I’ve got technical jackets on the mind right now, but I’ll up more on that here another day. Let’s cast our mind back to a time when the raised collar and extra visibility of a HH design was the stuff of dreams. I think the sheer nostalgia a Helly-Hansen jacket instigates makes folks forget how hardcore they were in the face of inclement weather. I imagine that they were pretty good for sailing in too, but anyone who remembers their reign in hip-hop and jungle, just after Nautica and Tommy seemed to boom, will get all emotional at memories of cigarette/spliff burns and un-fixable synthetic materials. Helly Hansen’s popularity wasn’t just down to aspirational cost and a degree of inner-city functionality — Loud-founder Steve Rifkind was paid to promote the brand and its sales boomed as a result, with the jackets defining the late 1994 to late 1996 rap video. It never fails to amuse me what difference a decade made — from the whitest ad of all time in 1984 to a former member of Brand Nubian as the frontman for a 1996 campaign (here’s another image from the Wild Cowboys and Hansen ads). After we all moved on, I don’t recall returning to Helly for more and I’ve always wondered whether the mansion and a yacht (rap nerds will clock the connection) brigade were alienated by the company’s courtship of hip-hop. I’m sure I recall it being sold in JD Sports for a minute, but I spotted it on a recent episode of The Deadliest Catch too, and I’m fairly certain that those guys weren’t wearing it because they paid close attention to Flex’s 60 Minutes of Funk.
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“Bout to do a photoshoot for supreme…that skater brand.. Freeedom is great!” (Prodigy via Twitter a month ago)
I need to confess an act of hypocrisy. After mocking the notion of e-books as “robo books” I had to buy one on iBooks. Waiting two weeks for Prodigy’s ‘My Infamous Life’ in the UK was a step too far and my hearty appetitive for rap trivia meant I had to catch this one early and it doesn’t disappoint. Prodigy’s on his usual form when it comes to talking shit, and in a realm where even constructive criticism constitutes “shots,” his appetite is doubly refreshing. Having been a Mobb fan since the first album, back when they were referenced alongside Da Youngstas and god forbid, Another Bad Creation, its been interesting to watch P and Hav evolve as an act. Prodigy’s a complex character and he’s got stories for days. If you relished his ALL CAPS listings of what he invented and who’s wack a few years back, you haven’t seen anything yet. Rap autobiographies are usually patchy, written in a self-conscious style, pulling punches and overblown in their execution.
This one might not be pretty like Jay’s ‘Decoded’ but it’s vastly superior simply because while Jigga stays media savvy, and calculated, P’s hot-headed ways mean nothing’s unguarded. Sure, there might be some “Never get the truth get in the way of a good yarn” Chopper Reid type theory at work (see the debate over his Capone and Noreaga tales, but we learn plenty about the man — his mother was in the female vocal group, the Crystals, his friends Nitty and Killer were the kind of guys you wouldn’t want a run in with, he had ways of getting guns and razors into the Tunnel (Prodigy was a big fan of knives and guns), Mobb were actually affiliated with 2Pac’s crew, he’s no fan of Keith Murray or Saigon (he calls Def Squad “Deaf Squid” but there’s not Tru Life talk), he got the dragon hand ink when he was very young and his relationship with Nas is particularly complex. He’s seen UFOs too. There’s few who could top this one in terms of content. Between this and Dan Charnas’s ‘The Big Payback’ the bar for rap-lit has been raised significantly.
Havoc is depicted as an exasperated creative partner, frequently infuriated by his friend’s aptitude for personal chaos, and rumours of crack and the scale of the Bars N Hooks beef are confirmed. So you trivia-junkies and hip-hop gossips know you need it, but lest you think it’s merely one for the rap weirdoes, there’s a strong narrative of severe illness, incredibly bad behaviour, revenge, karma and a redemption of sorts (on P’s own terms) underpinning it all. Rappers can be one-dimensional and few could put out something this deep — though I’d like to see a Scarface autobiography — and it’s smartly timed to remind us why this relatively young veteran of the industry remains relevant. Let’s face it — you need any book contains the line, “(we) chilled in Wu’s hood, smoking angel dust blunts with Rae and Ghost and two white kids in a silver Benz.” Thank the stars for beaming down this intense kingpin of Beemer-driving bleakness and that big mouth of his.
