Photo courtesy of the artist
with Alchemist, Boldy James, Carnage the Executioner, and Tony Bones
Saturday, September 14
Prodigy and Havoc make up the renowned New York hardcore rap group Mobb Deep, and over their two-decade career, they've assembled some of the most respected street rap ever created. An appearance at Epic as part of their 20th Anniversary Tour held up that reputation.
The space dwarfed the amount of people in attendance, but these were ardent fans. It would be some time before Mobb Deep hit the stage, but people were satiated by DJ DMil spinning rap videos throughout the night. The set spanned eras but stuck to songs with interesting videos, some remixed with screens and beats blending into one another. Other than the tiresome rewinds and drops, it was a well-constructed DJ set. Thankfully so, because DMil wound up with more stage time than anyone.
Tony Bones hit the stage around 11, with a number of new tracks, highlighting a shift toward positive themes and more sung pieces. Clearly reared on grimy East Coast raps, Bones spit with the ferocity of a rap purist but didn't showcase his heavy earlier material as much to the mostly unfamiliar audience. There were supporters in tow, but these Epic shows make for tough crowds, ready with crossed arms for anyone they don't already know. Bones left with more appreciation than most I've seen in that same slot.
Carnage came on shortly afterward jumping immediately into a beatboxing routine that impressed an audience that had clearly never seen anything like this. There was a general look of awe on plenty of faces, especially when he began to loop in basslines and rap on top. Versions of familiar songs like Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" and Dead Prez's "Hip-Hop" got big reactions, but Carnage really grabbed attention when he pushed back cameramen hanging at the front of the stage so he could leap into the crowd and rap. A number of people pulled out cameras at this point, as Carnage ripped into each person in front of him with an intense energy. Carnage is someone who demands to be heard, respected, and feared, and he earned these from most with a tight set that showed the best of his abilities. Ending on the powerfully critical "Save My People" was ballsy but left the audience with some strong viewpoints delivered with impeccable skill.
To follow the no-bullshit purism of Carnage's onslaught with rapping over backing tracks didn't work in the next act Boldy James's favor, but the Detroit rapper held his own through some quality work. Assisted by beats from Alchemist, James did material from his upcoming debut album, My First Chemistry Set, and street concept songs like "Moochie" were strong indicators of how he connected with Mobb Deep for this tour. Still, it felt a little underwhelming in execution, and made me eager to see the headliners take the stage. They didn't do so until 1:30 a.m.
Dead Prez were initially billed but had to cancel due to flight issues, so instead there was just a giant block of nothing between Boldy James and Mobb Deep. DJ DMil returned and continued his routine but impatience was growing. People were still with them by the time Mobb Deep arrived, and they jumped into their signature "Shook Ones" before continuing a solid set of certified classics. The songs retain the rough-edged Queensbridge grit that built their legend. It was easy to see in their performance why this material connects so strongly, even after all these years. The raw immediacy, poetically violent imagery, and dark and dusty samples essentially defined hardcore street rap when Mobb Deep first made an impact, and their signature has aged well. Havoc and Prodigy still spit with mean power and still sell every gunclap and verbal threat. Havoc's microphone was lower than Prodigy's and was harder to hear but he rose to the challenge and hit every flow with a tight impact.
Rumors have been flying about the duo's issues with one another: After Prodigy's return from a three-year jail stint in 2011, Havoc's problems with alcohol began to catch up with him and the two had difficulty working together. I don't claim to keep up on these things, but there was no evidence of any in-group problems on Saturday, and they rapped as a tight unit. After Havoc got in some solo material from his latest record 13, Prodigy brought out Alchemist to rap some of their collective material. I was under the assumption Alchemist would get his own set, but instead he stuck around for the duration of the Mobb Deep set, sometimes rapping his own tracks but mostly acting as backup support.
With such a late start, the set was relatively short, pushing past bar close with threats of shutting off the microphones, but the infamous rappers continued strong and were clearly invested in putting on a good show. They did not disappoint, closing again with a version of "Shook Ones" that drew bigger crowd reactions. Whatever turmoil might be happening behind the scenes, Mobb Deep's set was one of the tighter and more unified sets I've witnessed from decades-old groups, and they continue to earn and hold the critical and fan respect they deserve.
Personal Bias: Despite my love of the group, I'm always skeptical that rappers this far along in the game will want or be able to hold up a quality performance. Mobb Deep's set assuaged fears and reminded me why they were such a big deal in the first place.
Overheard In The Crowd: Someone yelled "Get off the fucking stage!" to Carnage, who promptly responded with, "This is my motherfucking stage. I'm Carnage the Executioner, bitch. Ask about me!" Heckling ceased afterward.
The Crowd: Somewhat small, leaned older.
Eye for a Eye
Right Back At You
Give Up the Goods (Just Step)
G.O.D. Part III
Hell On Earth (Front Lines)
IMDKV [Prodigy & Alchemist]
Hold You Down [Alchemist & Prodigy]
Win or Lose
The Learning (Bum)
Outta Control (Remix)
Got It Twisted