If there was a dollar floating around for every time a rapper changed his style upon tasting success or simply softened as the years rolled on, we probably wouldn’t be hearing daily stories about recessions and bailouts right now. Fortunately for fans of Mobb Deep’s Havoc, he’s returned to the street-focused mentality of his Infamous days for his second solo album, Hidden Files.
The word hidden could also apply to Havoc’s profile in the current hip hop scene, as the Mobb hasn’t had much in the way of official music released over the last five years. Havoc did take a stab at the solo spotlight with The Kush in 2007, but this disc is probably more in line with the original sensibility that the Queens native displayed back in the 90s.
The production certainly takes listeners back a few years – and that’s meant as a compliment. Though there are a few more layers to the sound now, Havoc still starts with a gritty foundation for most of his beats. He has a knack for finding unique drum and percussion sounds to add to the formula too, like the ones heard on “I Clap Em Up” and “That’s My Word.”
On the mic, the best word to describe Havoc’s style is workmanlike. He’s not going to blow your mind with any ridiculous punchlines or leave you dazed by his cleverness, but he’s been doing this a long time, and he doesn’t make too many lyrical missteps.
Just reading through the song titles lets you know Havoc isn’t out to dazzle anyone with creative subject matter either, but the gunplay and street tales suit his direct approach to rhyming. The very first track, “Can’t Get Touched,” sets the tone with lines like: “Niggas want me contained, set up, framed/But hell what can I say the hood is rough terrain./But my mind is a Range as I whip through the game/Hail, sleet, snow or rain, it won’t phase./So while you’re on that corner smoked out getting blazed/I put the drop on them with that infrared ray.”
Since he was always overshadowed a bit lyrically by his partner Prodigy, it helps that Havoc keeps his list of collaborators short. He does get a nice guest verse from Cassidy on “You Treated Me,” and longtime running mate Big Noyd lends a hand on “This is Where It’s At.” Mobb Deep reassembles for “On a Mission,” which stands out as one of the album’s highlights.
All told, Hidden Files doesn’t have many moments that will have you reaching for the repeat button, but it also won’t have you skipping forward too often either. A solo Havoc may only be able to serve up a small portion of what made Mobb Deep so potent during their glory days, but even that little bit still tastes pretty good. – Nick Tylwalk
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