Happy 20th Anniversary to Mobb Deep’s fourth studio album Murda Muzik, originally released August 17, 1999.
Kejuan “Havoc” Muchita and the late Albert “Prodigy” Johnson released a ton of great hip-hop throughout the 1990s as Mobb Deep. After a mediocre start with 1993’s debut LP Juvenile Hell the group dropped the classic The Infamous in 1995, followed by the excellent Hell on Earth in 1996. Murda Muzik came three years later in 1999. Commercial rap music had changed a lot by then, but Mobb Deep was able to evolve with the times and score the biggest-selling album of their career without compromising their legacy.
As a group, Mobb Deep represented for Queens harder than most, giving shine to members of their extended crew and collaborating with other legends from the borough. That latter category includes Kool G Rap who joins Havoc and Prodigy for some choice lines on the rugged, stripped down “The Realest.” More specifically, Mobb Deep rep the Queensbridge housing projects from which a ridiculous amount of hip-hop talent has emerged, and they continue to build with local artists on Murda Muzik, including the perennially-underrated Cormega on “What’s Ya Poison,” Big Noyd on “Streets Raised Me,” and Infamous Mobb on “Thug Muzik.”
“It’s Mine” continued Mobb Deep’s fruitful but sometimes contemptuous partnership with Queensbridge’s most famous son of all. Over a sample of “Tony’s Theme” from the Scarface soundtrack—a song Havoc previously used on “G.O.D. Pt. III” from Hell on Earth, albeit this time more subtly—Nas is in fine form with a fast-paced, violent verse that somehow still manages to get in a reference to Barbra Streisand. It was the last song they recorded together before Prodigy and Nas engaged in a petty beef. They later reconciled and Nas recently paid tribute to the fallen Prodigy on the aptly named “QueensBridge Politics” from his The Lost Tapes II compilation.
Outside of artists from Queensbridge, “Can’t Fuck With It” sees Raekwon carry on a tradition of quality features on Mobb Deep albums, having previously appeared on both The Infamous and Hell on Earth. There’s also a guest feature on “Where Ya From” by an artist you wouldn’t expect to find on an east coast hip-hop record: Memphis rapper 8Ball. It works though, and arguably helped set off the trend of New York artists working with southern rappers that peaked a year later when Jay-Z hooked up with UGK for “Big Pimpin’.”
That said, it’s the Murda Muzik tracks without guest features where you’ll find the album’s strongest fare. Havoc and Prodigy had a chemistry strong enough not to need any support, and it’s a shame Murda Muzik has such a feature-packed tracklist. Highlights from the Mobb Deep-only songs include “Allustrious,” “Adrenaline” and “Where Ya Heart At,” all of them fine demonstrations of why Prodigy is revered in life and death as one of hip-hop’s most skillful emcees.
The commercial success of Murda Muzik was helped by the hit single “Quiet Storm.” Here, Havoc masterfully lifts the bassline from Melle Mel’s “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” to create a pulsating beat over which Prodigy again spits some of his greatest lines. The remix is equally good and features one of Lil Kim’s hardest guest appearances before the new millennium took her career in a different direction.
Elsewhere on the production side, Murda Muzik has Havoc provide space for contributions from outside producers. Juvenile Hell had beats from DJ Premier and Large Professor, but other than a few Q-Tip produced tracks on The Infamous, Havoc had produced almost all of the group’s music himself, with input from Prodigy. Fortunately, the producer Havoc allowed into Mobb Deep’s inner circle for Murda Muzik was Alchemist, who by 1999 was emerging as a major new talent bubbling up from the underground. Alchemist’s two tracks on Murda Muzik (“Thug Muzik” and “The Realest”) give the album extra crunch while still sitting nicely among Havoc’s own creations. Alchemist has continued working with Mobb Deep for many years since Murda Muzik, producing songs for group albums and solo projects with both Prodigy and Havoc.
Mobb Deep released a large body of albums, mixtapes, EPs and compilations between Murda Muzik and Prodigy’s death, sometimes to the saturation point and at risk of losing the high regard they were held in during the ‘90s. Along the way they survived beefs with some of rap’s most popular stars, beef with each other, and various record label f**kery. Prodigy’s death means we’ll never again get genuine new music from Mobb Deep, but they had one of the greatest runs in rap music and Murda Muzik is among their finest records.