Every time I'm on my way to see Mobb Deep, I have the same fear.
"This is the time they're going to be old and soft," I tell myself. "No one can stay hard forever, and they're not the young Queensbridge murderers they once were. This is going to be the moment when the toughest, scariest rappers I grew up admiring now look like middle-aged men from the suburbs."
Every time Mobb Deep takes the stage, they immediately prove that my fear is completely unfounded.
Sure, Mobb Deep in their 40s (really, Prodigy is 40 and Havoc is 41) seem to be a little more content with life than they were two decades ago, but they still look, act, and sound like the same guys who would shoot you in front of your family and not think twice about it.
As a thick cloud of smoke hung over the mostly full crowd of the Observatory in Santa Ana, Havoc and Prodigy strolled on to the stage and immediately burst into 'Survival of the Fittest,' 'Eye for an Eye,' and 'Give Up the Goods' to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their legendary album, The Infamous.
The duo formally introduced themselves and thanked everyone for their support before moving on to 'G.O.D. Pt. III,' 'Hell on Earth (Front Lines),' and 'Allustrious' with only their customary fake gunshots transitioning the end of one song into the beginning of another.
It was around this time that I realized that close to half of the crowd was white (welcome to OC, I guess) and the majority of the fans didn't know anything that wasn't on The Infamous. Of course, these realizations only occurred after I began to look around at the crowd when the white kid directly in front of me collapsed and had to be stood up (and held up for a few songs) by his buddy. Props to the woman next to me for coming through in the clutch with a water bottle for him.
I'm fairly certain the next song after "Allustrious" was "The Realest," but I was a little distracted by the guy fainting inches in front of me, so forgive me if I missed one.
What I do remember for certain is that shortly thereafter, Havoc asked if they could play some new stuff and cued the DJ to start up "Say Something" and then "Taking You Off Here" from last year's The Infamous Mobb Deep (not to be confused with the original The Infamous). While this was generally accepted by the crowd, one particular fan (another tall white guy 2-3 people in front of me) decided he was only there to hear old songs and started giving the duo thumbs down and making obscene gestures toward them.
There are a lot of venues where the performers can't see into the crowd, but the Observatory isn't one of them. After this fan (you should've seen his awkward whiteboy hype for "Shook Ones Part II") adamantly disagreed with Mobb Deep's song selection, Havoc paused the set to call him out and ask him if he was alright. I'm not sure if it was the guy's decision or his embarrassed ladyfriend's, but he quickly put his hands down right around the time Havoc said he wasn't going to get started because the fan would probably catch a beatdown in the crowd. I give that dude credit though, you've got to be ridiculously brave (or stupid) to jeer Mobb Deep at one of their shows.
Havoc and Prodigy resumed the set with "Get Away," "Win or Lose," "Thug Muzik," and a variety of other classics, all while running up to give high fives and greet fans on the sides of the stage, much to the two tremendous on-stage security guards' dismay.
Once most of The Infamous had been completed, there was another pause in the set. This time, the two pretended to have a brief argument over whether the audience was "ready for it" or not. Eventually (as happens toward the end of every Mobb Deep show), they decided the crowd was "ready" and the instrumental introduction of 'Shook Ones Part II' began.
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As the crowd carried at least a line or two of every chorus, Havoc and Prodigy looked as happy as one can be while rapping about gunning people down in the street, although it was a bit funny to see a 40-year-old say he's "only 19, but (his) mind is older)." The duo finished things out with an energetic rendition of 'Cradle to the Grave' before taking some time to sign autographs and shake hands.
Of the half-dozen (or so) openers, Stephen the Martyr was the most impressive, giving a heartfelt memorial set to a recently fallen friend. Costa Mesa's Dao Poeta probably had the next most entertaining set, and Santa Ana's Dusty Crates won the crowd over when one member finished his introduction with the very fitting description of "a.k.a. the kid from Up." How was their set? I have no idea, because I just kept picturing him flying away on a house lifted by balloons while wearing a Boy Scouts uniform and I couldn't stop laughing.