Interview by Sam C. Long and Cat Ouellette, Article by Shirley Ju
Renowned as one of the most iconic figures of New York hip hop, Havoc is ready for his next act. A two-time Grammy nominee, he is known as one of the most influential beatmakers and producers of all time, and gained legendary status for being half of Mobb Deep, one of the greatest hip hop duos in history.
Watch an excerpt from Honeysuckle's exclusive interview and photo shoot with Havoc at THC NYC:
Celebrate Honeysuckle's 17th print issue launch on Saturday, February 3rd at The Sweet Chick (176 Ludlow Street) in New York City, featuring Havoc, Statik Selektah, and Large Professor! Click here for tickets.
All About Havoc: What Makes The Mobb Deep Artist Such A Hip Hop Icon?
Songs like “Survival of the Fittest,” “Shook Ones (Part II),” “Outta Control,” “Hell on Earth,” and so much more continue to carry out the legacy of Mobb Deep. Kejuan “Havoc” Muchita and Albert “Prodigy” Johnson met as teenagers in Manhattan, eventually going on to create their 1995 album The Infamous — which to this day is revered as one of the most important rap projects of all time. It spoke volumes to the reality of life in the streets of New York City, equipped with standout production from Havoc, and undeniable bars, punchlines, and storytelling from Prodigy.
The East Coast producer has worked with all the elites of rap, including Biggie, Eminem, Nas, Raekwon, and 50 Cent. And while Mobb Deep was actually signed to G-Unit for a short amount of time, one thing that has never faltered is Havoc’s roots in the city. Specifically, in Queensbridge, New York.
“You could take the guy out the hood, but not the hood out the guy,” Havoc states. “I always try to keep my sound the same because it's where I'm from. It's what makes me, it's how I think.”
What Inspires Havoc's Creativity? From Queensbridge, New York To The World Stage
When told his style is cinematic, Havoc enthuses about his favorite movies like Scarface, Goodfellas, and New Jack City. But it’s actually the artist’s own upbringing that inspires him the most, with anything he produces being a direct reflection of that.
Havoc states, “My whole life was one big cinema, with one thing happening after the other. When I produce, all of those things in my mind and that I want to hear… I want to encapsulate the feelings, the mood of my environment. Growing up was just one big movie, you can't make it up. So I definitely try to encapsulate that when I'm producing.”
And while Havoc’s contributions to Hip-Hop deserve all its flowers, we can’t forget his love for cannabis as well. He joined Honeysuckle at Soho’s THC NYC museum to share both.
Havoc Talks Music, Cannabis Creativity, And New York Strain History
HONEYSUCKLE MAGAZINE: What were your earliest musical influences?
HAVOC: My influences musically definitely come from where I grew up. I grew up in a place where certain people, if you stood next to them, you might've had a chance of getting shot. And these are your friends. Early on, my music influences [were] from my father, a DJ. I remember as young as five, him playing loud, loud disco music… “Ring My Bell” is one of the songs that jump out at me… Growing up, I wanted to create music.
The transition [was] from hanging on the block with older guys playing the hottest shit: Run-D.M.C., Kurtis Blow. The tipping point was watching the videos, the fly shit that was going on in those drop top Jettas, the big rope chains.
Not to mention living right next door to DJ Marley Mall, hearing the music coming out of his apartment, producing Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Roxanne Shanté. Seeing them walk through the hood, it was definitely something that a kid would be so enamored by… That's what the fuck I want to be right there! And I never looked back.
How has cannabis influenced your music?
Early on when I started producing, I didn't even know cannabis was a go-to. But every time I’d smoke, it’d take my creativity to 100. Working on The Infamous, I realized it helped me experiment in other ways. I’d slow shit all the way down, then it’d become this whole different sample.
It was a funny joke around my way that every time I smoked, I’d run off. [laughs] They’d say “There he go!” As soon as I smoked, the creative bug would grab me and I’d run home and start working on tracks.
What songs do you remember smoking the most weed in?
Every song. [laughs] It’d be 10 of us and we'll roll 10 L’s, smoking it up in the crib, because we didn't have access to a studio. I’d make the beats right there in front of all my friends.
“Quiet Storm” was one of those tracks [featuring] my morning regimen: roll up, burn one, smoke, and get in the studio. Which I have now in my crib. After the success of everything we did, I was able to buy myself a studio, burn in the morning, go down and start fucking around with records. Common records that people all know, but they [sounded] different to me once I started getting into it.
As a long-time New York smoker, what’s your history with strains?
We started with Chocolate. That's your pops’ weed, that's all we had access to. We definitely went to the Hydro. As the 90s went on, getting into the 2000s, we started getting into that Purple. But that Hydro was special. That really took it there for me.
These days, I fuck more with Sativa than anything, because I want to be still in the day. I fuck with the pre-rolls. Dump my shit in there, whatever. I need it to be quick. I keep a stash in my studio.
Havoc Talks Hip Hop History: From Nas To Kanye West
Raekwon said Cuban Linx and The Infamous were cousins. Who else is in that family?
Illmatic is definitely a first cousin. [laughs] It came out before all of us, our first big cousin.
What was that like in Queensbridge when Illmatic dropped? Seismic?
