Havoc earned his place in the history books as the producer half of Mobb Deep. With their seminal album The Infamous, Mobb Deep helped define the emerging sound of New York rap with gritty soundscapes that evoked urban decay, crime, and hunger. Havoc tells ML about the possibility of a sequel to The Infamous, his tenure at Loud Records versus G-Unit, and that pesky “Shook Ones: Part II” sample.
ML: Pretty much everything after The Infamous was really dark and menacing, especially Hell on Earth. Why was everything so dark after The Infmaous?
Havoc: I guess that’s the mood that I was in at the time. Making the album, I guess I was really attracted to dark sounds. It just brought out the mood of how I was feeling.
ML: You’re still kind of doing that now. Is there a particular reason why you were attracted to that dark sound? Were you going through something in your life at that point?
Havoc: I was thinking about that recently, why am I so attracted to dark sounding music. I guess because it reminds me of the pain I went through growing up and the hard times and stuff like that. At this point, it just gives me a good feeling to remember it even though it sounds dark. But just to have that feeling around to remember the times.
ML: How would you compare your time at G-Unit to your time at Loud Records?
Havoc: Nothing compares to Loud, period. That was a whole different era, so I really can’t compare it, but I could describe each situation. Over at Loud, it was like home. Everybody was family, not to say that over at G-Unit, it’s not like family, but we was just coming into the game and everybody was learning it together. It was a real adventure. Everything was new, didn’t know what to expect. After Loud, things became more business than art, not to say that the art wasn’t as creative after Loud, but you get kind of jaded from the business after awhile, because now you’re thinking about coming up with this commercial single and blah blah blah, this that and the third. Over at Loud, we never worried about that, ever and that was that.
G-Unit is like a powerhouse. We went over there and we was welcome with open arms, but we had a job to do and that was just point blank period. At that stage in our career. Not to say that it was a bad thing, it was a good thing. I feel like we met up to the challenge. A lot of people hated on the situation ahead of time, but I try to understand why people did that and I’m not mad at them. I just only could do what I could do.
ML: Why do you think people had a problem with Mobb Deep being on G-Unit?
Havoc: ‘Cause number one, like I always say, I always use this analogy. Fans are like the parents and the artists are like the children and the parents never wanna see their children grow up and move on in their life. They always want them to stay their children, remain the same, but in life that can’t happen and in art, it’s a double edged sword, because if you stay the same, then you’ll be kept inside of a box and you probably won’t move any further. But if you change, then you alienate what people loved you for. So it’s a real balancing act, which a lot of artists are not successful in doing. The fans, the people who created you, they could kind of determine your fate, so you really don’t want to make them mad, but at the same time, you don’t want them to dictate your growth as an artist. Because we have to lead them into what is going on, instead of them leading you.
ML: There’s a recent trend among veteran hip-hop artists of making sequels to classic hip-hop albums. Raekwon made Cuban Linx… 2 and Red & Meth made Blackout 2 and Capone & Nore are making The War Report 2. Have you ever considered making a sequel to The Infamous?
Havoc: That never crossed my mind. And I doubt if I would do that for the simple fact that I just want to leave Infamous where it’s at. It’s like when you have a classic album, it’s like having a championship belt and you retire, you retire that album. Now if you bring that album back, there’s no way that you can make it better than the original. You can’t duplicate the original. Now, Nore, Raekwon, and Red & Meth and them, they may have been successful in doing that, but that’s one thing that’s not for me, but I applaud what they do and I encourage it for anybody that feels that way.
ML: Rather than making a sequel, would you ever consider getting the same personnel together and making an album in the same vein as The Infamous?
Havoc: Maybe, you never know. I would try. I would like to do a song with Nas again, I would like to do a song with Rae and Ghost, get Noyd on board and stuff like that. It’s always good to try to do vintage work, but to recreate a whole album and do a sequel to it? Nah, some things are better kept the same.
ML: Do you think your ties to G-Unit helped you land the placement on Recovery?
Havoc: I would say no, because what helped me get that placement was just me, in general, being the producer that I am and not to toot my own horn or anything like that, but I created a catalog way before G-Unit. So, I think that has more to do with it.
ML: What would you compare your song with Eminem to? Does it have a title at this point?
Havoc: Nah, they didn’t even put a title in the contract. I don’t even know the name of it. The drum beat is unlike anything I did before, but I would say it’s kind of dark sound. I would leave that to the listeners to decide.
ML: How did you feel about “Shook Ones II” being featured so prominently in 8 Mile?
Havoc: I was proud. To be acknowledged that late in the game for a song that had been out already ten years and for somebody to use it as the opening of their movie or inside their movie, was just a good acknowledgment and I really appreciated it.
ML: What did the check for that look like?
Havoc: [laughs] It was pretty good. It was pretty nice. It’s definitely a check to appreciate.
ML: What do you think makes that song such a bona fide hip-hop classic?
Havoc: I guess because of the drum break behind it and the ominous pianos in it and then not to mention the chorus was one of a kind. You don’t even hear choruses like that anymore. It was so real and gritty. “You shook, scared to death, scared to look.” I love the shit to this day. I can listen to it all the time.
ML: Can you give a hint as to what the sample is?
Havoc: You know they ask me that all the time. I can tell you like this. One of the samples in the song is from a Quincy Jones record.
ML: The thing in the beginning, right?
Havoc: Yeah. That’s from Quincy Jones. The piano is from a jazz record that I sampled. I forgot what it was by now, but it was a jazz record that I chopped up and did two different pitches and pressed them on the keyboard.
It’s kind of easy to find out the samples now because they got the programs that you can just put the phone to the speaker and it could tell you what sample it is, but I don’t think they could do that to “Shook Ones.”
ML: On “Death of Auto-Tune,” there’s a line, “I don’t be in the project hallway, talking about how I be in the project all day.” Do you think that line was a shot at you and Prodigy?
Havoc: Not at all. I think that was a shot in general at people that are content of just staying in the projects and not moving on in life. So, I never even took it as a shot at all, even though I might have made a song called “Project Hallway.” That was a long time ago.
ML: Did you ever ghost produce for anyone?
Havoc: Nah, never did. I don’t think I would’ve been able to do that, though. It’s a different time now. I was producing for me so I didn’t have time to. I was thrown in the game immediately.
ML: When people talk about the upper echelon of New York producers, the three names that always come up are Premier, RZA, and Pete Rock. Do you ever feel like you’re left out of that conversation?
Havoc: Nah, not at all, because those guys deserved it. If people feel like those are the top three New York producers, then shit, I might agree with them. I don’t mind not being the best in people’s eyes, but what I do is I work my heart out and as long as I satisfy the people that like me, then fine. I kind of agree with that list.
ML: When was the last time you saw Prodigy and how is he doing?
Havoc: I seen Prodigy about two weeks ago and he’s doing real good.
ML: How do you think he’s going to sound when he comes out?
Havoc: I think he’s gonna come out sounding hungrier than ever.
ML: Do you have any concrete plans yet?
Havoc: Nothing concrete, but I can tell you one thing for sure, when he get out, we definitely gonna be working on the Mobb Deep album.