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In early 1995, Mobb Deep blessed the rap world with its sophomore album, The Infamous, which spawned such underground hits as “Shook Ones,” “Give Up the Goods,” and “Survival of the Fittest.” A year later Mobb Deep returns with Hell on Earth. While these brothers still represent for Queensbridge, the album is a long way from MC Shan. Hell on Earth is a gloomy sojourn in the world of gats, macks, and murdered blacks. “Drop a Gem on ‘Em” was intended to dis Tupac, but the cut has an eerie feel in light of the rapper’s recent death (and Mobb Deep’s subsequent renunciation of the beef). Havoc and Prodigy unwittingly journey into the netherworld to battle ‘Pac’s ghost: “Kick that thug shit/Vibe magazine on some love shit/Keep it real kid, cause you don’t know who you fucking wit.” Throughout Hell Mobb Deep draws a thin line between rappers and hoods. As Prodigy declares on the title track, “Fuck rap/I’m trying to make cream and that’s that/Whatever it takes, however it’s gotta go down/Four mikes on stage or a muthafuckin’ four-pound/Speakers leakin’ out sound/Or niggas leakin’ on the ground.” While hiphop has changed since Mobb Deep’s last album, the group obviously hasn’t. Hell on Earth, like The Infamous, is an assortment of crime stories, most of them well written and capably produced. I can’t get with the Mobb’s message, but I couldn’t keep my head from nodding, either.—Ta-Nehisi Coates