Rap fans have been blessed to have witnessed some incredible dynamic duos in the art form, but few have managed to build a legacy as strong as Mobb Deep’s. Comprised of Prodigy and Havoc, the duo, which once performed under the name Poetical Prophets, released their debut album, Juvenile Hell, in 1993. After making the name change to Mobb Deep, they really came into their own on The Infamous — the group’s sophomore album which debuted in 1995. Earning a gold plaque and establishing themselves as rap’s newest purveyors of hardcore, Mobb Deep returned with their anticipated third album, Hell on Earth, in fall of 1996.
Led by the promotional single “Drop a Gem on ’em,” which doubled as a diss track aimed at 2Pac, and the album’s official lead-single, “Hell on Earth (Front Lines),” the LP debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 and earned the group their second consecutive gold plaque. While devoid of a hit single, Hell on Earth was critically acclaimed and has gone on to be deemed a certified classic and is often mentioned with the same reverence as The Infamous.
At the time of Hell on Earth’s release, rap was packed with premier wordsmiths, including The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Jay Z, and Raekwon. Prodigy’s glowing performance throughout the album’s 14 tracks elevated him into the conversation of being one of the best pound for pound lyricists in rap. Havoc, who also showed and proved with a flurry of potent bars, also upped his stock as a producer with Hell on Earth, refining his sound and crafting some of rap’s most beloved instrumentals.
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Hell on Earth, VIBE gave the album a few spins and picked out its best songs, from worst to first. Where does your favorite stack up?
The third track on Hell on Earth, “Bloodsport,” keeps up the pace set by the album’s first two selections and is a serviceable offering, but is ultimately one of its most pedestrian cuts, hence its ranking as its least explosive song.
13. Animal Instinct
As the opening salvo on Hell on Earth, “Animal Instinct” instantly sets the tone for the rest of the proceedings. Featuring guest appearances from Big Twins and Ty Nitty, this cut is a family affair that sees the five MC’s featuring all pummeling the Havoc produced track. Powered by samples of The Trammps’ “That’s Where the Happy People Go” and Melvin Bliss’ 1973 cut “Synthetic Substitution,” “Animal Instinct” may fall on the bottom half of this list, but its ranking is only indicative of the overwhelming amount of firepower on Hell on Earth.
12. More Trife Life
Havoc revisits the Infamous classic “Trife Life” on Hell on Earth with “More Trife Life” and displays his knack for storytelling. Riding solo on this outing, Havoc is contacted out of the blue by an old flame, is lured to her home with the prospect of sex, but is ambushed and held for ransom. A cautionary tale sure to make you think twice about that late-night creep in a sketchy area, “More Trife Life” doesn’t quite match up with the original, but remains an entertaining listen.
11. Apostle’s Warning
“Apostle’s Warning,” the final track on Hell on Earth, ends in worthy fashion, with Prodigy and Havoc doing their bidding over a scorching beat, powered by a sample of Micheal Jackson’s 1972 cut “People Make The World Go Round.”
10. Still Shining
“To all my niggas uncivilized to civilized,” Prodigy declares on the Hell on Earth banger “Still Shinin’,” which sees him going completely beserk over the crisp drums and snare provided by Havoc. While Havoc also tosses in a couple of rhymes, Prodigy’s rhyme attack is dominant and filled with crass quotables and thuggery. Containing a sample of “Hospital Prelude of Love Theme” by Willie Hutch, “Still Shinin'” continues Hell on Earth’s hot streak of undeniable tunes.
9. “Get Dealt With”
One of the more grimy selections on Hell on Earth is “Get Dealt With,” a crackling affair on which Havoc and Prodigy both come correct while taking turns on the mic. Setting it off with a gruesome opening verse, Prodigy gives added proof of his standing one of the premier lyricists of the mid ’90s, while Havoc puts together one of the more distinct soundbeds on the album and plays shotgun lyrically with a few brutal bars of his own.
8. Nightime Vulture’s
One of Mobb Deep’s most frequent collaborators is Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon, who joins his affiliates on the Hell on Earth track “Nightime Vultures.” While Havoc plays the hook, Prodigy and The Chef each deliver qualities sets of couplets, with P opting to throw around idle threats, and Raekwon giving an account of a run-in with an undercover cop. “Nighttime Vultures” is another collaborative effort between the Mobb and the Wu that serves as an example of their undeniable chemistry.
