Mobb Deep is one of the most successful rap acts, with millions of records sold, including tracks like "Survival of the Fittest,'" "Shook Ones Part II," and "Quiet Storm RMX." But the duo's unity has been tested numerous times, including a feud that spilled over onto Twitter and caused a brief split back in 2012. Prodigy and Havoc have patched things up and reunited for the 20th anniversary of breakout album "Juvenile Hell" (1993) and the upcoming release of their first studio album in eight years, "The Infamous Mobb Deep," on April 1. Mobb Deep is excited to debut new material at nine upcoming SXSW shows.
What will Mobb Deep be doing at SXSW?
We're down there from the 13th to the 16th, and we're doing about nine shows within that time. We're doing a show for the San Antonio Spurs and some other shows -- so much stuff that I can't even think about right now.
Will you be debuting music from the new album?
Yeah, we'll be performing new music and some of my solo songs off "Albert Einstein."
What can you tell us about "The Infamous Mobb Deep" album?
Well, the new Mobb Deep album is our first self-titled album and our first album in eight years. Unfortunately I had to go to jail in 2008 and did three years. Since I've been back, I've been setting up the company Infamous Records and keeping everything independent and making sure we have total ownership of our intellectual property.
It's been over 20 years since your groundbreaking album "Juvenile Hell" and almost that long since "The Infamous" (1995) was released. What are your fondest memories around making those two albums?
Man, the fondest memories are being in the studio with all my friends and just being excited about making a career for ourselves and doing something that we love. We were making great music and playing it for our friends and going to the projects and playing it on the block for people. Everybody would go crazy listening to our songs on a little boom box. We knew we had something, but we didn't know we were going to make such an impact on people's lives and on the music industry. We knew we had something that meant something to us.
"Shook Ones Part II" is one of your most enduring hits. Did you have any idea that it would become such a definitive track?
No, I didn't. We would make the songs, and a lot of our friends would be there and would go crazy -- like "Yo, this shit is crazy, son." It would inspire us and make us think, "Wow, we did something right." Then we'd play it on the block, and they had the same reaction, like "Y'all motherf**kers hit it this time. Y'all about to blow up with this song." We still weren't sure. We knew everyone we knew -- and in our neighborhood -- were crazy about the song. But when we went on tour with "Shook Ones," one of the first stops was Paris. A lot of the fans in Paris only spoke French, but they'd come backstage and take pictures with us and be able to recite "Shook Ones" word for word. But they couldn't have a conversation with you in English. That blew our minds and made us realize that this music is powerful.
Flash back to Mobb Deep's "Shook Ones Part II" video:
You made a career rapping about the struggle at a time when hip hop was becoming more crystal than pistol. Did you think, at the time, that it had lost its edge?
Everybody doesn't make the same music. Some people talk about the good times, the party, and the fashion; and other people got more of the struggle in their music, like Mobb Deep. As long as you got a balance and are in touch with reality, there's nothing wrong with the nice things and making songs about having a good time. I just say, "Have fun with it and be yourself."
Mobb Deep really fueled the flames of the infamous East Coast/West Coast rivalry by beefing with Tupac Shakur and Snoop Lion over rap tracks. Did you ever feel physically unsafe during that turbulent time?
Definitely, there was a time when in the middle of all of that that we didn't feel safe. But it didn't stop us from doing what we had to do. We had the same attitude that Biggie Smalls had. It didn't stop Biggie from going to California and showing love and promoting his music and seeing his fans in California. Even though there were rap feuds going on, there were still people in California that loved Biggie Smalls that loved Mobb Deep -- the same people that loved Tupac, in most cases. It was a weird moment in time to be beefing with people in Cali that we admired as artists.
But when we lost Tupac and Biggie, it made everyone stop and say, "What the f**k are we doing?" It was crazy. It was definitely a time where, yeah, our lives were definitely on the line. People were being murdered. People were being shot, beat up; there was a lot of shit happening. And we still had to do our jobs. We couldn't be scared to go to California and get onstage and perform and do certain things. You can never be scared. You just have to live your life, and if God chooses for you to die, you're going to die. You can't avoid it.
Why do you think that the Biggie and Tupac murders remain unsolved?
As far as Tupac and Biggie, I believe there's a lot of evidence that some of the police department was involved. Officers within the LAPD that moonlighted as security and had gang affiliations in the neighborhood they grew up in -- it's a fact that they were a part of these cases. It's been proven. Maybe the higher-ups didn't want that out there, so they shut the cases down. They didn't want to damage the reputation of the LAPD, to have something like that on their watch with their officers.
In 2008 you ended up on the wrong side of the law because of a weapon violation and had to serve three years in prison. What did you learn from the experience?
Being locked up for three years changed me the most as far as my patience. I was a very impatient individual growing up. I was very angry because of my sickle-cell anemia. I grew up in a lot of pain since I was born, so it turned me into an angry kind of kid; I was a mean kid. I would be mean to people and very impatient because of my success with Mobb Deep. We made a lot of money. I was being very cocky. And God works in mysterious ways. He locked my ass up for three years and made me think of everything I was missing and everything I was doing wrong and what I should have been doing right. So I learned a lot, man, about having patience, to stop being angry so fast, and that everything would be all right.
Prodigy, you and Havoc had a public feud recently that spilled onto Twitter. What was that about?
We always had our feuds throughout the years. Now with social media being so prevalent, it just spilled out into the public. Hav and me are pretty smart and know what we have as far as our career and our business and our friendship; we know that what we got is too important to throw away. We feed our families, and we create jobs for people. Plus, that's my friend from high school. We did a lot together, we changed the course of hip-hop, so we'd never throw that away. We know what we got; we're not stupid. But it spilled out to the public and confused them. But a lot of it is none of these people's business. It's personal shit between Hav and me where we get into business arguments and out of anger say shit we don't mean.
Going forward, do you think you'll keep your bickering private?
Yeah, that would be a wise decision. Word!
Do you and Hav relate to the newer hip-hop stars like Drake and Kanye West?
Oh, hell yeah, especially Kanye. I can relate to Kanye's anger, to the rage inside his head. I identify with that shit immediately. But also Drake, too. I can identify with Drake's passion for writing and doing songs about relationships and living that good life and having fun with it. I can relate to both sides. But Kanye more so, because I've had so much pain in my life and was an angry kid growing up, so I can relate to his anger and where he's coming from. Even though he might go overboard sometimes, so what?
In the Mobb Deep track "Go Head" there's the line: "I'm like Pro Tools, come at me sideways." Is that your preferred beat-creation software?
Hav handles most of the production on the albums. We use Pro Tools. We were the first hip-hop group to use Pro Tools, way ahead of the game. Around '97 or '98 we started using it. We saw the whole game change from the technology we used to use, like tapes and reels and all that dinosaur machinery that doesn't exist anymore and that took up mad space in the studio, to now, where you don't need a big-ass track board. All you need today is a laptop or maybe a desktop, a sampler, a beat machine, and some speakers.
What are your favorite mobile apps?
1. Instagram for my social media to get the word out to Mobb Deep fans, and I can post pictures.
2. Another favorite of mine is my Kik Messenger, where you can talk to people and see when your messages have been read or delivered. You can tell if someone's ignoring you, like if they've read your shit but aren't hitting you back.
3. My Chase app, so I can do my online banking and watch my account on my phone. So if anyone tries to do credit card fraud, I get alerted immediately and can see what's going in and out of my account.
4. MapQuest -- I use that a lot to get around, especially if we're in different states and I need to find my way.
5. My Uber app for getting taxis in Manhattan.