In April of 1995, my world changed forever: Mobb Deep dropped their second studio album, The Infamous, on Loud Records. I knew of it because of the "Shook Ones Pt. II" video, which got mad rotation on Rap City. There was also a guy on my bus who rapped Prodigy's verse, and I remember how bugged I was about someone saying, "I'm only 19 but my mind is old, and when things get for real my warm heart turns cold." That blunted beauty stuck with me, and was incentive enough for me to cop the full-length. Then I heard track two, "The Infamous Prelude."
The wild shit is, it isn't even a song. It's just Prodigy on the mic "speaking for my fucking self" about why you shouldn't be trying to see him, especially in the streets. Toward the end of the rant, Prodigy drops some memorable lines that could have been aimed at a few rappers at the time:
And, oh yeah—to all them rap-ass niggas, with your half-assed rhymes, talking about how much you get high, how much weed you smoke, and that crazy space shit that don't even make no sense: Don't ever speak to me when you see me, know what I'm saying? Word. I'ma have to get on some ole high school shit, start punching niggas in they face just for living.
Recall, this was 1995; there was no Twitter, no Snapchat, or any way to instantly explain (or source) those lines for people who might get things twisted. Hell, access to many of these artists was so scarce, you'd be lucky to get more insight when it was time for their feature up in The Source. So, needless to say, cats who were about this scene had to use their powers of deduction and figure out who the rappers talking about "that crazy space shit" were. The kind of detective work that happens when, say, Kendrick drops a loosie—that was what this was like, but without the help of social media and blogs.
The most obvious choices would have been Redman and Keith Murray, from the Def Squad; Redman had dropped his sophomore album Dare Iz A Darkside in November of 1994, and on tracks like "Cosmic Slop," featuring Keith Murray, there were lines like "I'm like an eclipse on a Friday the 13th/With black cats ands Halley's Comet, blazing blunts in my driveway." It seemed like a natural fit, and was discussed as such. But when we spoke with P about "Infamous Prelude" in 2011, he told a different story.
Explaining how the interlude even came about, P said they "were just in the studio all night, bugging out. I just wrote some shit real quick to get it off my chest." He felt he had to let people know what time it was after Juvenile Hell didn't perform the way the group wanted. He then said, "[Keith Murray thought] it was about him. [Laughs.] I don’t know how you figure I was talking about you. That shit is just crazy to me. There was a few people that was talking [about space shit] back then. I guess if the shoe fits, you wear it, so I guess I am talking about you."
That's P in a nutshell when it came to beef, though, right? This is the man who took on everyone from Jay Z to 2Pac. Any beef, he was down, even if he wasn't really directing his words to you.
So, was this rap's first subliminal? It's hard to say. There was talk of Rakim and Big Daddy Kane having bars for each other back in the day, but it's also easy to dismiss some of those subs when you think about how often rappers would spit at imaginary targets. On "The Infamous Prelude," I remember hearing that and, being the Redman fan that I was (#Jersey all day, everyday), I just knew these words were aimed at the Def Squad. Not having any Rap Friends to discuss this with? I had to wallow in a weird world where one of my old favs was potentially being dissed by some of my new favs, in a beef that turned into actual hands being thrown.
If only I'd had a Twitter-like service in '95....