Firstly, I understand that hip-hop has some long-standing obsession with Hennessy, but with these cats, I get the idea that they’re chronic copycats; the sort who goes to bars and orders what the previous guy/gal ordered. (Which makes sense, given their age when The Infamous was released.) You get the feeling if Nas had endorsed Grey Goose instead of Hennessy on Illmatic, then Grey Goose would be all that Havoc and Prodigy would rap about. Of course, it’s harder to make a rhyme with “Goose” than it is “Hennessy.”
Anyway, The Infamous is a really easy album to like. The beats are cut from the same clothe as The Low End Theory; the same loud drums and the jazz samples have all been slowed down until they don’t resemble jazz – oh, and no grooves. Meanwhile, both rappers do fine on the microphone, despite limited flow and limited subject matter (they’re hard as fuck guys, hard as fuck! That being said, nothing else about their lives can be ascertained from the lyrics of this album). In fact, I’d place Prodigy’s opening verse on “Shook Ones, Pt. II” as one of the greatest of all time: absolutely visceral and not a single wasted syllable anywhere (“Your crew is featherweight / My gunshots’ll make you levitate”; “Meanwhile back in Queens the realness and foundation / If I die, I couldn’t choose a better location / When the slugs penetrate you feel a burning sensation / Getting closer to God, in a tight situation / Now … take these words home and think it through / Or the next rhyme I write might be about you”). Elsewhere, he manages to hold his own against the better peers of Nas and Raekwon on “Eye for an Eye”; “The world is ours” – Illmatic reference #43! – “and your team’s inferior / You wanna bust caps, I get all up in your area / Kidnap your children, make the situation scarier.” And he gets off a few good one-liners on “Survival of the Fittest”: “There’s a war going on outside, no man is safe from”; “New York got a nigga depressed”; “the Hennessey got me now knowing how to act / I’m falling and I can’t turn back.” These three are the best cuts on the album.
But at the same time, The Infamous is a really easy album to dislike, because this is 67 minutes of unrelenting nihilism over beats made of the same parts; you get the feeling that if Mobb Deep were the guys to release Illmatic, they would’ve turned “Life’s a Bitch” into something dark/depressing instead of the sunny jazz and fingersnaps that Nas rapped over. The only instance on the album of brightness is the saxophone sample in “Q.U. – Hectic,” which I’d easily name the most underrated beat on the album if not for the recycling of the famous sample of “Shook Ones, Pt. II” used in its choruses. It doesn’t help that the album is poorly sequenced (how better to kill what little momentum your album has gained than with a 2-minute a capella track that highlights your one-dimensional flow!) and has songs that seem to go on for forever, which includes the beloved “Shook Ones, Pt. II” (let’s get real here: the last minute’s a write-off) and closer “Party’s Over” which has a vaguely catchy chorus and church bells that goes on for almost 6 minutes.
And … what else is there? Oh I guess there’s the boring-rapping and ethereal/swirling-beat combo of “The Start of Your Ending (41st Side)” that’s worth mentioning because it predates cloud rap by a decade and a half. However, considering cloud rap’s lethargy and short-lived legacy, this is not a good thing – just something worth noting (as soon as Havoc mentions Y.G., a reference that only he and Prodigy get, in the very first line, my attention completely dwindles). Elsewhere, the boys rap about how dangerous alcohol addiction is on “Drink Away the Pain (Situations)” (all while hiding under a metaphor of women the entire way through) that would have made it an easy standout, lyrically. Except apparently, no one gave Q-TIp the memo; guy goes on about fucking nothing. Yeah. It’s quite clear from listening to the other songs that it’s no wonder these guys fell off the face of the earth after their next album (despite making a ton of albums both together and separately), though Prodigy’s Albert Einstein released last year wasn’t bad at all, but that was all Alchemist’s doing.