Hell On Earth

Hell On Earth

Mobb Deep’s 1995 sophomore album The Infamous put the duo on the map. But it was 1996’s Hell On Earth that cemented them as part of the vanguard of New York City-style street rap. With Hell On Earth, partners Havoc and the late Prodigy do for Queensbridge “thug life” what Martin Scorsese did for the Italian-American mob in his films—giving us a picture of a violent, high-stakes way of life that’s as bleak as it is action-packed. The album’s opening track, “Animal Instinct,” features a remorseful refrain—“Tired of livin’ life this way/Crime pay, but for how long/’Til you reach your downfall”—that made it clear Mobb Deep's “diamonds and guns” lifestyle had consequences. It’s no coincidence that the haunting track “G.O.D., Pt. III” features a sample of “Tony's Theme” from Scarface—a movie that, much like Hell On Earth, focuses on the meteoric rise and tragic fall that serves as the center of so many crime stories. The cold, aggressive tone of Hell On Earth was inspired in part by real-life tragedies, as both members had lost close friends and family members in the mid-1990s. Adversity also came in the form of an unsolicited beef, with Mobb Deep being called out on 2Pac and the Outlawz’ incendiary “Hit ’Em Up”—a nasty diss track in which Pac pokes fun at Prodigy’s battle with sickle cell anemia. Mobb Deep retaliated with Hell On Earth’s flagrant “Drop A Gem On ’Em,” released as tensions between East Coast and West Coast artists were reaching a fever pitch. “Drop A Gem On ’Em” made the rounds on local mixtapes and radio shows as a promo single, leading up to the album’s release. Thankfully, the beef stayed on wax—but Pac would be killed in Las Vegas in the fall of 1996, before he and the group could make amends. Beyond the drama, Hell On Earth is defined by the sinister soundscapes created by Havoc—the album’s sole producer—and the quotable verses delivered by Prodigy, then at the peak of his powers. His rhymes on cuts like “Still Shinin’,” “Nighttime Vultures,” and the album’s title track put him in the conversation about who was the best rapper alive, alongside the likes of Nas and Biggie (JAY-Z wouldn’t enter the proverbial chat until a few years later). Appearances from fellow New York rap luminaries Nas, Raekwon, and Method Man—not to mention cameos from Mobb Deep’s own Infamous Mobb family—make Hell On Earth a perfect snapshot of 1990s thug-rap, from the duo who coined the phrase “shook ones.”

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