You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking Mobb Deep’s near-perfect album The Infamous… was their debut project, especially given it’s well-deserved critical acclaim over the years. However, the East Coast rap duo actually popped up on the scene a whole two years prior with Juvenile Hell on April 13, 1993, and today we’re looking back on the rookie rap offering on the LP’s 26th anniversary.
Way before blessing us with “Shook Ones” and “Survival of the Fittest,” Kejuan Muchita and Albert Johnson — you may known them better as Havoc and Prodigy, respectively — were just two teens from NYC trying to make their mark in the rap game. The group had just changed their name to Mobb Deep after spending the prior year as “Poetical Prophets,” the name they’d get their first taste of fame under in our own Unsigned Hype section circa July 1991 for The Source #22 (see below). The album was distributed through 4th & B’way Records, the label Eric B. & Rakim saw success with five years prior on their classic debut Paid in Full, and was supported by the singles “Peer Pressure” and “Hit It from the Back.” Although the album didn’t take off with either single, it set the guys up with a rugged sound they could perfect & make a blueprint out of to come back and dominate just a few years later.
Even without critical or fan-supported success, Juvenile Hell still had its gems. From the Big Noyd-assisted “Stomp Em Out,” with its jazzy sample and call-out style chorus, to “Flavor for the Non Believes,” which recalls their Poetical Prophets days demo tape Flavor for the Nonbelievers, each track is a sonically-authentic product of the boom bap era at its peak. The sole charting single, “Hit It from the Back,” even made it to #18 on the Billboard Hot Rap Singles. Above everything though, this was Prodigy and Havoc’s first time showing the world that they could produce just as well as they rap, which of course we’d see them show off on an even greater scale later in the group’s career.
Overall, Juvenile Hell will always be remembered as the start of a Hip-Hop legacy that will continue on even in the absence of Prodigy, who sadly passed away a few years ago on June 20, 2017 due to complications from his lifelong battle with sickle cell. Through albums like this one, as well as The Infamous…, Hell On Earth and Infamy among others, his legacy will continue to live on and the group will always be seen as legends to the game.
Celebrate the 26th anniversary of Mobb Deep’s debut album Juvenile Hell by giving it a spin today, and let us know some of your favorite tracks by hitting us on Facebook and Twitter! Also, read the original review from The Source Issue #45 (June 1993) below: