Friday, October 28, 2011

October 28: Mobb Deep, "Shook Ones, Part II"

Artist: Mobb Deep
Song: "Shook Ones, Part II"
Album: The Infamous
Year: 1995

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Though many may not have looked that far back in history, the reality is that the differences in the music from the East Coast to the West Coast of the United States was apparent far before the media-created "coast wars" in hip-hop during the 1990's.  Looking all the way back to the jazz-era, there were massive contrasts in form, style, and content, and yet one can easily see that these unique approaches were necessary to the overall progression of music.  This remains true to the current era, and as the West-coast-based "gangsta" sound began to dominate the entire world of mainstream music, the more direct and raw sound of "hardcore rap" came forward from the East.  As has been the case for a majority of the musical history of the United States, it was those artists coming from New York City that dominated this rising form, and there were few performers that defined the new sound as perfectly as one finds within the music of Mobb Deep.  Compared to even their own peers, the duo's style was far more bleak, almost hopeless in nature, and it was this dark vision of reality that makes their songs still powerful to this day.  Reaching their own creative apex at the same time as hip-hop became the overly-dominant sound in mainstream music, the groups' second record, 1995's The Infamous, stands as one of the most pivotal recordings in music history, and there are few songs that define "hardcore' hip-hop as perfectly as Mobb Deep's 1995 single, "Shook Ones, Part II."

As soon as the song begins, it is clear that "Shook Ones, Part II" will be unlike almost any other hip-hop song of the era, as there is a stark, heavy mood that is instantly set into place by the music.  The bass-heavy trend that continues to dominate the genre to this day is almost completely absent, and yet there is no question that the musical arrangement found on "Shook Ones, Part II" hits just as hard as any other song of the time.  This ability to be musically unique is largely due to the fact that Mobb Deep pulled from non-traditional sources for their samples, avoiding the somewhat over-done funk and soul performers that are found throughout most hip-hop singles of the era.  The base of the unmistakable hook on "Shook Ones, Part II" is actually derived from Herbie Hancock's, "Jessica," and the drum loop is lifted from Daly Wilson Big Band's, "Dirty Feet."  One can also hear parts of Quincy Jones', "Kitty With A Bent Frame" on the track, and it is the way that the production team of Havoc and Prodigy fuse these sounds together which makes "Shook Ones, Part II" such a distinctive song.  While these samples are pulled from far lighter and more "friendly" styles of music, it is the fact that when properly manipulated, they can become such a dark and heavy sound which shows the talents of the producers, and the combined sound found on "Shook Ones, Part II" stands as one of the most heavily borrowed and highly revered musical arrangements in all of hip-hop history.

However, while the music on "Shook Ones, Part II" has become iconic in itself, there is no arguing that the true power and lasting impact of the track lives within the devastating vocal performance by Havoc and Prodigy.  In both their delivery style, as well as the content of the lyrics, "Shook Ones, Part II" knows few rivals, and it remains one of the hardest hitting and unapologetic hip-hop assaults ever recorded.  Distancing themselves further from their peers, there is a clarity within every line that the duo deliver, and this in many ways is one of the key aspects that separated the hardcore style, as there is a clear focus on ensuring that every word lands with maximum impact.  Not only are the lyrics on "Shook Ones, Part II" clear in terms of vocal style, but there is a somewhat slower, almost methodical pace to the flow, and it is almost as if the pair are attempting to pummel the listener with the repeating pounding in this lyrical assault.  Adding to the overall stark and tough feel of the song, the lyrics manage to take a new path on one of the most used themes in the world of hip-hop.  Largely revolving around the "street life" of inner-city youth, the song speaks of territory wars and financial struggles, and yet there is a fresh, raw edge to Mobb Deep's take on the subjects.  Yet it would be the songs' chorus that would create a cultural term onto itself, as the line, "…ain't no such things as halfway crooks…" has been sampled and reused in countless other songs over the past few decades.

Truth be told, "Shook Ones, Part II" has become a part of popular culture that reaches far beyond "just" its musical significance.  The song has appeared in many video games and been covered by a number of artists from a wide array of genres.  Yet it is perhaps now best known for the fact that fellow emcee, Eminem, pulls the iconic line from the hook during one of the "rap battle" scenes during his film, 8 Mile.  Though within the world of hip-hop, such a reminder of greatness was not needed, this reference introduced the track to an entirely new generation of music fans, as well as cemented the songs' legacy as one of the most enduring and powerful tracks in the history of hip-hop.  "Shook Ones, Part II" has also been sampled in almost every way imaginable, as artists ranging from Atmosphere to Lady Gaga have infused pieces of the track into their own recordings.  Taking all of this into account, one simply cannot overstate the importance of Mobb Deep's song, as it was able to find this success whilst in many ways standing in defiance of the more popular trends within music at the time.  The fact that the overbearing bass is completely absent is perhaps the most noticeable aspect, but it is the way that each line is delivered with such power and purpose that makes "Shook Ones, Part II" impossible to ignore, and even more difficult to forget.  Standing today as the very definition of the "hardcore" rap style, there is simply no other song in history that compares to Mobb Deep's superb 1995 single, "Shook Ones, Part II"

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