Distancing #20: The Infamous


It starts off with a text chain I’m part of called THE CAT THREAD. THE CAT THREAD is me, Jake, Joachim, and Nico, men in our forties, who all happened to get kittens around two years ago. 

Let me start from the beginning, at the top of the list
Know what I mean, Hav, a situation like this

THE CAT THREAD has been a lifeline during quarantine. We text every day. I’m alone much of the time (recently separated, with kids) and text chains keep me connected to other adults. Half of my week is an immense amount of work, homeschooling, childcare. And then I’m alone, catching up, cleaning, washing, picking up clothes. 

Last Friday night I’m doing dishes and checking my phone nonstop. I’m always on my phone, not even trying to hide it anymore. On Instagram, Nas posts a photo of the cover of Mobb Deep’s second album, The Infamous. His caption:

Happy 25th Birthday To This Incredible Album The Infamous! Congrats to Mobb Deep & Prodigy may he Rest In Peace. Thanks for putting me on this hard as steel prestigious art. One the Hardest albums Ever made!

I screenshot the post and share it with the CAT THREAD. We all grew up in NYC in the 80s, Jews into rap, so we all know about Mobb Deep. About The Infamous. 

The people on THE CAT THREAD had a huge impact on me when I was younger. They put me onto Fellini, Leonard Cohen, early Springsteen, Rohmer, Boogie Down Productions, DePalma, The Breeders, Pynchon, cocaine, Adorno, shrooms, Jackie Wilson, Ozu, Nirvana. Among others. And we all recently agreed that Prodigy, half of Mobb Deep, even though he never gets the props of Biggie or Tupac or Nas, should be considered an all-time top-five MC. 

Still, I hadn’t thought about the whole record for a while. But on this night, me alone in my apartment, here it was.

I got you stuck off the realness 
We be the infamous 
You heard of us
Official Queensbridge murderers

In 1995, when The Infamous came out, I was living in a one-bedroom apartment in Greenpoint, taking classes at NYU. I thought I was pretty rugged, and the music confirmed it. This was the golden era: Nas, Jay-Z, Biggie, Wu-Tang. But no one meant more to me than the Mobb. Maybe because they were slightly less popular, maybe because they were underdogs, maybe because they sounded so real. 

Every day at 8 p.m., HOT 97 would play the day’s top eight songs. That spring, the consistent number one was “Shook Ones, Pt. II.” I didn’t own a copy of The Infamous yet. All I had was a Walkman with a radio. And every night at dusk I took a walk in McCarren Park, surrounded by dogs and runners, waiting for “Shook Ones” to come on. I did this every night for a month. 

It was spring then. It’s spring now, twenty-five years later. Back then I was nineteen, just like Prodigy. 

I’m only nineteen but my mind is old 
And when things turn for real my warm heart turns cold

This was early Giuliani, before everyone got priced out. Prodigy rapped about Queensbridge. He was hard. The music, the beat, the city, me: all of it was young, strong, sad, scary. 

I can see it inside your face, you’re in the wrong place
Cowards like you just get they whole body laced up
With bullet holes and such
Speak the wrong words, man, and you will get touched

I start to dry dishes and put them away. I lived for years in a big house with Greer. Now I live in a small apartment. I bought my kids a bunk bed because they have to share a room. I plan on getting a bigger place soon. 

On Instagram live, HOT 97 DJ Mister Cee plays the whole album. “Eye for a Eye (Your Beef Is Mines),” “Temperature’s Rising.” Mr. Cee yells a lot when he spins. He yells that Mobb Deep aren’t the best rap group of all time—that would be the Wu, Public Enemy, or maybe N.W.A—but they are his favorite. 

This is the sound of Queens. Getting into fights in high school in the winter. Rolling blunts on rooftops. Bopping your head. Riding the subway. This is NYC before it got rich, wack, then sick. 

Prodigy died of sickle cell anemia. He spent time in prison. He did a podcast. He went to The High School of Art and Design. He beefed with Tupac and Jay-Z. He was small and unafraid. 

Your simple words just don’t move me
You’re minor, we’re major
You’re all up in the game and don’t deserve to be a player

I text Greg. In the early 2000s we used to ride around in his car for hours, listening to a mix CD we bought on Canal Street called Mobb’s Greatest Misses. We used to go to Canal to buy mix CDs a lot. We used to move around a lot. You used to be able to get in a car with someone and just drive around and listen to music. 

I finish the dishes. Now it’s a track called “The Infamous Prelude.” It not a song, just Prodigy talking shit to an unnamed rapper (Mr. Cee claims it’s Redman). 

I know very well I could get shot, stabbed or fucked up too, whatever
— I ain’t “Super N***a,” I’m a little skinny motherfucka
It’s all about who gets who first, though
You know what I’m sayin?

I do.

“Survival of the Fittest.” “Only the Strong Survive.”

I sit down. No CAT THREAD, no kids. Super quiet. I think of P. Of what I used to have, what I used to do. The power. 

Annie, who lives in California, texts to ask what I’m doing. I tell her I’m listening to Mobb Deep on the twenty-fifth anniversary of The Infamous. She writes back: “Very Sam.” 

I really do hope that’s true. 

— Sam Marks
Medford, MA, day 51

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