Throughout the ’90s, few duos were more influential than Mobb Deep. Their seminal 1995 album The Infamous mixed bleak street narratives with equally gritty production to make them one of hip-hop’s most distinctive acts. Not only did they help create a new wave of rap, they helped usher in a stripped down sound that was unlike anything else out at the time. Now saxophonist and composer Benny Reid has reimagined the Mobb’s signature tracks on his new album The Infamous Live. With Mobb Deep’s Havoc onboard for production assistance and support, this project is one for the books.
Refocusing the lens on an album that has long been regarded as a classic, it’s impressive that Benny Reid and Havoc were able to breathe new life into such iconic material. Beneath the surface of The Infamous Live sits a slow-burning and rich jazz-inflected interpretation of some of rap’s most iconic instrumentals. In less capable hands such an audacious undertaking could have easily come off as corny, but Reid and Havoc’s reimagined live album is a bold, forward-thinking approach to reworking one of the most influential albums in hip-hop history.
Clear, hard-hitting and uncompromising as the original album (and with a more intimate feel) Benny Reid’s take on The Infamous mostly stays true to Havoc’s original score with a few creative flourishes here and there. It doesn’t deviate too far or add many new elements (Havoc’s signature cold, quantized drum patterns and eerie melodies are all here) but that doesn’t really seem to be the intent.
Reid and Havoc don’t just revel in nostalgia, but rather take an approach that feels very much like a fresh take on not just the original track listing but the entire listening experience. This is an opportunity for fans to hear what these iconic songs might sound like if they were being played live in front of them. The result is a vibrant recording that shows just how much more can be done with familiar material.