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Review: Rap duo Mobb Deep performs at the Howard Theater

Written By | Jul 14, 2014
Mobb Deep, courtesy of the artists.

Mobb Deep, courtesy of the artists.

WASHINGTON, July 14, 2014 – The most important thing about a hip-hop concert is flow. That’s the ability of a performer or performers to keep things moving at a brisk pace without tripping up or fumbling through a segment.

As long as Mobb Deep has been on the entertainment scene, this is something they’ve understand inherently and completely, as they demonstrated during their recent show at DC’s Howard Theater. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been able to survive as long as they have, especially in an environment that has a tendency to spit out some of the best talents after not too many years.

Havoc and Prodigy make up the rap duo that is Mobb Deep. They started out as one of the proponents of East Coast Rap in the early ‘90s, and at one point were caught up in the intense feud that existed during that period with their West Coast contemporaries. Unlike a lot of the combatants from that time, however, Havoc and Prodigy have managed to stick around, transforming themselves into something altogether different with time. It’s something well worth noting.

Hip-hop and rap groups have a strange relationship with career longevity. Since they’re generally assembled with a singular purpose but with multiple moving parts, the inevitability of those groups splitting apart after a fairly short time in existence is highly likely. Even those that nominally stick together have a tendency to bounce continually between group and solo efforts after the initial run is over—with varying degrees of quality and success.

Mobb Deep tends to buck these trends. They kept things together long after the initial popularity of their original scene that ranged from the early ‘90s until the mid ‘00s.

Eventually they found themselves among many of the artists and groups who came to the realization that they were high influential. Sure, Prodigy has had a lengthy solo career and Havoc has made a sizeable dent on his own – both as a producer and a solo artist. And yes, they broke up for a spell in 2012. But it wasn’t long before they got back together in 2013, recording The Infamous Mobb Deep, which was recently released to generally glowing reviews.

The turmoil the duo faced together in the early ‘10s isn’t all that surprising given the artists’ relatively explosive personalities. But as much as these two try to spin apart, it’s impossible for them to not continue orbiting around each other in some fashion or another, given their essential mutual affinity. It’s this kind of connection that showed up on stage at the Howard Theater.

The duo’s stage dynamic up is always interesting when compared with their musical and lyrical content. Havoc and Prodigy have always been known for the darkness of their lyrics, beats, and the general atmosphere they create. While this dynamic is clearly present during their performance, though, the two of them are nowhere near as aggressive as their content might suggest. They play off each other with a methodical approach that betrays their many years in the scene.

Every verse these artists drop on the audience is punctuated with intense but measured energy, as they careful dole out just the right refrain to maximize the potency of each line.

What’s in many ways more important, though, is that they keep everything moving at a purposeful pace. There are no sudden bursts of energy when it comes to Mobb Deep. It’s all under complete control, and wild outbursts are just not how they operate. Their approach keeps that all-important flow moving, never allowing the audience to get distracted from Havoc and Prodigy. Meanwhile, DJ Onpoint keeps the atmosphere consistent and serves as constant hype man while the duo gears up for the next verse or song.

There’s a general sense out there, especially given their recent projects over the years, that this might be the end of the line for Mobb Deep. Maybe that will happen and maybe it won’t.

But they’ve been moving together as Mobb Deep for so long now that they’ll never fail to be remembered or thought of as a duo. But whatever the case, considering their influence over hip-hop as a whole and over the East Coast flavor in general, this impression simply serves to cement their overall legacy.

Meanwhile, as their successful show at the Howard Theater clearly demonstrated, they remain an active and relevant link to that legacy. And they always will, as long as they continue to perform at such a reliably high level of energy and professional polish.

Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer. He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years. Currently he lives in Vienna, VA. He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.