Welcome back to the latest edition of Flashback Friday Flop, a weekly feature in which I examine a hip-hop album from years ago that was considered a flop, either critically or commercially or both, when it was released and see if it has gotten better – or worse – over time.
This week: Mobb Deep’s Blood Money (2006)
Hip-Hop was experiencing another golden age in the mid-1990s. Classic albums were coming from all over the map. The south had Scarface, UGK, Goodie Mob, and Outkast. The west had Death Row, Ras Kass, and DJ Quik. And in New York, there was The Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, and Mobb Deep.
After their disappointing debut, Juvenile Hell, the Mobb regrouped and, focusing on the scary and chaotic world of Queensbridge, released The Infamous, an undisputed classic and one of the best rap albums of 1995. They followed it up with two more classics, 1996’s Hell on Earth and their most successful work, 1999’s Murda Muzik, filling their tales of gritty street life with philosophical questions and paranoid confessions.
The group never fully recovered after Jay-Z’s scathing attack on Prodigy, most notably the infamous “twinkle toes” line, in 2001. Their next album, Infamy was a fine effort, one that actually sounds a little better today, but it was clear P had been rattled, his flow and delivery off-kilter, his lyrics full of hollow boasts and lacking any real confidence. In truth, he has never been the same since then.
After another ho-hum effort, 2004’s Amerikaz Nightmare, it appeared that Mobb’s best days were in the past. At the same time, 50 Cent was expanding his G-Unit roster. In addition to Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo, M.O.P. and Mase were signed to the label.
As were Mobb Deep. Their first act came in the form of a feature on 50’s “Outta Control” [Remix], which peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100, and raised hopes for a full-length album.
Their first and only G-Unit release, Blood Money, came in 2006. It tied Murda Muzik for Mobb’s highest entry on the Billboard 200 at number three, but unlike that album, which would eventually earn the group a platinum plaque, it faded quickly and the group soon left the label.
After a decade, how does it hold up?
Blood Money is an album at the center of a tug-of-war of styles and sounds: Mobb Deep’s dark, brooding claustrophobia and G-Unit’s booming, oversized arrogance. Havoc produces almost half of the songs on the album and he does an admirable job of mixing the two disparate vibes, but all but one appear in the first half of the project, giving it an unevenness and overall, the sinister backdrops with which they had been legendary were replaced by bombastic beats and the songs have a polish and gloss that was a trademark of all mid-2000s G-Unit releases. It sounds very much like a Mobb Deep album in a few parts, but sounds nothing like a Mobb Deep album most of the time.
Intended to be a more upbeat than their previous works, the album is littered of talk about disposable women, piles of cash, and balling out, the content made all the more obvious from the song titles – “Give It to Me,” “In Love with the Moulah,” “Backstage Pass” – and the features – 50 is on several songs and his G-Unit soldiers Tony Yayo, Lloyd Banks, and Young Buck all pop up at least once. The bragging is so heavy that the duo even anoint themselves as “Hollywood Hav” and “Las Vegas P,” which is a shocking change for the grimy kids from 41st Side. Did their boys get nicknames too, like Albuquerque Alchemist and Nantucket Noyd?
While it’s important for artists to evolve and branch out, challenging themselves and their fans in the process, it’s just as important to not blatantly ignore what you do best – and what your fans love – for the sake of commercial success. Who wants to hear Mobb Deep rapping on a song called “Have a Party” over a bouncy Fredwreck beat? It just doesn’t work.
The superficial approach results in several songs that are destined to be skipped forever, but unlike so many artists, Hav and P still infuse their big talk with honest moments of vulnerability and uncertainty. One of the things that made Prodigy one of the best rappers alive from 1995 – 1999 was his depth, his rage balanced by regret, his aggression offset by a helpless acceptance. This still occasionally peeks through on Blood Money. “Daydreamin'” finds them remembering being young kids and longing for material things and would have easily fit on Murda Muzik, “Speakin So Freely is a classic Havoc beat with a crackling sample that could have been from Hell on Earth, and “Put Em in Their Place” is one of the duo’s best songs since Murda Muzik.
“Pearly Gates” is the one song that delivers on the promise of a Mobb-50 collabo. Over an Exile-produced backdrop of gospel singing, 50 Cent pens a verse of life in the hood, but really shines on the chorus. Prodigy, meanwhile dedicates 16 bars to dissing Jesus and God, but much of it is censored, making it a waste. The fact that one of the album’s best songs is ruined tells you all you need to know about Blood Money.
Despite its bright spots, the merger of Queensbridge and G-Unit never really meshed. Just like Eminem overseeing a Slaughterhouse album, 50 Cent executive producing a Mobb Deep project works far better on paper than in reality.
It would take Havoc and Prodigy eight years to release their next album. In titling it The Infamous Mobb Deep, they were proving to everyone that the G-Unit experiment was over.
Previously in Flashback Friday Flop:
Tha Doggfather | Blood in My Eye | The Best of Both Worlds | Can-I-Bus | Beats, Rhymes and Life | Encore | Immobilarity | 14 Shots to the Dome | Forever | Christmas on Death Row | Double Up | The New Danger | A Better Tomorrow | Back from Hell | For All Seasons | Welcome to: Our House
Christopher Pierznik is the author of eight books, all of which can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, and many more. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.