When: Wed., March 9, 9 p.m. 2016
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 9 MOBB DEEP
New York rap is suffering a serious identity crisis. The roots extend at least to 2002, when New York stalwarts Jadakiss, Styles P, and Fat Joe outsourced their services to Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz's Kings of Crunk. That record, which included the holy pimp's holy club grail, "Get Low," became the tipping point for the Dirty South's mainstream dominance and the end of New York street rap's rule. By 2004, Lil Jon had scored huge radio hits for Usher, Ciara, and Petey Pablo.
Many times, these collaborations sounded forced, as was the case with Mobb Deep's "Real Gangstaz," from the Queensbridge duo's 2004 LP, Amerikaz Nightmare. Havoc and Prodigy were still reeling from their feud with Jay Z and trying to stay afloat. If the beef had endangered their street cred, the droopy single with R&B group 112, "Hey Luv (Anything)," did little to help. The Lil Jon move was a show of panic.
Has Mobb Deep recovered? The duo's last two albums, 2006's Blood Money and 2014's The Infamous Mobb Deep, don't find the Havoc and Prodigy straying too far from the dark street ethos they helped pioneer. Prodigy isn't quite the opening-line assassin he once was, but Havoc's beats are still interesting enough to land on Eminem's Recovery and Kanye West's The Life of Pablo.
The canon of great hip-hop will always include Mobb Deep's 1995 masterpiece, The Infamous. But the pair's real legacy may be judged best by how they responded to the follow-up pressure, with 1996's even more menacing Hell on Earth, full of Manhattan robberies, housing-project shootings, and throat cuttings over grimy drum loops.
Modern New York rappers like French Montana suggest there's a deliberate music industry attempt to winnow street rap out of hip-hop. Instead of crafting conspiracies, maybe he should just focus on making an album this mean. —Eric Tullis
SOUTHLAND BALLROOM, RALEIGH 9 p.m., $23, www.southlandballroom.com