Hard-core New York gangsta rap is not the same species it was when Prodigy and Havoc, the two young MCs of Mobb Deep, blasted out of Queens over a decade ago describing their surroundings as a "juvenile hell." Today the music is more like an accountant's hell: conspicuous consumption with nary a receipt in sight. So you can hardly blame the Mobbsters for linking up with 50 Cent's G Unit clique for the duo's new album, Blood Money. As their peers in the Wu-Tang Clan demonstrated earlier this year on the Wu's ramshackle reunion tour, the only safety currently available to aging East Coast G's comes in numbers.
Mobb Deep. Showbox, 1426 First Ave., 206-628-3153, www.showboxonline.com. $30 adv. 18-plus. 8 p.m. Wed., May 31.
And anyway, the creative dividends the union pays on Blood Money are more substantial than many old-school rap fans have concluded. Sure, it's easy to miss the hardscrabble brutality of 1995's The Infamous, where Havoc's moody boom-bap production lent his and Prodigy's brash street reportage cinematic gravitas. Future historians could do a much worse job of getting a feel for the era than by consulting The Infamous, Illmatic, and Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)—three unvarnished rap classics that almost sound incomplete by today's high-gloss standards.
But if it's inner-city nihilism you're after (and if not, more power to you), Blood Money packs its fair share of potent moments. In a way, Havoc and Prodigy's odes to large sums and larger guns accrue an even more disturbing cast over the pop-rap beats common to any G Unit project. On Mobb Deep's old records, the musical mayhem sponsored the lyrical violence but also seemed to question it. Blood Money is far less conflicted about its transgressions, which actually makes it a purer product, contrary to the accusations of G Unit detractors who've claimed the album represents the work of a watered-down Mobb Deep. There's nothing watered down about "Backstage Pass," however, where the duo marvel in excruciating detail at the lengths groupies go to in order to secure an audience with 50 and his pals.