Still stuck off the realness

by Ryan Snyder

As tempting as it might have been for Mobb Deep to take the album anniversary-oriented tour low road for their reunion in time to observe 20 years as one of hip hop’s hardest, and greatest, duos ever, too much would have been left on the table. Their 1993 debut Juvenile Hell has aged considerably well for lifelong friends Prodigy and Havoc as their art-school pedigree gets farther in the rearview, but their following three releases — 1995’s The Infamous, 1996’s Hell On Earth and 1999’s Murda Muzik — remain the strongest run of work by any hip-hop act in the ’90s, and it was all on the table last Wednesday night at Greene Street Club.

Though reports of the initial dates of their anniversary tour painted a picture of a duo still a little on the outs after two years of bad blood — i.e. Prodigy carrying the show while his partner Havoc was stuck in a malaise during Northeastern gigs — the terms were closer to even. Both rappers offered cuts from their most recent solo releases — Havoc with “Gone” from his so-so, drum-light release 13 and Prodigy bringing his dead-eyed Alchemist-produced heater “Give ‘Em Hell” — but the back-loaded set saved the best for the end, even if they weren’t necessarily delivered with the most enthusiasm.

Though it’s next to impossible to deliver a subpar set with a catalog as painstakingly great as the upper echelon of Mobb Deep’s is, the bar was considerably low after a salvo of openers that ranged from mediocre to outright awful. Charlotte’s Biggie Whit was begging to be dismissed with his “Muggle” sweatshirt and homemade chain, and his mic-dropping cemented it. Likewise with unbilled Myrtle Beach rapper Zach Kilo, whose Mayer Hawthorne-meets-Michael Wallstreet shtick was equally out of place in front of a crowd who came for one of the gulliest groups in hip-hop. Shelby’s Lyrical Talent at least sounded competent by comparison, though his own mic security issues were his undoing The professionals were predictably late to the stage, and Havoc seemed to peak midway through the set with a gritty, emotional “Temperature Rising,” through granted, he likely taps the reserves for that homage to his late brother. If Havoc’s role as the ice to Prodigy’s fire has a way of downplaying his skills, his overcorrection at times blurred the tonal distinctions on the mixtape classic “It’s A Craze,” but spot-on takes on “Quiet Storm” and an unidentified new song show that rebuilding their chemistry is a work in progress that’s well worth it.