Time has not been kind to Mobb Deep. It’s been plenty kind to their music, to be sure—their second album, 1995’s The Infamous, is a strong choice for the best gangster-rap album of the 90s, and the follow-up, 1996’s Hell on Earth, is almost as good. On top of that, while their body of work isn’t consistent fried gold, they’ve never really fallen off, at least not on record. Their low point, 2006 Blood Money, still has supporters and isn’t anywhere near as bad as, say, Ghostface Killah’s Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City. Ghostface, however, still has more credibility than Mobb Deep, and that’s because he’s been doing more to build goodwill than Mobb Deep have ever done. Keep in mind The Infamous are one of the many targets Tupac lit up on “Hit Em Up”, and Mobb Deep’s insistence on getting wrapped up in dumb feuds (including getting wrecked by Jay-Z with “Takeover”) meant that their signing with G-Unit Records was regarded as an act of charity by 50 Cent. Whether or not they deserved to be regarded this way, it’s hard to argue that, by 2007, they weren’t getting lapped by the kids that grew up listening to them.
It’s in this light that the near-universal praise of Return of the Mac, the sorta-second solo album of Mobb Deep’s Prodigy that is usually credited to both him and album producer The Alchemist, makes perfect sense. 2007 wasn’t a particularly great year for hip-hop, too, so when a beloved hip-hop vet dropped an album out of nowhere that wasn’t complete ass, much of the blogosphere jumped at the chance to praise and deify it for a week. Goodness gracious, someone is still making this kind of hip-hop today? Well, isn’t that a novelty and then some! The problem now is that we’re not living in 2007 and the novelty of such a thing has worn off. We’re living in a time where anyone who could listen to Return of the Mac could just as easily listen to the albums this album was meant to be a throwback to, meaning that the only way to justify listening to this album today would involve it being at least as good as what came before it.
To that end: this needed to be a hell of a lot better than it is to stand by itself. The Alchemist isn’t a spectacular producer, but his work here is solid, making B+ work out of a consistent formula of sturdy drums and soul samples. His highlight here is “Mac 10 Handle”, in which he makes hypnotism sound easy. Prodigy, on the other hand, can’t hit his mark. He spends the album suggesting he’s laying his sordid tales bare in a darkroom you somehow wandered into, but he lands on unfocused and boring. The hook for “Mac 10 Handle” begins with “I sit alone in my dirty ass room staring at candles, high on drugs”. It is some of Prodigy’s best work here.
I know a lot of people still enjoy this album, and I understand that perspective. For me, unfortunately, getting through this one on multiple listens this past week has been more work than fun, and while crack-rap isn’t always supposed to be fun, it isn’t supposed to be this difficult to get through. If you’re a diehard Mobb Deep fan and haven’t given this a chance, you might get something out of it, but I struggle to recommend this to anyone else, especially over other projects Prodigy had a hand in.VERDICT: DISOWN
Read past editions of Own It or Disown It.