Havoc of Mobb Deep
In this in depth interview, Havoc, one half of the legendary 90s hip hop duo Mobb Deep, gets candid with me about what he’s working on now and how he got into production. Havoc also talks about his solo project, Prodigy, what equipment he uses now, what he used back in the mid 90s, gives advice to aspiring producers, and much more. This is a must read interview for producers and fans of 90s hip hop. I want to give a big thank you to Aaron Melaragno at Clockwork music for making this interview a reality.
|By William Hernandez
Who?Mag: What have you been up to lately?
Havoc: Right now I’m in production mode. Out here on the road till P [Prodigy] get home. I got a placement with Eminem real quick and I got a few other projects, which I’m not going to name yet because I’m kinda superstitious till it actually happens.
Who?Mag: Talk about the new stuff with Eminem. How did it come about?
Havoc: I’ve been trying to get a placement on one of Em’s projects for the longest. It’s pretty hard to get something going over there. You know they got Dr. Dre over there. That’s really all an artist could ever need. I guess this time around he was open to dealing with different producers and I made the cut. Through the technology and busy schedules we never got a chance to sit down and work in the physical, but to be able to be involved with the project is good enough for me.
Who?Mag: What are you using right now as far as equipment is concerned?
Havoc: I’m fucking with the Logic hard body right now. I still got my MPC4000 of course and a few pieces of other equipment. A lot of different plug ins. Just really trying to broaden the landscape when it comes to production these days.
Who?Mag: How do you approach the production of a song?
Havoc: I don’t really have no one way to approaching a song. It’s however I feel. I tell you one thing, I always try to make my drums real tight. Whenever you’re getting a Havoc beat just know that I’m going to be concentrating on the drums a lot. No matter who it is. I try to bring my sound to them. Whenever somebody asks me for a track they never say “we need this kinda track,” like to cater to them. They want me to bring what I have to the table. To mesh with what they already know.
Who?Mag: How did you get into production?
Havoc: I kind of got into production by fate and by accident. Because number one: I’ve always been a creative person. I used to draw. Everybody know that me and P studied art design. I’m a good artist. I’m pretty creative. When it came down to producing it was kind of like second nature; because it’s creating. One particular thing that happened when we got our record deal early on, our first record deal, was that producers who were out at that time were charging so much money. That was like our whole budget for one beat. We really had no choice. Prodigy’s grandmother got the equipment and initially him and I started making beats together. I kind of bogarded the situation and took over like “No, no I’m going to do it.” He fell back. That’s why we’re in the position we’re at now. Because he’s more known as the lyricist and me more so the producer.
Who?Mag: How did you guys get on the Black Moon album “Enta Da Stage”?
Havoc: Back in those days, all of the New York artists were pretty cool. We all were coming up in the same events together. It was just a matter of time before we all was cool and worked together. I forgot how I met them but I know there was an immediate bond that we shared. We were all trying to come up and make it. They invited me to the studio one day for no particular reason. Just to hang out, and they happened to be finishing the last song on their album Enta the Stage and I jumped on it. I really appreciate Buckshot for giving me the opportunity.
Who?Mag: How did you get the deal with 4th and Broadway for the first album Juvenile Hell?
Havoc: Basically when we were first trying to get the deal we were always hanging out at Rush management. It was like a company that’s part of Def Jam. We already knew early on that if we wanted to get on we had to be where the business was at. We used to hang around there. We met one person who introduced us to another person. We got into the unsigned hype in The Source; people was hearing about us. Next thing you know we had a deal with 4th and Broadway.
Who?Mag: Talk about the production process behind Juvenile Hell?
Havoc: We were really new on the scene. We didn’t know about production. We hooked up with some dudes that didn’t live too far from Prodigy’s crib in Long Island. These dudes is already producers; I think they did songs for like Public Enemy back then and stuff like that. They pretty much did most of the album and that’s where I tested the waters with the few songs on the album and produced it myself. It was a real experience.
Who?Mag: How did you guys get the deal with Loud records?
Havoc: We ended up on Loud on the strength that we basically were down on our luck. We got dropped from 4th and Broadway. Everything happens for a reason. The people up at Loud, particularly Matty C, Scott Free, and Steve Rifkind saw something in us. Even though we didn’t do well on the first album Juvenile Hell, but they saw something in us. We did a meeting up there. Steve Rifkind only had a cubicle at the time. Basically he signed us. It was us along with Wu Tang [Clan] and another artist I can’t remember right now. That’s how that happened.
