Label: Loud/RCA/BMG Records

As the Wu-Tang Clan continued to define New York's terrordome soundscape, Mobb Deep's second album didn't mark a shift so much as an escalation. RZA's production was blue moonshine, but Havoc's drums could beat the brakes off a small planet. And Prodigy bests Ice Cube and maybe even Vinnie Paz for least sociable disposition in all of rap. No small feat in bleak-ass 1995.

 

Whereas Wu Tang's accounts were typically fantastical to the brink of absurdity, and Nas' ghetto impressions were relatively fleeting, Prodigy and Havoc were certified tour guides of the Queensbridge projects and "the 41st side of things."

 

As Mobb Deep's most decisively acclaimed album, The Infamous was also a career-defining risk. After their jazzy, old-school Juvenile Hell debut in 1993 failed to make noise, all hope rested with the second shot.

The Infamous is vignettes. Whereas Wu Tang's accounts were typically fantastical to the brink of absurdity, and Nas' ghetto impressions were relatively fleeting, Prodigy and Havoc were certified tour guides of the Queensbridge projects and "the 41st side of things." He and Havoc tend to ramble and compound in the best possible way—exponentially illustrative, doubling down on both setting and mood. Big Noyd's strenuous addition to "Give Up the Goods" artfully bolsters the album's hood populism, so laced with shout-outs to local cats with letters for names. Even the album's least intimidating components, the R&B-hooked "Temperature's Rising" and the Q-Tip-assisted "Drink Away the Pain,"  tempt clinical depression.

Havoc and Prodigy have confessed that they were historically weeded while laying most of these tracks. Lord knows if they'd been sober, maybe there'd be no "Shook Ones, Pt. II," and New York City would cease to exist. —Justin Charity