It’s precisely a year since the music world lost one of its finest.
On June 20, 2017, Prodigy, one half of hardcore hip-hop duo, Mobb Deep, tragically passed away in a Las Vegas hospital after a lifelong battle with sickle-cell anemia. For fans around the world, this was a cruel blow and in one of life’s twisted ironies, it wasn’t the sickle that did it but accidental choking.
“It’s still tough,” says Mobb Deep partner, Havoc, who was on tour with Prodigy at the time. “You gotta hold it together for the sake of the person that you lost so you can carry on the tradition, the name, the legacy and you just have to be strong. That’s not sayin’ that you gonna get weak. There’s gonna be times of weakness but you have to pick yourself up.”
Back in New York, fresh off a tour of Switzerland with Ghostface from Wu-Tang Clan, embarking on music theory classes, launching record label, HClass Entertainment, signing three artists, while a father of two, all seems a staggering undertaking. For the writer, producer, rapper, and entrepreneur however, it just means things are falling into place.
Even on the phone, where our east-west coast connection gifts us with a minuscule delay, just enough to take the natural out of the flow, Havoc’s lyrical and poetic speak is entirely natural and very real. It’s this authenticity which is one of the very essences why Mobb Deep became wildly successful in the mid-90s and still remains so nearly three decades later.
Did the name, “Havoc” arise because of the young artist’s desire to cause a little chaos?
“Only on the mic,” he chuckles heartily. Christened by an early mentor with the equally cheery name, “Tragedy”, the name stuck and it’s been Havoc ever since.
Apt names for young rappers growing up in the Queensbridge Projects of New York, for life was anything but havoc or tragedy free. Mobb Deep lyrics like, “Forever wildin’ that’s how we live up in the Bridge. You just sit scared,” and “Blow you three times leave a mark like Adidas,” chronicle life in the projects surrounded by shootings, stabbings, drugs, incarceration, and death.
While many of Mobb Deep’s early tracks depict an environment of innercity trench warfare, antithetically, Havoc’s philosophy is more birds-eye. “Growing up poor and growing up in the projects can either make you or break you. I didn’t want to use my unfortunate situation as a crutch to do bad. I wanted to do good.”
With mother and grandmother advocating hard work and respect, Havoc determined early on not to become another statistic, aspiring to have more, be more. And then there was the music, as three-year-old Havoc remembers going to sleep while his DJ dad played loud music; not a bedtime choice for Havoc’s own offspring of course.
So has parenthood changed the music?
“It’s made me a little bit more cautious of the things that I write and say because you know the kids are always listening.” Havoc does still try to stay true to who he is and “keep it street” and wisely doesn’t want to hide the reality because they’ll hear it anyway. This way at least, they’re hearing it from daddy Havoc himself, “in a more subtle kinda way”.
In 1991, Havoc and Prodigy, then as “Poetical Prophets”, staked out record labels, asking passing artists to listen to their cassette tape demos. It was a tough way to do it, but it worked. Mobb Deep went on to become one of the most successful acts in the hip-hop world with millions of records sold, a multitude of awards and legions of diehard fans.
It hasn’t been all easy of course. Havoc recalls his fair share of chaos when “…it’s like one big party all the time. Even when you leave the party it’s like your life is still a fuckin’ party and it’s followin’ you so you might find yourself drinkin’ too much or bein’ with the wrong crowd and doin’ some kinda drugs. And then the party is just goin’ when the party’s not supposed to be goin’.”
How has Havoc the celebrity managed to stay focused and creative?
“Balance,” says Havoc solemnly as I reference the recent sad suicides of other high profile celebrities, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. I can almost hear him nodding as he shares his thoughts on this topic. And from his answer, I’m assuming he’s thought about it a lot. The industry veteran says one has to find ways to be happy without the medication and seek a support system, even if that support system is yourself. For Havoc, life is a choice and life with his kids is a priority. Pretty cool.
Would he do it all over again? “I wish I could do it over again ‘cos it was uncharted territory for us,” pronounces Havoc. “We didn’t know what was gonna happen so it was fun.”
A year ago, Havoc once again found himself in uncharted territory. With the sudden death of his writing and performing partner, it was time to redraw the map. It’s not like he’s ever been quiet for long though. As a producer in his own right, Havoc’s worked with some hefty names like Eminem, The Notorious B.I.G., Pharrell, the “pleasant, animated, never a dull moment” Fifty Cent, and another “very pleasant dude”, Kanye West. Havoc produced “Real Friends” and “Famous” on Kanye’s album, “The Life of Pablo”.
Any advice for aspiring young artists?
“There’s gonna be times when they frustrated but never give up, keep goin’, be consistent, be relentless, always create whenever you feel it and my main thing is just don’t give up and more than ever, try to be original,” he states distinctly.
And if he could give advice to the young Havoc? Same deal.
Curious, I ask if the recent surge of biopics like, “Straight Outta Compton”, “Notorious” and “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” accurately represent? “It’s bein’ done the best they can in the short amount of time that they given and it is what I remember…”
There are no plans to make a Mobb Deep story. Not yet anyway. The thought has crept into Havoc’s peripheral once or twice but as he sums up perfectly, “I believe that some of my better days are still ahead of me and that’s part of the Mobb Deep story.”