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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

The whole of "Shook Ones, Pt. II" is far greater than the sum of its parts

From insane samples to hard-hitting rhymes and a splash of motivation, Mobb Deep's signature track is an all-time great rap cut.

As Big Game Week continues, I find myself reaching into the archives of my favorite pump-up songs as a way to get out my energy. This motivation is somewhat evident by my first two Senior Year Soundtrack selections this week. The Temptations' "Get Ready" isn't a song to which I default to get me excited, but it does instill that emotion within me. Meanwhile, Genesis' "Land of Confusion" (and Disturbed's cover) begs for dancing as well as action from its listeners, and I feel like I can smash through a wall as I belt out its lyrics.

Today's selection may not have the energy of the previous two, but it's even more of a pump-up track for me than either of them. One of my favorite songs to play leading up to a game or a big deadline, rap duo Mobb Deep's classic "Shook Ones, Pt. II" (1995) exudes bravado and confidence. Its talk of "realness" among a crowd of fakes always gets me motivated to give my full effort in whatever I'm about to do. "Shook Ones, Pt. II" is also a track that fascinates me because of how it was pieced together, between its samples and its lyrical evolution.

Before I get to the rap itself, I've got to talk about the beat behind it, because it's a sampling masterpiece. I've talked about sampling a lot in the three months or so I've been at this blog, running the from commonly sampled tracks like "Feeling Good" and "Outstanding" to products of sampling such as "Here," "Love Rears Its Ugly Head," and most recently "Fantasy." "Shook Ones, Pt. II," however, stands out among the tracks about which I've written because of its use of three distinct samples, a couple of which are off the wall in their origin and use.

  • The drumbeat sample is standard fare: a commonly sampled backbeat from "Dirty Feet" (1968) from the Daly-Wilson Big Band, an Australian jazz outfit.

  • The second sample to be introduced is when things start to get crazy. The sample that sounds like a siren met an old BART train is from Quincy Jones' soundtrack to the 1971 film Dollars (or simply $), starring Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn. The sound makes its lone appearance in the middle of the piece "Kitty with the Bent Frame," and despite its brief nature, it sticks with the listener — no wonder Havoc (half of Mobb Deep, alongside the late Prodigy) used it as a sample. It's this siren-esque sound that gets me fired up, no pun intended.

  • The third and final sample is the piano... yes, it's a piano, just very, very heavily slowed down. Listen to Herbie Hancock's heartfelt instrumental "Jessica" (1969), and you'll probably miss it, even though I provided the WhoSampled link. Havoc took a five-note snippet from the opening moments of "Jessica," slowed it down and manipulated it to make the signature "Shook Ones" melody. Take a listen to this video, which still blows my mind to this day, to hear how Havoc did it:

Even though I'm far from a stranger to that video or the track as a whole, I still get chills when I hear it all come together. Each of the samples are great on their own, but the way Havoc crafts them into a beat is something else.

On top of all that, you have Mobb Deep's hardcore flow, with all sorts of lines about taking out the titular 'shook ones,' the fake people who pose as something they clearly aren't and cower in fear when pressed. Prodigy calls out these 'shook ones' from his first lines:

Yeah, to all the killers and a hundred dollar billers
For real n****s who ain't got no feelings
Check it out now

[Verse 1]
I got you stuck off the realness, we be the infamous
You heard of us, official Queensbridge murderers

I ought to stop before I end up quoting the entire track right here and now, which is a master class of flow and cool, but deep-cutting threats and shots. My favorite couplet, especially being a musician myself, is Prodigy's quip: "You're minor, we're major / You're all up in the game and don't deserve to be a player." Just... wow. It's all rapped so calmly, but the words are so forceful that they grab hold of you. Those lines are also great for getting fired up before any sort of contest, motivating you to be that "major" and put the "minors" in their place.

For Mobb Deep, the "shook ones" and "minors" aren't worth respect because they don't fully commit themselves. As the chorus puts it, "ain't no such things as halfway crooks." You can't go halfway in anything and expect to be given full credit and respect; you have to consistently give everything. Otherwise you're shook. The duo follow up that statement with a description of their gangster life, which is taken from the track's predecessor, "Shook Ones (Pt. I)" — a damn good, dark production on its own, but nonetheless upended by the sequel. A decent amount of Havoc's verse also pulls from "Shook Ones (Pt. I)." including its epic first line, "For every rhyme I write it's twenty-five to life," and the ultimate question for someone living a hard lifestyle:

Sometimes I wonder, do I deserve to live?
Or am I gonna burn in Hell for all the things I did?
No time to dwell on that, 'cause my brain reacts...

In the moment, you can't stop and think about what fate you deserve. You instinctively protect yourself and your cause above all else, and your commitment earns you respect. (Admittedly, someone like me isn't the greatest to write about this part with my lack of any sort of relatable experience, but it's a section that's always interested me.)

In concocting their Pt. II, Mobb Deep drew from their story-building skills to expand on Pt. I, and laid their fresh poetry on a bed of impeccable and creative sampling. The result was an iconic production that firmly established itself as the greatest sequel in hip hop if not in all of popular music, and one which has endured through its memorable use in media including the Eminem-starring 8 Mile (which was how I came to know the track.) Through its proliferation, it has become a cornerstone of rap; through its talk against only committing to endeavors halfway, it's become an inspiration for people the world over trying to power through their day and advance themselves.


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