Havoc and Prodigy link with Shaolin connect Method Man on “Extortion,” one of the more upbeat selections on Hell on Earth. Produced by Havoc, the track features a sample of the Jackson 5’s “Can You Remember,” and more subdued snares in comparison to many of the other compositions on the album. While Prodigy and Havoc turn in a worthy set of verses in their own right, Method Man walks away with the top honors, with one-liners like “young, black and don’t give a fuck if the next crew gets the scissor” resonating as some of the albums more memorable bars.
6. “Give It Up Fast”
After including numerous posse cuts featuring some of their fellow rising New York MC’s on The Infamous, Mobb Deep made sure to include a few high-powered collaboration on their follow up, “Give It Up Fast” among them. Featuring guest verses by Nas and Big Noyd, “Give It Up Fast” is led off with a vivid 16 by Esco, who was fresh off the release of his sophomore album, It Was Written, which may account for a portion of his verse appearing in a freestyle released that same year. The remaining three Queens reps follow up with spectacular verses of their own, making “Give It Up Fast” a must-listen for connoisseurs of reality rap.
5. “Man Down”
Havoc and Prodigy enlist frequent collaborator Big Noyd for emphasis on “Man Down,” which is among Hell on Earth’s particularly hard-boiled cuts. Prodigy breaks open this jittery Havoc production with a homerun, stacking morbid quips on top of morbid quip before Havoc jumps in with a fiery verse of his own. Big Noyd closes out the proceedings, finishing with another stellar outing under his belt as “Man Down” rounds out the Hell on Earth’s Top 5.
4. “Can’t Get Enough Of It”
Shades of Mobb Deep’s first classic The Infamous come in the form of “Can’t Get Enough Of It,” a selection from Hell on Earth that is as refined as it is brooding. Havoc and Prodigy team up with General G for a little bit of no-frills lyricism, and each participant wows with impressive stanzas, particularly General G, now known as Illa Ghee who makes the most of his air-time with an efficient showing that makes for one of the better verses on the album. Samples of “Las Vegas Tango” by Gary Burton and “Pretty Tony’s Philosophy” from the 1973 blaxploitation film The Mack serve as the foundation of “Can’t Get Enough,” one which the three MC’s utilize effectively.
3. “GOD Pt. 3”
Havoc takes a samples of “Tony’s Theme” from the classic 1983 flick Scarface and reworks it into “G.O.D., Pt. 3,” one of the superior compositions on Hell on Earth. Beginning with an unforgettable interlude in which Havoc and P shoot at a rival from a project window, “G.O.D., Pt. 3” includes a single verse from each, but that’s all of the time they need to get their point across. Prodigy performs admirably and comes through with a flurry of quotables, but gets one-upped by his crimey Havoc, who contributes a highlight-reel worthy verse that obliterates whatever was left of the track, stamping “G.O.D., Pt. 3” as an essential Mobb Deep offering.
2. “Drop A Gem On Em”
After taking umbrage with the accompanying video to Dogg Pound’s 1995 single, “New York, New York,” Mobb Deep returned fire alongside Capone N’ Noreaga and Tragedy Khadafi on the diss track “L.A. L.A.,” putting them in conflict with many rappers on the west coast. Tupac, who also took umbrage with Prodigy’s claim “Thug Life, we still living it,” would take aim at the duo on his infamous 1996 diss track “Hit Em’ Up,” going as far as referencing Prodigy’s sickle cell anemia. The duo would get retribution with the song “Drop a Gem on ’em,” a single released in promotion of Hell on Earth prior to the album hitting shelves. While the diss would coincide with 2Pac’s untimely death, altering its impact, “Drop a Gem on ’em” has gone done as one of Mobb Deep’s most potent songs and sees the two Queensbidge reps taking no prisoners.
1. “Hell on Earth”
“I ain’t gotta tell you, it’s right in front of ya eyes,” Havoc states on Hell on Earth’s title-track, which is similar to how we’d sum up naming it Mobb Deep’s the album’s definitive selection. Depicting everyday life in the projects, Havoc and Prodigy each rise to the occasion and lay down some of the best rhymes of their careers, taking turns by upping the ante verse by verse. Released as the lead-single from Mobb Deep’s much-anticipated third album, “Hell on Earth (Front Lines)” wouldn’t do much for the Mobb in terms of radio play, but was everything their die-hard fans were clamoring for and continues to stand as one of the duo’s finer heaters to date.