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The Safe Is Cracked

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Album Review

Throughout their 15-year-plus career, Mobb Deep has seen their share of ups and downs. After their sophomore effort, the now-classic the Infamous set the bar for unflinching, reality-based East Coast thug rap, and their follow-up, Hell on Earth, upped the ante for bloody, gunplay-driven imagery to almost cartoonish proportions, the duo fell into a cut-and-paste routine delivering a handful of more-of-the-same efforts (see "Murda Musik," "Infamy"). Then came the notorious 2001 Summer Jam festival when the Mobb's street cred suffered a blow thanks to Jay-Z's revelation of a certain photograph that likened Prodigy to the African-American equivalent of Billy Elliot. For finicky hardcore rap fans whose concept of respect almost always corresponds to "realness," Prodigy's (and Havoc's, by extension) thug image was called into question. Despite the duo's consistently murky and ever-more violent output since then, the Mobb Deep brand never fully recover from Jigga's suckerpunch, even after a short-lived affiliation with 50 Cent and G-Unit — arguably the East Coast outfit which most projects uncontested "realness." Their eighth full-length effort, The Safe Is Cracked, represents a symbolic return to Mobb Deep's underground roots. Released on West Coast indie label Siccness (best known for putting out the ultraviolent, horrorcore of Brotha Lynch Hung) with nearly zero promotional support behind it, The Safe Is Cracked is a collection of grimy, street-level cuts, heavy on lyrical nihilism and spine-tingling production— the sort that earned Mobb Deep the respect of hardcore hip-hop heads way back when— and bookended by two audio excerpts from a DJ Envy telephone interview with an incarcerated Prodigy (just to add an extra touch of "realness"). Still, it's not an official studio LP; the tracks included stretch back as far as 2004, a few sound like they were intended for the Blood Money track list (the piano plink beat of "Yea Yea Yea," for instance, feels like it was tailor-made for 50's flow) but, in contrast to that mediocre Interscope release, there's nothing here that could be considered radio-friendly. Always known for antagonistic lyrics, Prodigy pushes his screw-faced skulking even further, explaining why he refuses to be cheerful on the haunting album-opener "Heat"— "I don't even tease myself no more/Or put smiles on my face, man that s**t is all wrong." Havoc and Prodigy then move into downright silly territory on "Watch Ya Self" as they rock over a shlocky Count Dracula organ loop, warning their enemies, "Watch yourself/Your life could end up like a horror flick" without a hint of self-irony. Elsewhere, paranoia and mistrust abound with Prodigy musing, "They wanna put us in boxes, them coffins and them jail cells/They wanna catch us on tape snitchin' on ourselves" on "Can't Win 4 Losin'," and spitting over the rowdy, electric-guitar-driven beat of "Get Out Our Way" with authority, "Y'all die coward's deaths/We go down in infamy/They shook of us/They wanna do us like 'Pac, Biggie." The most compelling songs here— "M.O.B.," "Position" and "You Wanna See Me Fall" — are built on vintage soul samples, in which Havoc composes melodic beatscapes which nicely offset his and Prodigy's hard-edged vocals and brutal subject matter. All things considered, The Safe Is Cracked is far from a classic but it proves that one of QB's finest acts still has plenty of fire.


Formed: 1992 in Queens, New York, NY

Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

As golden age rap suddenly gave way to West Coast gangsta in the early '90s, an East Coast variety of hardcore rap arose in turn, with Mobb Deep initially standing tall as one of New York's hardcore figureheads on the basis of their epochal album The Infamous. Released in April 1995, The Infamous was released almost exactly a year after Illmatic and about a half year after Ready to Die -- the debut masterpieces of Nas and the Notorious B.I.G., respectively, both albums likewise of momentous significance...
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