Many rap groups have come and gone, but few put their imprint on the genre like Mobb Deep.

Coming out of the Queensbridge Houses of Queens, N.Y., the prodigious duo --consisting of Prodigy and rapper-producer Havoc -- originally met as classmates at the Manhattan High School of Art and Design and decided to join forces under the Poetical Prophets and recorded a demo that landed the baby-faced teenagers a spot in The Source magazine's Unsigned Hype colum in 1991.

They switched their name to Mobb Deep and inked a deal with 4th & B'way Records in 1992. A year later, they released their debut album, Juvenile Hell, in 1993, to little fanfare. The project was deemed a commercial brick, leading to Havoc and Prodigy being released from their contract. But that end was the sign of a solid beginning for the two.

The situation was dire and a harsh introduction to the ways of the record industry, but the duo quickly bounced back, landing a deal with Loud Records and heading back in the studio to record their sophomore LP, The Infamous. While Juvenile Hell featured producers such as '90s heavyweights DJ Premier and Large Professor, Havoc -- who had produced five tracks on their debut -- took over a majority of the production duties on this outing, crafting all but one track on the album.

Q-Tip, a fellow Queens native, served as a co-pilot behind the boards as well, assisting Havoc in refining his skills as a beatmaker, which accounts for the similarities between some of the soundscapes found on The Infamous and A Tribe Called Quest's 1996 effort, Beats, Rhymes and Life.

The Infamous, which debuted on April 25, 1995, also displayed Havoc and Prodigy's growth as MCs, especially the latter, who delivered his verses with flawless execution and instantly evolved into one of the most highly regarded rhyme animals of the era. Havoc also improved in his lyrical aptitude and played the co-pilot position just about as well as anyone that comes to mind.

Keeping it light on the features, the Mobb did make sure to bring in a few of their like-minded homies, who also happened to be rap stars, including Nas ("Eye For a Eye"), Raekwon ("Eye For a Eye," "Right Back at You") and Ghostface Killah ("Right Back at You"). This resulted in classic materia and set the foundation for many collaborations between all parties in the future. In vintage Queens fashion, Havoc and P also brought in their neighborhood cronie Big Noyd, who contributed one of the most memorable rap verses of 1995 on songs like "Give Up the Goods" and landed a record deal of his own off of his performance on the album.

With 20 years in the rearview mirror since its release, we decided to round up a few of our friends in the hip-hop community to share their memories of Mobb Deep's The Infamous album. Whether it's the songs, beats or rhymes, this is one project that is always remembered in the minds of many.

  • 1

    Skyzoo

    Artist

    Favorite Memory Involving the Album:

    "When The Infamous dropped in '95, it was in the midst of so much dope hip-hop at the time. [Notorious] B.I.G. was out, Nas was out, Rae was on deck with the purple tape, the GZA was on deck, there was just a plethora of undeniable music. For the Mobb to sit at the front of that table with all of them was incredible.

    "I got the CD how I did a lot of my music back then; order catalogs, haha. The ones where you cop eight CDs for a penny and then subscribe for future titles, I did that a lot as a kid because in '95 I was 13, so it was easy to just order a bunch of CDs from those magazines. That album though, from the blue and orange NYCHA sign to the skits to most importantly the production and lyricism, I related to it immensely.

    "It was all stuff I'd seen and heard everyday back and forth from school and in my building lobby. It was essentially my world, even though I was 13 and didn't realize it."

    Favorite Song on the Album:

    "All of 'em, lol. But if I had to pick it'd be 'Trife Life' and 'Give up the Goods.' 'Trife Life' stood out to me as a kid because they were talking about Brooklyn, so the streets and trains they were shouting out were near my hood. And then 'Give up the Goods' was just God-like to me. I used to go off the top immediately when that record would come on the radio. I still wanna freestyle every time that beat comes on."

    Favorite Beat on the Album:

    "Again, all of 'em. In a year where everyone was on their A-game, havoc was no different. That album is truly amazing."

    What Makes the Album a Classic:

    "To me, being classic is two things: a perfect album; from the lyricism to the beats to the hooks to even the sequencing [or] tracklist order, it all has to be perfect, and then standing the test of time. If an album is still as great five [to] 10 years later, if not more than it was on day one, it's a classic. Replay value and perfection add up to a classic."

    Favorite Verse on the Album:

    "That's tough to single out, but I'd say the way Prodigy rocked the 'Eye For an Eye' as well as Nas' verse on there, the Big Noyd skit where he started off with 'Sometimes I wish I had three different faces / I'm going to court for three cases in three places / One in queens, Manhattan, one in Brooklyn /...' The whole breakdown. And then 'Drink Away the Pain' verses. Everything really. Yeah, everything."