You know it’s time for multiple asides though, right?
Despite their breakout from that brief spate of young ‘un rappers talking that proto-thug talk, the recently sample decoded ‘Shook Ones (Part II)’ changed everything for me with regards to the Mobb and rap sonics in general. I recall hunting for the mysterious promo double vinyl ‘Nudder Brudders E.P.’ (what was up with the Alkaholiks ‘Daaam’ fragrance too?) from Loud in late 1994 for the aforementioned track and its prequel, obtaining it and marvelling at the Helly Hansen jacket themed artwork. Mr. Steve Rifkind did some work with Helly Hansen that popularised the brand with his pioneering street level marketing approach, and like Tommy Boy’s Carhartt commissions , I’ve never been able to track down one of the promo Helly Hansen jackets made specially for the Loud team (these pictures are from an eBay auction I missed out on). I’ve never seen the jacket depicted on the ‘Nudder Brudders’ sleeve beyond that record but I’m sure it exists too.
Reading the book also reminded me of how much I liked Live Squad back in the day — Live Squad affiliate and Queens rapper E Moneybags (gunned down in 2001) recorded a fine recorded a fine record called ‘Regulate’ with a guest spot from Prodigy in 1999 as a bonus track on the ‘In E Moneybags We Trust’ album. Like MobStyle, there’s a realer than real feel to Live Squad (Stretch was slain in 1995) and their finest moment is the ‘Game of Survival’ fifteen-minute mini-movie. Pre empting Master P’s grimy ‘I’m Bout It’ by five years, this ultraviolent trio of music videos with a basic rise and fall of a killer theme is a favourite of mine.
It’s low budget, but it’s well made, laden with bloodshed and bullets to the head — the ‘Murda Muzik’ DVD couldn’t compete with this VHS rarity that got a DVD release a few years back before descending into obscurity. To this day, I’ve never seen such a violent hip-hop video and there hasn’t been a better visual depiction of gangster rap’s brutal excesses circa 1993 (when this was released) either. Signed to Tommy Boy in 1992 when ‘Murderahh’ and ‘Heartless’ were released as one single (both the videos make up the bulk of ‘Game of Survival’) and the title track was released as a promo in 1993.
Just as the Almighty RSO’s ‘One in the Chamba’ got them dropped from Tommy Boy during the ‘Cop Killer’ fiasco, Live Squad’s brutal video (complete with a cop killing) and lyrics meant the ‘Game of Survival’ soundtrack was shelved and the group sent packing. Shouts to Majesty and K-Lowe. Most people remember this as the mind-bogglingly ignorant video where a baby is chucked to its death to the lyrics, “Well the job is done — now we can go.” “What about the baby?’ “Throw it out the window.” Best of all, the end titles list ‘Intellect’ as the man who plays ‘Baby Killer.’ That never fails to amuse me. Because I couldn’t find this significant proto-Worldstar oddity on YouTube, I just upped it in two parts. Watch it and tell me that it isn’t one of the most entertaining rap videos you’ve ever seen.
Even in early Summer 1992, Bonz Malone knew that the Mobb was coming.
While the spinning G-Unit efforts, Twista’s egg timer with diamond dust and Flocka’s Fozzie Bear are grander gestures, Prodigy’s Virgin Mary pendant (I’m weak with religion, so feel free to correct me on that) from 1994/5 press shots (as seen far above) is my favourite piece of rap jewellery. I recall seeing this piece on several artists at the time, but when ‘ twinned it with Carhartt and a Newport, he created one of hip-hop’s strongest looks. I was saddened that it never made an appearance in Miss Info’s excellent ‘Bling Bling’ but in ‘My Infamous Life’ the foundations are set back in the Poetical Prophets days as, “At the Coliseum Mall near Jamaica Avenue, I bought Havoc a big gold link with a Mary Mother of God pendant with a big ruby in it. Hav was happy.”
All this gold talk is reminding me how much I want to see ‘The Devil’s Double’ — this poster beats the plainer Sundance one I upped here earlier in the year. Nobody’s even matched this one on a mixtape cover, and it reminds me of Homer’s lottery daydream again (“Oh, I know what it is. You’re the biggest man in the world now and you’re covered in gold.”).