‘Shook Ones (Part II)’: Inside One of the Greatest Hip-Hop Songs
Havoc of Mobb Deep opens up about the 25th anniversary of “Shook Ones (Part II),” without question one of the finest, most menacing rap tracks yet made.
The tick, tick, tick of a stove. Synths shrieking with menace. Quiet, undulating bass. And then, those seven words: I got you stuck off the realness. These sounds are seared into the memory of every hip-hop head—or really anyone with their finger on the pulse of popular culture, having featured in everything from Grand Theft Auto to the climactic rap-battle sequence of 8 Mile.
Yes, it’s been exactly 25 years since “Shook Ones (Part II),” the standout track off Mobb Deep’s sophomore album The Infamous…, was unleashed onto the world. That it still hits you like a pistol-whip to the temple is, according to its co-producer and MC Havoc, a testament to that haunting beat.
“It’s a timeless sound and one of those beats that comes once in a lifetime,” he says.
How Havoc—along with his late partner-in-rhyme Prodigy—crafted that beat is down to “pure fate.” Havoc had a handful of records scattered around his place, one of which happened to be Herbie Hancock’s “Jessica,” a vinyl he’d lifted from Prodigy’s grandfather Budd Johnson Jr., onetime member of doo-wop group The Chanters. Havoc homed in on a piano melody, slowed it down, and looped it till it resembled a bass sound. “I just had the mind to sample it and rearrange it to what it was,” he explains. “We taught ourselves everything. We was just demons in the studio, watching other producers like Large Professor and Primo—not asking questions, just watching.”
The Mobb Comes Equipped for Warfare, Beware
“Shook Ones (Part II)” came at a time when acts like Naughty by Nature and LL Cool J dominated the rap charts. With the exception of the almighty Wu-Tang Clan, there were precious few hip-hop outfits on the East Coast opting for ominous, even sinister lyrics.
“You had a lot of other artists at the time trying to make commercial hits, so we took a shot in the dark, going for darker music,” says Havoc. “The stuff coming out of the West Coast was pretty hard—with Dr. Dre, Tupac, Snoop Dogg. They were killin’ shit, so there felt like a little bit of competition there, but we weren’t trying to emulate what they was doing. We were trying to cement a New York sound.”
He pauses. “We were just expressing ourselves, what we were going through, how we felt, and we weren’t holding anything back. We weren’t thinkin’ about gettin’ on the radio, because that would’ve killed the song. When you’re vibin’ on that kind of frequency, it really comes through because people can feel it.”
I’m Only 19, But My Mind Is Old
Even Havoc can’t believe they produced such a legendary track at such a remarkably young age. “You don’t even realize it at the time, and when you look back on it, it’s like, damn. We were 19? It only took a few hours to do the beat but we were messin’ around with the lyrics for a few days, changing things here and there.”
It’s hard to believe that “Shook Ones (Part II)” it not only a sequel—but vastly improves upon the original. The first “Shook Ones” was released as a promo single in 1994; a comeback song of sorts following their acrimonious split from label 4th & B’Way Records, owing to the lackluster reception of debut LP Juvenile Hell. When The Infamous… hit record-store shelves on April 25, 1995, it was met with raves, ultimately spending 18 weeks on the Billboard charts. “It was like a second round of dedication,” chuckles Havoc.
Son, They Shook / ‘Cause Ain’t No Such Things As Halfway Crooks
The accompanying music video to “Shook Ones (Part II),” shot on a shoestring budget in the Queensbridge projects, is perhaps the purest distillation of Mobb Deep. From the battered Saab rolling over the Queensboro Bridge to those DIY HENNESSEY shirts to the orgy of gang signs, it oozes street authenticity.
“We just shot it in the neighborhood for a low cost. We winged it, every scene. It wasn’t scripted. And we had a lot of fun doin’ it,” recalls Havoc. “That Saab was just somebody’s from around the way. We didn’t have cars at the time. We didn’t have no money. So guys around had a little bit of money and said, ‘Hey, put my car in the video!’ Otherwise, they wouldn’t let us drive it!”
Any talk with Havoc would be incomplete without mentioning his notorious falling out (and subsequent reconciliation) with the late Prodigy, replete with diss tracks and homophobic tweets. When I ask Havoc about it, he takes a moment to collect his thoughts.
“It’s hard, the trials and tribulations that me and Prodigy went through. The way that we reconciled that is, we both understood that Mobb Deep was bigger than each of us individually,” he says. “So it took a little time, a few years, but having friends in common, we just came back together. It made more sense than being separated over a little gripe. And as far as our legacy, among the thousands of musicians and rappers out there, I think we’re going to stand out as being authentic, consistent, and sticking to our guns in the face of hip-hop becoming very commercial.”