    Song From the Album You Wish You Had a Guest Verse On:

    "'Give Up the Goods' because like I said, that beat was just everything when it came out, and it still is. Matter of fact, I'm about to go listen to it right now."

  • 2

    Dallas Penn

    Urban Griot, Host of 'The Newlyweds' Podcast

    What Makes the Album a Classic:

    "The Infamous album was a definitive moment in NYC rap. Many of the songs had been floating around the scene already via The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show so the album really wasn't a surprise in the direction of the music. The production was dark and spartan. This was the departure from highly produced rap tracks and the return to the essence of rap music. Beats and rhymes.

    "The bleak dystopic tales of NYC is where Mobb Deep changed the sonic landscape. New York was recalled to the desperate days of rampant drug addiction and the wanton violence that accompanies this blight. There wasn't any sunshine or happy times in the Mobb Deep horizon. This outlook has come to define NYC rap for the last 20 years."

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  • 3

    Pharoahe Monch

    Artist

    Favorite Memory Involving the Album:

    "All I have to say is when I heard 'Rock you in your face, stab your brain with your nose bone,' [from 'Shook Ones Pt. II], I pulled the car over and thought everyone go home and trash your album, game over. Stop the record, I don't want to hear the rest of the song. That's it game over!"

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  • 4

    Cedric Shine

    NPR Music, Host of 'Straight Shooters' Radio Show

    Favorite Memory Involving the Album:

    "When 'Shook Ones Pt. II' came out I was in 6th grade. I'm not sure if Joe Clair or Big Lez was hosting Rap City but that video would play every day. The sound was gritty and very New York at that time. Queens was having a bit of a run.

    "I'm dating myself but Columbia House and BMG used to do these 11 CDs for 99 cents or $9.99, I forget, but the scam was to change your name as many times as possible and get free CDs. That's how I got The Infamous and I bumped it and bumped it and bumped it until I scratched it up and had to go buy it again from Tower Records."

    Favorite Song on the Album:

    "I have a few but aside from the obvious 'Eye For a Eye,' 'Survival of the Fittest' and 'Shook Ones Pt. II,' 'Drink Away the Pain' still bangs. The beat, the flows, the metaphors -- Q-Tip showing up was just the icing on the cake. In retrospect, Prodigy didn't have great taste in alcohol but who does when you're young and in the streets."

    Favorite Beat on the Album:

    "'Q.U.- Hectic' was very visual for me, it took me to a rainy night on a dirty back block in Queens. 'Survival of the Fittest' and 'Shook Ones Pt. II' both have those chords that no matter where you are, when they come on the beat grabs you and immediately you start rapping every lyric as if you're on stage performing it."

    What Makes the Album a Classic:

    "In 2015, you can still put The Infamous on and see the world as it was in 1995. Classic albums, albeit the term is overused now, made you feel something, the music felt special. Hip-hop wasn't mainstream then as it is now and you felt personally connected to the stories being told and the production mesmerized you.

    "I was too young to observe how the album impacted other rappers at the time, but Queens was definitely put back on the map to a younger generation with this album and Illmatic having come the year before. Next you had CNN, Royal Flush, Mic Geronimo was bubbling. It felt like The Infamous was a catalyst for that Queens explosion!"

    Favorite Verse on the Album:

    "I went back and forth on this as to not give the obvious answer. P's verse on 'Trife Life,' Nas on 'Eye For an Eye,' but eventually I come back to the first verse on 'Shook Ones Pt. II.' It's just a classic verse."

  • 5

    Isaiah

    Artist

    Favorite Memory Involving the Album:

    "I had the tape and found out a year later that night the CD had an extra song [laughs]."

    Favorite Song on the Album:

    "'Give Up the Goods,' it was a big for Queens. They was reppin' hard! Me being from Queens, it became an anthem."

    Favorite Beat on the Album:

    "'Trife Life,' it sounded clean, fresh and hard."

    What Makes the Album a Classic:

    "When you don't have to skip a song."

    Favorite Verse on the Album:

    "Prodigy on 'Temperature's Rising.' I could relate to it and he made you feel like you knew who he was talking about."

    Song From the Album You Wish You Had a Guest Verse On:

    "'Drink Away the Pain (Situations).' I liked the metaphors."

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  • 6

    DJ Benhameen

    DJ, Host of 'Fanbros' Podcast

    Favorite Memory Involving the Album:

    "I was in Drew Hall, a dorm on Howard University's campus, when a friend of mine, Q from Queens, told me to come up to his room. He had the album. Now the joint had just dropped that morning but by the time I had sat down and rolled up a blunt, this kid was already singing every lyric to every song. He just looked at me and said 'Q. From Queens.'"