Who?Mag: Talk about the production process behind The Infamous album?
Havoc: On The Infamous album, pretty much Loud believed in us. They signed us when our backs were against the wall. We already had an album that didn’t do nothing. We had to figure out what did we do wrong. In figuring it out that’s what became The Infamous album. It was definitely opposite of what we did wrong on the first album.
Who?Mag: How did Q Tip of A Tribe Called Quest get involved? I know he produced some of the songs and mixed down part of the album.
Havoc: Right, right! He mixed down part of the album and also produced on it. Matty C and Scott Free had the latest hit producers. A Tribe Called Quest was a favorite group of ours. They were from Queens as well and I always loved their production. We asked Q Tip if he could guide us through this album. For the simple fact that we really didn’t want to take no chances of making another fucked up album. So we brought in a veteran with his expertise and he hooked us up.
Who?Mag: Did you learn anything from Q Tip?
Havoc: I learned a lot from him. To this day it still sticks with me. He’s a beast with the drums and the samples. Once I seen him doing that-the way he chopped up samples and doing his drums tight, keeping the sound good; it was a lot to learn.
Who?Mag: What songs did he produce?
Havoc: Drink Away the Pain, Temperature Rising, and probably another one that I can’t remember right now.
Who?Mag: Jumping to 1996, how was the production process on Hell on Earth?
Havoc: It was a little bit more relaxed. At this point we were established. Some people say they really like the album. To me I don’t think it was as good as The Infamous album. A lot of people say it got darker. It kind of did because we had a couple of deaths in the camp. It created a real dark album as a follow up to The Infamous.
Who?Mag: Talk about the song Extortion feat. Method Man. How did it come about and what was the production process behind it?
Havoc: When I produce I don’t know what I’m going to come up with. I know when I made it, what immediately came to mind to me and P was “get a feature on this.” We were thinking and said let’s get Meth. We hadn’t done a song with Meth before. We had done a song with Rae[Raekwon] and Ghost[Ghostface] but we never incorporated Meth. We thought it would be a good idea. He was all for it and we called him and he came to the studio.
Who?Mag: How did the song Hoodlum with Rakim and Big Noyd come about? I love that beat, especially the piano.
Havoc: Yeah thank you. I think Loud was handling the soundtrack, that was how it fell on our lap. I forget who came up with the idea of doing the song and throwing in Rakim. We were always fans of Rakim and when we asked him to do it, it was like “without a doubt.” He didn’t even question it. He was all for it, came through the studio and did it. Then I made the beat in the studio. It was really nothing crazy to me at the time. At that point I was a self proven producer, I was just doing whatever I was feeling at the moment. The piano was pretty much a sample. I find obscure samples and tuck them into the beat without you even knowing what sample it was. That was my thing, I loved piano samples a lot. From Shook Ones on toSurvival. Throwing in a little piano sounds slick and I’d put some drums on top of it. A little bullshit baseline and there you have it. (laughs)
Who?Mag: How did the song The Realest with Kool G Rap come about?
Havoc: I remember listening to [Kool] G Rap back in 87, 86. Doing a song with him was crazy. That beat was fucking retarded! It was the best beat I’ve ever heard. To this day I still love it.
Who?Mag: What equipment were you using back in the Infamous and Hell on Earth days?
Havoc: I was using the EPS plugs, Triton sounding keyboard, MPC60. That was my equipment. Turntables for the samples. Basically that was it. No computer or nothing.
Who?Mag: Talk about the song you did on the Murda Musik album with Nas, It’s Mine. You sampled a piece of the score from the movie Scarface. Was it difficult to get that sample cleared? How was the production process behind the song?
Havoc: It wasn’t as hard as people think it was. It was pretty easy. I was into Scarface and I was surprised that nobody fucking ever sampled it. Because it was right there. I guess I got lucky with that. Of course back then to do a record with Nas was a big thing. Even today some artists feel the same way, so we appreciated the look. We did a video for it. When we perform it, it’s a classic! I was watching Scarface like I usually used to do back then. I always used to listen to it for a sample. I don’t know what made me do that. I loved the movie so much that I always tried to find music inside the movie that I could sample. The intro was the illest; matter of fact I think that was the ending or the beginning. I forgot what part it was. I did it and I sampled it and just remember feeling so happy that I sampled the Scarface shit because it sounded fucking crazy!
Who?Mag: Talk about the Kush album and production process behind it.
