Bad Boy, Mobb Deep, And The Endurance Of ’90s Rap Nostalgia

Bad Boy, Mobb Deep, And The Endurance Of ’90s Rap Nostalgia

In the Bad Boy era, I hated Bad Boy. I loved Biggie, and the rest of it was an abomination to me. It was the cartoonish glitz of the videos. It was the obviousness of the samples. It was all the R&B. It was Mase’s rapping-like-his-mouth-was-full-of-marshmallows delivery. It was Puff’s everybody-look-at-me dancing. It was the “Victory” video, where you couldn’t hear what sounded like a pretty cool song because Hype Williams kept drowning it out with explosions. It was the kid, at the summer camp where I worked, who spent an entire summer blasting “Mo Money Mo Problems” and “I’ll Be Missing You” — no other songs, just those two on repeat — for months straight. It was the way No Way Out overshadowed Wu-Tang Forever to the point where I felt lucky if I heard “Triumph” on the radio. And yet, when I saw the setlist for the first big Brooklyn Bad Boy reunion show on Saturday morning, I felt a blast of nostalgia so strong that I had to spend the last few days playing practically nothing but the label’s greatest hits. Now, almost 20 years after the label’s heyday, I love Bad Boy. It happens.

Can we take a minute for how incredible that show looks? Puff and Nas doing “Hate Me Now” in enormous furs? Faith Evans’ “Love Like This” into Black Rob’s “Whoa”? 112 and Total and Carl Thomas and Faith all doing mini-sets lined up in a row? Usher and Puff doing “U Don’t Have To Call”? The Diddy-Dirty Money song that sampled “Where I’m From” going directly into Jay Z doing “Where I’m From”? Lil Kim deep cuts? Fuck, man. Can you imagine how joyous that whole show was — an arena full of New Yorkers all blissing out, remembering the time when their city indisputably ran rap? It looks amazing. Even if I couldn’t be there, I’m glad it happened.

Once upon a time, older rappers would grouse about how fickle and unsupportive rap audiences were. Rock fans would turn out to see the Rolling Stones or Aerosmith, but groups like Run-D.M.C. were playing clubs, not hockey arenas, and they couldn’t get arrested on the radio. That’s changed. Jay Z, two decades into his career, can sell out any venue he deigns to play, even after Lemonade. There’s a thriving rap nostalgia revue tour circuit. In Richmond, an hour away from me, Mystikal and Juvenile are headlining a Legends Of Southern Hip-Hop show this fall, and I can’t wait.

That first Bad Boy show sold out instantly, and now it’s a full tour. Puff seems to have the whole formula figured out better than most. There are current hits in there: “Finna Get Loose,” “You Could Be My Lover,” a whole bathroom-break French Montana set. But for the most part, it’s a salute to the moment when Puff and his crew ran the world. It’s an elaborate production, meticulously planned-out, with a whole lot of guests and big moments, and it probably doesn’t hurt that there’s dancing. The whole engine that drove that Bad Boy moment — celebratory flash in the face of sadness and loss — is still very much intact, especially with the shows pitched as Biggie Smalls birthday celebrations. (There’s a great MTV News piece about that here.) The show, from what I can tell, is not that different from the No Way Out tour that hit the same arenas 19 years ago, right down to Bad Boy allies Jay-Z and Busta Rhymes getting their own showcase moments. And there’s no reason other aging rappers can’t do something similar, hitting the same notes. Imagine Jay bringing along a dusty-ass DMX, Method Man, Redman, and Ja Rule, and revisiting the Hard Knock Life tour. Imagine the Ruff Ryders and the Cash Money Millionaires reassembling for another tour. Imagine the No Limit Soldiers getting back together, getting the tank out of storage.

If Mobb Deep had stepped on the Barclays Center stage on Friday night, they would’ve been right at home, even if their murky menace was miles removed from Bad Boy’s melodic dazzle. During her mini-set, Lil Kim even did her verse from Mobb Deep’s “Quiet Storm” remix. And the duo have been touring clubs for the past few years, even after they spent some weeks beefing with each other when Prodigy got out of prison a few years ago. If you want to pay to see Prodigy and Havoc do “Shook Ones, Pt. 2″ or “Drop A Gem On ‘Em,” you will probably get a chance to do it. But the members of Mobb Deep are still making new music, and sometimes that music goes in radical, strange directions.

On Friday, the same day as that Bad Boy show, Havoc and frequent Mobb Deep collaborator Prodigy released The Silent Partner, a collaborative indie album that rides a ghostly, atmospheric boom-bap vibe similar to the stuff that indie heroes like Ka and Roc Marciano have been making lately. In 2007, just as Mobb Deep’s disastrous G-Unit stint was coming to an end, Prodigy and Alchemist teamed up for a truly great indie release called Return Of The Mac, a hard, sinister crawl full of unlicensed soul samples and icy-cold death threats. The Silent Partner isn’t on the same level as that, mostly because Havoc isn’t the rapper that Prodigy is. But it’s still a heady, potent blend. The new album’s only guest appearances come from fellow ’90s veterans: Prodigy, Method Man, Cormega. All of these guys could be all over the nostalgia circuit, celebrating their younger selves the same way Puffy is doing right now. Sometimes, all of them are. But on The Silent Partner, they’ve come up with something grim and heavy and new — something that keeps with the spirit of their old music and still works on its own terms. It’s not a great album, but it’s a good one. And it’s also another approach, one just as valid. The rappers of the ’90s have both approaches available to them, and that’s a great thing. Classic rap has finally reached the point where it functions just like classic rock, and suddenly I’m looking forward to seeing the Young Money reunion tour in 15 years.


1. YG – “Why You Always Hatin'” (Feat. Drake & Kamaiyah)
I love everything about this. I love that skeletal West Coast slap. I love Kamaiyah getting the biggest look of her short career, getting to do the hook on a track with a Drake verse. I love Drake on West Coast beats. And I love YG sounding, once again, absolutely ready. I hope I get to hear this banging out of open windows all summer.

2. Joey Purp – “GIRLS @” (Feat. Chance The Rapper)
I like this Joey Purp kid, but right now, Chance can do no wrong. “Where all the girls with the book in the club? / With the reading glasses on, getting shook in the club / Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates, coming SpottieOttieDope, with the wild Little Dragon hair look in the club?” Who can compete with that?

3. Charge It To The Game – “Bite Me” (Feat. Hemlock Ernst)
Samuel T. Herring’s verse on this is the Wilt Chamberlain 100-point game of rap verses from indie rock singers. It’s the best ever, and it’s hard to imagine that anyone will ever do better. Everyone else is just playing to beat Kobe’s 81. (And no, I don’t know who Kobe is in this situation. Most indie rock singers are too smart to try rapping. Herring just happens to be mind-bogglingly good at it.)

4. Young Dro – “Water”
Young Dro and Zaytoven just dropped Boot Me Up, a collaborative mixtape. I wish these two had made a tape together in 2008. I’ll still take it. Dro is still having more fun rapping than almost anyone on the face of the planet.

5. Mozzy – “Pain Killers” (Feat. E Mozzy)
There will always be room on this list for understated, unreconstructed knucklehead rap.


@gapkids fuck you – beef it is

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