    Favorite Song on the Album:

    "Tough call but probably 'Drink Away the Pain.' Everyone's verse is crazy even Havoc at the end with his drunk flow. Tip not making any sense to the rest of the song and still killing it might be the topper."

    Favorite Beat on the Album:

    "Another tough one, but I'd say 'Give Up the Goods' for the drums and the sample flip that LL [Cool J] had just used. But they made it so gangster. Tip for the win."

    What Makes the Album a Classic:

    "The cohesive sounds skits and feel. Besides Illmatic, it was the album that best represented the lifestyle of a young Queensbridge resident. It paints a vivid picture and while the samples and sounds are diverse it all has a unified feel."

    Favorite Verse on the Album:

    "Nas and Rae on 'Eye For a Eye.' Nas with the 'Clouds make it feel like the holy beast is watching us' and Raekwon's 'Hold up and analyze' intro [on his verse]."

    Song That Gets Biggest Crowd Reaction at a Party:

    "'Shook Ones Pt. II.' Hands down no question. Word up, son, word and it's over."

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  • 7

    Deen

    Writer, Passion of the Weiss

    Favorite Memory Involving the Album:

    "To be completely honest, I didn't hear The Infamous in full until about six years after it dropped. I was a tad young when it dropped. However, I distinctly recall seeing the video for 'Shook Ones' around '95 & thinking "I should find a favorite rapper that isn't Busta Rhymes" & "I wonder if I can find a 'HENNESSY' jersey in Lagos, Nigeria" and "Wait, what the f--- is Hennessy?"

    Favorite Song on the Album:

    "Favorite song? That's 'Give Up the Goods (Just Step).' Probably. There’s just something about that sample that speaks to my soul. I love every song in rap history that’s ever used ‘That’s All Right With Me’ by Esther Phillips. It also doesn’t hurt that Hav and P are at their most energetic and that it’s the first time we really hear Big Noyd go off on wax."

    Favorite Beat on the Album:

    "Honestly? 'Shook Ones Pt. II.' That might be the best beat ever made. Or at least the hardest. But in the interest of variety, I'll go with 'Party Over'; dusty and dirty as f---. Those snares used to clear all my college parties out after 2 in the morning before the cops showed up."

    What Makes the Album a Classic:

    "The fact that we’re still talking about the album two decades later is a pretty good indicator of classic status, but if that answer is a little two obvious then I’d have to point to the way The Infamous basically set the template for hardcore NYC rap at least until about 2001. Not a bad run. You could hear that nihilism, those snares and those filtered basslines all over New York rap records for a really long time. If that level of influence ain’t classic, what is?"

    Favorite Verse on the Album:

    "Prodigy's opening verse on 'Survival of the Fittest.' "There's a war going on outside no man is safe from..." That opening couplet alone dragged me outta my dorm room and back to my hood in the motherland. I mean, P is notoriously good with the opening lines, but that's arguably his best. And the nihilism just deepens from there on: "Until my death, my goal's to stay alive, survival of the fit only the strong survive." That's some depressingly motivational s---, Jack. Oh and P piqued my curiosity about vodka and milk, i.e., White Russians."

    Twitter
  • 8

    Dharmic X

    Co-host of 'NW3Radio' on WNYU, Writer

    Favorite Memory Involving The Album:

    "The Infamous came out when I was 3 years old, so I bought it over a decade later, when I was 15 [or] 16. I don't really have a crazy story behind it, but I remember reading Complex's 'The Making of The Infamous' as a freshman in college, and realizing how cool it could be to bring hip-hop to life in writing. That's still one of my favorite articles I've read."

    Favorite Song on the Album:

    "'Eye For a Eye (Your Beef Is Mines).' Nas and Rae coming together over a raw Havoc beat doesn't get much better than that."

    Favorite Beat on the Album:

    "'Shook Ones Pt. II.' It's so sinister that it makes you instinctively look over your shoulder to make sure the coast is clear. And there's the fact that it took people 17-18 years to figure out where the sample came from. There's a reason the NBA was still using it in commercials as recently as 2013."

    What Makes the Album a Classic:

    "New York City is a very different place now, but listening to The Infamous in 2015 has the power to bring a listener back to that time in history and experience it in a visceral way. It's impact on New York rap is palpable, even to this day. The consistency, the gritty energy and it's undeniable impact make it a classic."

