In 1995, Mobb Deep released a bonafied classic with their sophomore effort, The Infamous. The album was a masterpiece in callous Queensbridge thuggery backed by Havoc’s intriguingly dark and grimy production. While Prodigy and Havoc would carry most of the lyrical load, the album would also feature cameos from a few grade A emcees, like Nas, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah and Q-Tip. It would also include a few verses from newcomer and Mobb Deep affiliate, Big Noyd, who would make quite the first impression, delivering some dope verses (specifically on “Give Up The Goods” and “Right Back At You”). Noyd’s impressive cameos, along with his association with Mobb Deep and their commercial and critical darling of an album, would lead to him getting a solo deal with Tommy Boy, where he would release his debut album, Episodes Of A Hustla.
Naturally, when you have a producer in your camp that was as hot as Havoc was at the time, you rely on him to shape the sound of your project, and that’s exactly what Noyd did with Episodes. He would also call on Prodigy and a few more of his thug buds to lend some lyrical assistance over the course of the album’s eleven tracks. Even with Mobb Deep’s strong co-sign, Episodes would go under the radar with little commercial success or fanfare.
I found Episodes years after its release for a dollar at a used bookstore. I’ve listened to it once or twice over the years, but this will be my first time thoroughly digging into. So, without further ado…
It’s On You – Episodes begins with a medley of Noyd related soundbites taken from The Infamous album and placed over a semi-funky instrumental for this makeshift intro.
The Precinct – The intro is followed by this interlude that begins with the “The Grave Prelude” from The Infamous album. Then a Curtis Mayfield loop (borrowed from “We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue”) plays while a couple of heavy New York accented Italian detectives rant and rave about wanting to catch the elusive and notorious, Noyd.
Recognize & Realize (Part 1) – Now that we got all the preliminaries out of the way, the first actual song of the night pairs Noyd with his mentor, Prodigy, as the duo take turns trying to out thug each other over a decent Havoc produced instrumental. It’s far from a great record, but still passable.
All Pro – Noyd invites Ty Nitty, Twin, Prodigy and Havoc (though Hav only contributes a few adlibs) to the party for this street hustler cipher session. All parties involved turn in serviceable verses (I love our host’s bar: “Rapper Noyd the soloist, four-pound controloist, comin’ out The Infamous, controllin’ the shit”), but Havoc’s laidback gutter backdrop is the true star of this track.
Infamous Mobb – Havoc provides hauntingly grimy music for Noyd and P, who continue to cover the same territory as the previous two songs.
Interrogation – The detectives from “The Precinct” (who identify themselves as Officers Bruno and White) return for this interlude to question some unidentified brother about the whereabouts of The Infamous Mobb and Noyd over the same Curtis Mayfield loop from “The Precinct.” This adds absolutely nothing to the album, folks.
Usual Suspect – Havoc slides Noyd an energetic bop (I love the animated piano break brought in during the hook) to spit over and he gets off some of his strongest bars of the night (my favorite line being: “My standing, for gat handling is outstanding, I be the thug bustin’ slugs while ya tec jammin’”). And just when you thought this would be Noyd’s first dolo joint of the evening, Prodigy pops up and closes the song with a verse full of rambling that fades out before he finishes.
Episodes Of A Hustla – He faked us out on the previous song, but this title track does give Noyd a chance to shine dolo. Well, almost. P does rear his thugly head to take care hook duties. Unfortunately, Havoc’s sleepy borderline boring instrumental does nothing to help him illuminate.
Recognize & Realize (Part 2) – Havoc gives the original version a facelift, hooking up a sinister backdrop that recycles a portion of Noyd and P’s bars from Part 1, and he temporarily steps from behind the boards to join his thug brothers on the mic, adding a few verses to the record. This version sounds way more impressive than Part 1.
I Don’t Wanna Love Again – After the track opens with the sound of blowing wind, guest vocalist Se’Kou comes in sounding like a woman scorn, as she sings the hook about not “wanting to love again,” followed by two vague verses that lead you to believe some man left her heart broken. Then Noyd gets off a verse that clarifies that this song is not about a romantic love lost, but a dead homie that lost his life in the heartless streets. I’m sure Se’Kou’s indistinct verses and hook, along with the cheesy artificially flavored R&B music, was a strategic ploy to get Noyd a crossover record, which, didn’t work. According to the confusing liner note credits for this song, this is the remix (credited to After Six Entertainment), with Havoc credited for producing the original, which is not included on the album and I’m completely okay with never hearing it.
Usual Suspect (Stretch Armstrong Remix) – Stretch Armstrong (half of the legendary New York radio duo, Stretch Armstrong & Bobbito) remixes the original track and gives it a breezy summertime feel, and he lets Prodigy’s rambling closing verse from the original play all the way through. I like the original (and after having to hear P’s verse play to the end on this remix, shoutout to Hav for cutting it short), but this remix is super fire.
Episodes Of A Hustla delivers exactly what it promises in the album title. Noyd uses the album’s eleven tracks to celebrate the trife life with Havoc orchestrating the thuggery with his raw and murky production scheme, while Prodigy does his best Ghostface Killah on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx impression, showing up on nearly every track, but unlike Ghost, he doesn’t get a “featuring” credit or his pic on the album cover. The content on Episodes quickly becomes redundant and it would have been nice to hear Noyd (who proves to be a competent emcee) stand on his own two with less lyrical assistance from P and the crew, but it’s still a decent debut album from “Rapper Noyd, the soloist.” And in this case, the term “soloist,” is used very loosely.