MOBB DEEP The Infamous (Loud/RCA/BMG)

Packaged in the same kind of artwork-free minimalist black sleeve as the Raekwon album reviewed below, “The Infamous”, originally released in 1995, is New York duo Mobb Deep’s second long player. Their rapid ascendency in hip hop circles is confirmed by the guest list here, with Raekwon and Ghostface Killer of the Wu-Tang Clan, Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest and Nas appearing.

Although not clothed in quite as compelling a sonic signature as the contemporaneous work of the Wu-Tang Clan and affiliates, there’s still something darkly compelling about “The Infamous”. There’s a pervading atmosphere of minor key gloom that infests even the ostensibly more commercial soul and funk samples these songs are built upon. Havoc and Prodigy’s rapid fire raps hammer out storylines drawn from the eternal triangle of guns, drugs and money, products of a hard, harsh environment gripped in a state of permanent warfare where, as “Trife Life” records, even a romantic assignation has to be planned with military precision and a security force on both sides.               

As with “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…” this is exactly the kind of music that might be heard on the soundtrack of “The Wire”, but unlike that album it doesn’t benefit from a half-time second wind to lift it above a certain grinding repetitiousness. One for the genre specialists, undoubtedly, but an uncompromising work with no sweeteners to help induct the uninitiated.