who influenced him, Havoc continued, “Large Professor. He really got me open. I used to go to his crib and watch him make beats and asked him a lot of questions. He didn’t really teach me, nobody taught me, but I learned by watching him. I learned to work the MP in like two days, that’s how dedicated I was to making my own beats.”
You can listen to ‘Shook Ones, Part II’ in the video below.