Havoc: The album was made in 3 weeks. I went overseas and did this independent deal with this label. I knew I had to make the album because they gave me the money for the album. I was bullshitting around and not really working the project like I should’ve. I went overseas, Alchemist and I went record shopping in Amsterdam. Came back home and made the Kush album off of 2 records.
Who?Mag: Talk about the Hidden Files album.
Havoc: Basically before the Hidden Files had come out, I did an earlier deal with Koch. They gave me the money and I never did nothing to make the album. At the last minute they contacted me like “Either you’re going to do this album for us now. Or you’re going to give us our money back”. (laughs) I had already spent the money. I had to come up an album quickly and I just put some songs together that I had and gave it to them. I do and don’t regret it. I kind of regret it because I didn’t, in my opinion, put in my full potential for that album. At the end of the day you learn from your mistakes. That’s it. It’s my music. I didn’t do it to my full potential of what I really could’ve did.
Who?Mag: Have you ever had any sample clearance issues?
Havoc: You know what? I never had a sample clearance issue ever. Because a lot of my samples I chop up and you can’t even tell what it was anyway. If any were easy to hear or obvious I always got them cleared.
Who?Mag: How did Alchemist become part of the Mobb Deep family?
Havoc: Prodigy was doing some work with [DJ] Muggs or something like that. Or IM3 was doing work with Muggs. You know Alchemist fucks with Muggs heavy, you know Cypress Hill. One thing lead to another and he got to hang around us. He was a fucking producer and the nigga was nice! It was like crazy. He was almost in the same range as me. Making the gritty, crazy beats, he had took it to another level. It was only right that we put him down.
Who?Mag: Did having Alchemist part of the family make you step your production game up?
Havoc: Yeah! It was definitely a friendly competition and it still is. Because that’s what I like between me and his friendship; when I listen to his shit it makes me want to step my game up every time. I am really thankful for the friendship I have with him. I don’t know if there was any other competition directly around me that would of pushed me to produce better.
Who?Mag: Who are some of your influences as a producer?
Havoc: There’s a lot: Pete Rock, Large Professor, Primo [DJ Premier], Q Tip, Diamond, Dr. Dre, Marley Marl.
Who?Mag: What advice would you give to up and coming producers trying to get into the hip hop industry?
Havoc: Just try. You got to be original. I know it’s more in itself. You got to come out and stand out from the rest. That’s what makes a muthafucka blow.
Who?Mag: Analog versus digital: where do you stand in the new influx of digital equipment and how does it relate to your production work?
Havoc: That shit never really bothered me. That shit is like for all those [sound] engineers. Those producers that are meticulous with their sound. I don’t give a fuck! Whatever you give me. Whatever I’m working on I’m going to make it sound analog. (laughs) I’m going to make it sound dirty. Whatever I put a recording artist on. I don’t give a fuck. Give me digital times a million. It’s still going to sound dirty.
Who?Mag: Are you doing anything differently as far as your production? Working with musicians, etc, etc and where do you draw your inspiration from?
Havoc: Definitely for the past 3 years I’ve been incorporating keyboard players and things of that nature. I draw my inspiration from everywhere. I draw my inspiration from going to the store. Whether I’m killing it at the club, arguing with my girlfriend, or listening to the rap shit that is on the radio. I’m an artist, I grab inspiration from the smallest things.
Who?Mag: What is your take on the hip hop scene now that the pop scene is taking over again?
Havoc: It’s all good. Music is music. Pop music is fast food. It’s here one day and gone tomorrow. The people that like pop music they’re not loyal fans but never the less they’re music fans. You understand what I’m saying? It’s all good, it’s music. I draw inspiration from that. Some of it sounds good. As far as it taking over, it might take over commercially but it’ll never take over artistically.
Who?Mag: What artist are you looking to work with in the near future?
Havoc: Whoever. Niggas got that money lets do it! (laughs) It’s not like a nigga hungry for money, but I’m here to spread the love as far as production. I’m not picky over artists. I got my favorites. Somebody want to have my track and the vibe is right, I’m down.
Who?Mag: When do you know that a track is ready when you’re working on it?
Havoc: If you ask me. The track is never ready. I’ll fuck with a track forever. P will have to pull me off a track. Then it’ll be finished. A track never sounds done to me.
Who?Mag: Any last words?
Havoc: A shout out to my partner P locked down. He’ll be home in a few months. I want to give a shout out to all the Mobb Deep fans old and new. We appreciate the love. We’re here and doing it.
Who?Mag: Do you have a site?