    Favorite Verse on the Album: 

    "The first verse of 'Survival of the Fittest.' Prodigy does a great job of describing his life and his environment throughout the album, but it's at its best here. And then he sums it up perfectly: "I'm falling and I can't turn back." Of course, the opening line ("There's a war going on outside no man is safe from") is one of rap's greatest opening lines of all time."

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  • 9

    Maffew Ragazino

    Artist

    Favorite Memory Involving the Album:

    "Unfortunately, I've never purchased this album. But, I did steal it from my youngest uncle. And now that we're discussing the subject, I will go and purchase a physical copy as soon as I get a chance to."

    Favorite Song on the Album:

    "Damn near the entire album. This album is timeless. I don't like to use the word classic anymore because it is so recklessly overused and it no longer has the same power that it once did. In no particular order, my favorite songs are 'Eye For a Eye,' 'Temperature's Rising,' 'Survival of the Fittest,' 'Right Back at You,' 'Shook Ones, Pt. II,' 'Cradle to the Grave,' 'Drink Away the Pain' and 'Trife Life.''

    Favorite Beat on the Album:

    "My favorite beat on the album is 'Eye For a Eye,' hands down. That beat never gets old man. Twenty years later and I'd still enjoy hearing it as if it just released. It's just something so special about it that I cannot describe. It's just the vibe."

    What Makes the Album a Classic:

    "The fact that we are still discussing this album 20-plus years after the release date makes it classic. The fact that you can still relate to the rhymes and the stories that were crafted in [the '90s] in 2015 makes this album classic. The fact that this album still has dope lines that every artist will continue to use in their own raps and start their verses off with makes it a classic. To me, at least. I can go on for days, man. You can listen to this album from top to bottom and it'll take you places, as music should."

    Favorite Verse on the Album:

    "My favorite verse from the album is Havoc's verse on 'Survival of the Fittest.' That raw energy and hunger that he has on this record cannot be matched. It's so NYC. It's so Queens. And he is so ignorant on this record that it's ridiculous. He says, "No matter how much loot I get, I'm staying in the projects, forever." He really believed that at that time. The conviction could be heard by the hearing impaired. That's art. Emotion and those moments captured in a bottle, closed up forever and then placed on display."

    Song From the Album You Wish You Had a Guest Verse On:

    "'Eye For a Eye.' Hands down. Why not? One of my favorite groups ever. One of the best duos ever. Nas and Raekwon? Two of my personal Top 10 favorites. All of them in their prime on one record together. This was during a time when not only the artist, but the fans actually cared about having the dopest verse on a song. Not just a crazy flow or bounce, but the message and the words. This record was like a Dream Team '92 Olympic game."

  • 10

    Donwill

    Artist

    Favorite Memory Involving the Album:

    "I just remember playing this album non stop on repeat. It's like my life had B.I. (Before Infamous) and A.I. (After Infamous) periods. This was before I even entertained actually making music for a living but I was old enough to understand exactly what this record meant. It was visual and inspiring in a way that it taught me about the voice as an instrument. There were moments that that were simply talking with as much replay value as the moments with actual rapping. They didn't waste any time at all on this release, every second was valuable."

    Favorite Song on the Album:

    "It's going to sound weird but the preludes and interludes are some of my favorite moments on the album. I could spend all day splitting hairs about the best songs or the hardest bars but the straight up trash talk and a cappella verses that are littered throughout the album are one of the things that really stuck with me."

    Favorite Beat on the Album:

    "Eye For a Eye" sounds as sinister as the title suggests, damn near horror flick fare; the sample on 'Give Up the Goods' sounds swirling to the point of almost rendering the listener dizzy and combined with the bars it's simply spellbinding; 'Trife Life' is a perfect flip of [Norman Connors' 'You Are My Starship'], so good it doesn't even make you want to hear the original record. That's supreme justice."

    What Makes the Album a Classic:

    "For me, it's a classic because you aged incredibly well. When you think of the albums it released with, specifically Illmatic and how it almost acts as a companion piece to Nas' opus. It further explains the mindset of a young Queensbridge savage. Also it was a re-introduction of Mobb Deep and those second album switch ups that not only shake off sophomore slump but dwarf the debut almost rendering it nonexistent are a feat worth celebrating."

    Favorite Verse on the Album:

    "Prodigy's last verse on 'Give Up the Goods.' Coming in on the very tail-end of an already tough song and closing it out the way he did just really made that song something special. The way he brings the verse in with a bit of melody for a few bars then just continues to plow the bare drum break is just perfection."

    Song From the Album You Wish You Had a Guest Verse On:

    "None of them. I wouldn't change anything about this album at all."

