Death By Rap

Eightball, Raekwon and Nas guest.

Lord knows what Havoc and Prodigy have been doing since 1996, but the

sound of Murda Muzik tells us they certainly haven't been

listening to the evolving production styles of their fellow New York

rappers. Much like their previous albums — Juvenile Hell

(1993), The Infamous (1995) and Hell on Earth (1996)

Murda Muzik is thick with slow, gritty grooves and jagged

rhymes about the rough and tumble hustler's life in the New York borough

of Queens. And that's exactly what's wrong — and occasionally right

— about this album. Mobb Deep don't demonstrate much growth as artists on

Murda Muzik, but when they do hit their mark the results are

amazing.

The songs here are spare, midtempo and mostly hook-free, forgoing the

influences of West Coast G-funk and Southern bounce that have been

appropriated by East Coasters like Noreaga, Ja Rule and Jay-Z. The

Infamous spawned two modern classics in 1995 using this method

— "Survival of The Fittest" and "Shook Ones Pt. II" — but

Havoc and Prodigy should know they can only rest on their laurels for so

long. Lyrically, though, the group is sharp as ever — especially on

"It's Mine" (with Nas), "Allustrious" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Where Ya From" (with

Eightball) — but not quite sharp enough to make the listener forget

they've done better work in the past.

People with booming car systems may want to pass on Murda Muzik,

because there is basically no bass to rattle the fine china with as you

cruise by. When the bass does show up, such as on "I'm Going Out" (RealAudio excerpt) and

"Where Ya From," it feels like a revelation, a hint that there may be a

series of better tracks around the corner. Sadly, those tracks never

come.

Also on the disappointing tip are the album's numerous guest

appearances. Without fail, every single rapper blends in with the group,

adopting the same roughneck monotone delivery style. Now, if you're

asked to guest on someone else's song it probably means they want you

there for your distinctive style. So why gifted rappers like Nas,

Eightball, Raekwon, Lil' Cease and (especially) Lil' Kim felt the need

to mimic Mobb Deep's style is a mystery.

Someday someone is going to come along and revolutionize New York's

hardcore rap sound, much as Def Jam did in the late '80s, Wu-Tang Clan

did in the mid-'90s and Timbaland did in the latter part of this decade.

There's no way to predict what the sound is going to be, but if history

repeats itself, this as-yet-unheard sound will completely flip the

manuscript and be copied by lesser acts until it's diluted — thus

setting the stage for a new revolution.

Mobb Deep helped popularize the spare-beats-and-strings East Coast

hardcore sound. Perhaps they titled this album Murda Muzik as a

statement that the sound needed to die, that this album would be the

last splash for an overworked hip-hop subgenre.

We can only hope, but I'm not holding my breath.