Seismic is an understatement. It was everything, because up until that point, the Bridge was over. Nas came with Illmatic, and [you] couldn't go on a block in Queensbridge that was not playing [it]… It was true inspiration for me and Prodigy [to] see [Nas] come out with something that already felt legendary.
I went to preschool with Nas. We remember each other even from there. We hung out as teenagers with aspiring rapper dreams. He used to come home with [crazy] beats from Large Professor… I knew his moms, his brother Jungle. [Nas is] like a cousin. When we see each other, it's “What up?” [laughs]
Let’s jump to your recent work with Kanye West. How did those sounds start?
I'm always making beats, every day. I got a trillion beats in the computer. I always send Kanye tracks. Eventually, I forget whatever I sent him. He asked me to come to his crib one day [and] started playing a bunch of tracks that I sent three years ago, [including] “Real Friends” and “Famous.” “Famous” was a progressive rock sample I had sampled years earlier. I forget the name of the group, but progressive rock as of late has been my go-to. I fucking love that shit. German progressive rock, Swedish progressive rock, whatever… I was surprised he picked [it] because it was one of those beats that took me 10 minutes.
Havoc Talks Hip Hop 50 And Prodigy
How did you feel performing at Yankee Stadium this summer for hip hop’s 50th anniversary?
It’s bittersweet, and I don't say that in an exaggerated way. First of all, being on stage without your partner that created all of this music with you, it's sad inside. At the same time, you want to represent for him. It's a challenge. It's tough because you can't replace him, you could only try to uphold what he did. Performing without him, it's fucked up. It feels really bad, but at the same time, to revel in that would be a disservice to him. You have to go out there and give it 110%, because a percent is gone.
That's how I attack that when I'm performing on stage. I'm doing it for me and him. I remember early on when he first passed away and I had to perform, I used to have to wear shades all the time. Sometimes when his verse would come on, I’d cry. A tear would come out my eye. I got to turn around, wipe it, and keep performing. But as time moves on, you get stronger naturally. You do it for the sake of the group.
What would you hope your legacy to be?
I want them to remember me as somebody that tried his best. Tried to do it all, and was successful at it. Somebody that put his heart into it. That's all we could do, put our heart into it, whether it wins or fails. It's a numbers game. The more you try, the average is going to go up. If you want to achieve it, it's going to happen. I live by that.
What's Next For Havoc? New Cannabis Dispensary "The Bridge" And Brands
Tell us about your new dispensary and cannabis brand!
I'm opening a dispensary in Queens. Got my license; it's going to be called The Bridge. It’s an ode to where I grew up, because Queensbridge made me… I want it to be one of those dispensaries where when you come in there, it's an experience. It's going to be hip hop driven mostly, so I'm definitely looking forward to that.
Also my brand Havoc 13, Buddington. I got a few brands that I'm going to be creating as well. We want to build the name up to [Gary Payton] status. Havoc 13, that's that shit! Knock you on your ass.
Do you see there being more equal opportunity for everyone, economically?
I always feel like there's equal opportunity for everybody. If you try hard enough to do something, I believe you're going to achieve it no matter how big the challenge is. Yeah, the economy is crazy. But we could overcome all of that. Anybody could. I see [the economy] opening up more if people open up their minds to it, because the opportunity is there.
That’s such a positive outlook.
Of course, I'm a positive thinker. Okay, what's the challenge? What we gotta do? Let's do it. I believe in my mind, if I came from where I came from and did what I did, I could really do anything. That's not only me, that's everybody. It doesn't matter where you start from. If you want to do it, just fucking do it. I don't like when people complain, because you take that complaint and you turn it into a plus. You try to dismantle that complaint and you reverse engineer it, see how to turn it into something that you want to achieve.
*A version of this article originally appeared as the cover story of Honeysuckle's 17th print edition. Get your copy now at dispensaries nationwide or click here to order!
See Havoc live at Honeysuckle's print issue launch party on Saturday, February 3, 2024, 7PM-12AM at The Sweet Chick, 176 Ludlow Street in New York City. Get your tickets now on Eventbrite. The evening will feature renowned DJs Statik Selektah and Large Professor.
For more about Havoc, follow @mobbdeephavoc on Instagram.
Shirley Ju is a journalist, media host, and seasoned music industry professional. She is the founder of Shirley's Temple, a podcast series with a focus on mental health, where her guests include Trippie Redd, Chanel West Coast, Ricky Williams, Blac Chyna, and more. Shirley's work has been featured in publications such as Variety, Complex, Nylon, Flaunt, and REVOLT; she can also be seen doing exclusive interviews for leading urban news source VLADTV, featuring a platform with 5 million subscribers. Find out more about Shirley at @shirju on Instagram and Twitter, and on LinkedIn.
Cat Ouellette is a creative and marketing professional with over 20 years of experience in content creation, music and entertainment. She is the founder of COI Digital and an internationally-renowned DJ. Find out more about Cat at catherineouellette.com.
Sam C. Long is Honeysuckle's Creative Director. He is a filmmaker, photographer and visual artist. Find out more about Sam at samclong.com.
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Featured image: Havoc at THC NYC (C) Sam C. Long / Honeysuckle Media, Inc. @tissuekulture