  • 11

    Al Patron

    Author, Filmmaker

    Favorite Memory Involving the Album:

    "I was 11 when this dropped so I didn't have it but definitely remember staying in the barbershop to hear it in full 'cause we didn't have s--- but the radio edits back then. I remember seeing someone get jumped while it was playing like it was a soundtrack for get jumped music."

    Favorite Song on the Album:

    "I have one favorite song off this album, 'Shook Ones Pt. II' because it was on this mixtape I made off the radio and I mean my s--- was flawless too. I put the scotch tape over the air ducts on some Haitian tape my uncle had or something. The key to the tape was rewinding it back before a radio drop or commercial to make songs bleed into each other. 'Shook Ones' bled into '1st of tha Month'  by Bone [Thugs-n-Harmony], I can't ever forget that song."

    Favorite Beat on the Album:

    "Temperature's Rising" because it sounds like what hip-hop should feel like."

    What Makes the Album a Classic:

    "Look at the aforementioned answers. When an album can make you genuflect on a time in your life and then makes you want to play it right after talking 'bout it? It's classic."

    Favorite Verse on the Album:

    "Easily Havoc's verse on 'Shook Ones Pt. II.' 'Sometimes I wonder, do I deserve to live? Or am gonna burn in hell for all the things I did?' It's a thought that I have often and 'And once I get on, I'm gonna put on all my people.' I live by this daily."

    Twitter
  • 12

    David Drake

    Writer

    Favorite Memory Involving the Album:

    "I have always had a fascination with the way music -- especially rap music -- implies tangible spaces. Or not those spaces themselves, exactly, but the margins around them: the topography and architecture, the alleys, the space junk between the El train tracks, the weedy lots, the gangways and porches that give a city its distinctive feel.

    "When I was a kid, I spent hours drawing intricate city skylines; as a teenager, I liked walking around the city and finding those spaces in the midst of a huge population where no one seemed to be. I discovered The Infamous as a teenager as well, because I was heavy on g-funk when it first dropped; the CD spent its time in a hand-me-down discman that had to be held still at all times -- pre-skip-proof technology.

    "That album was a perfect headphone soundtrack for urban exploration, the way Havoc's production mythologized your emotions on the drum beat's concrete stage."

    Favorite Song on the Album:

    "'Give Up the Goods (Just Step).' The beat was crazy, the way the sample slips in and out, the way the drums have all these hard edges -- the snare ricochets. The rapping is more propulsive than other records too, a song with some real forward motion which is kicked off by the best intro on the whole tape -- teasing the sample, then the snare cracking, the vocal sample.

    "The way the vocals and sample and everything else all seemed to center around that snare, it made you feel like music until now had its priorities all wrong: it's not the melody, it's not the rapping, it's the snare that matters. I mean all that other stuff matters too, but what really matters is that the snare scrapes your chest."

    Favorite Beat on the Album:

    "'Up North Trip.' It's just got the only real melody on that whole entire album -- I mean, there are other melodies, but you're not gonna be whistling most of them afterward. Otherwise you've got that sax sample on 'Drink Away the Pain,' the crazy Normon Connors sample on 'Trife Life,' but none of those are hooks like that 'Up North Trip' joint is, they're all, like, accents. Most of the hooks on this album are basslines or drum noises or verbal. Because everything is so dry that way, 'Up North Trip' really stands out, one of those unforgettable loops."

    What Makes the Album a Classic:

    "It whittles menace to its purest and sharpest form. It's the definition of severe, spartan. I don't want to say too much because it would go against the spirit of it."

    Favorite Verse on the Album:

    "I haven't said too much about the lyrics on here, more because of how much there is to say about them. First verse on 'Give Up the Goods' might be it, "Type hard tryin' to survive in New York state..." There's something about how their narratives could jump around from personal to dispassionately descriptive to philosophical without ever feeling disjointed."

  • 13

    Black Rob

    Artist

    Favorite Memory Involving the Album:

    "I think I was on tour and somebody had played 'Shook Ones,' and when that beat dropped, I was like that’s hard! So I had to go purchase The Infamous album to support them. That whole album was tough."

    Favorite Song on the Album:

    "'Shook Ones Pt. II' and 'Survival of the Fittest' off The Infamous album, because that was that gritty sound that I love!"

    Favorite Beats on the Album:

    "'Shook Ones Pt. II' because as soon as you hear that beat, it just grabs your attention."

    What Makes the Album a Classic:

    "The flow that they came with, the production was just impeccable."

    Favorite Verse on the Album:

    "I don’t really have a favorite verse because I think all their lyrics were really on point."

    Song From the Album You Wish You Had a Guest Verse On:

    "Again, 'Shook Ones Pt. II,' that was a big song. I said to myself I should have been on that joint because I would have murdered it."

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