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Mobb Deep, ‘Blood Money’ (G-Unit/Interscope)

A funny thing happened on the way to the club: Mobb Deep made it through security. On the strength of last year’s 50 Cent- driven, synth-scintillator “Outta Control (Remix),” Queensbridge’s bards of grisly thug verité finally found their way into the hearts and hips of Pop America. After that song’s success, 50’s decision to make Prodigy and Havoc his first ’06 reclamation project was still somewhat surprising. (Next up, M.O.P. and the rechristened Murda Ma$e?) But instead of the poppy makeover many anticipated, the Mobb’s seventh album is a curious blend of gunz-money anthems, G-Unit-ized sex romps, and visions of the great beyond.

Following two listless Mobb Deep albums in search of a viral heat rock, “Put ‘Em in Their Place” is an arresting choice for a first single. The beat, by 50’s right-hand man, Sha Money XL, places punishing, aggro horns over a gothic-horror suite and the kind of choruses favored by their new boss. Prodigy brazenly snarls, “I’m so much rich I got a condo for a piggy bank,” and later dubs himself and his partner “Hollywood Hav and VIP.” Say goodbye to the boroughs and existential woe. “Backstage Pass” is nasty stuff featuring 50 informing a chick that he’ll “leave stretch marks in the throat,” and the bank-account boasting of “In Love With the Moula” gets old quick. What happened to the hardscrabble duns, the juvenile hellions? Check the G-Unit tats recently embossed on their wrists.

But there’s still a hint of cold desperation under all the big balling. “Pearly Gates” offers a different kind of bluster. The album’s angry masterstroke features 50 on the hook (again), but it couldn’t be more radio-proof. Over a stark soul sample, 50 begs, “Just get me to the gate, I’ll talk my way in,” while the ever-vociferous Prodigy booms, “We don’t give a fuck about that religious bullshit” and “Tell that nigga God we got beef.” Mobb Deep, now approaching their 30s, remain two dudes constantly confronting their mortality. Strangely, not even hip-hop’s sultan of smut can save these guys from their own macabre despair.

See also: Cormega, The Realness (Landspeed, 2001)